The practice of Bramacharya classically translated, leads us to believe that celibacy is part of the yoga practice. This may be true to some degree, but really it's about using the vital life force that we have been given with discernment. The below article does an awesome job of explaining Brahmacharya more fully. I would love for you to read below and share you thoughts with me ... but first a few of my own thoughts ... The article below has lead me to contemplate my energetic "investments" and I can see very clearly the areas of my life where I am depleting my own energy and the motivation behind my actions. The motivations are good and clean and I find myself just giving away energy to thoughts, worry, future, lack of trust/confidence, instead of harnessing the vital life force I have. One of my favorite explanations of brahmacharya is "discernment." Discernment requires discipline, but it always requires reverence - a sort of fear of the Lord kinda thing that makes me humble in supreme gratitude and calls me to act as a steward of my own energy. It's reverence that brings a whole other element of juice to the practice. I have been given the precious gift of life by my Creator, I have friends and family and work that all give and take energy, and I have a mind that can make choices.
I choose to use my life in such a way that brings glory and light. I choose to be a wise investor. from Yogaglo.com/blog
Brad Waites, the director of the College of Purna Yoga in Vancouver, loves batting around interpretations of the yamas. He says that the classical definition of brahmacharya is misleading, since what brahmacharya actually asks us to do is to think about where we’re putting our energy – sexual or otherwise. And, if we’re expending it in useless places, to figure out how to redirect it. “In the long run,” says Waites, “brahmacharya is about allocation: using your resources effectively to achieve your aspiration. To hone our practice of this principle, we must learn to conserve and not waste energy on things that do not serve our purpose.”
Nice point. In other words, we always have a choice between frittering away our energy on not-so-purposeful actions (and thoughts and worries), and directing them towards those that will serve us better and lead to more happiness, purpose, sense of union. And brahmacharya, if you want it to be, can be as simple as that.
If we do want to think about brahmacharya in a more sexual sense, there are still some really interesting and wide-ranging ways to interpret it. Sharon Gannon, of Jivamukti Yoga School, says that her understanding “is that the practice of brahmacharya means not misusing sex. Brahmacharya means ‘to respect the creative power of sex and not abuse it by manipulating others sexually.’” If we want to be more in unison with the Universe, she says, directing our sexual energy in smart ways is a means to get there. So rather than going to the bar to pick up a one-night stand, we could pour that energy into other places – cultivating more lasting relationships with others, with work, with ourselves, or with yoga. “Brahmacharya is a way to get to God… When sexual energy is directed wisely,” she adds, “it becomes a means to transcend separation, or otherness. When sexual energy is used to exploit, manipulate, or humiliate another, however, it propels us into deeper separation and ignorance (avidya).”
Taking this idea further, Gannon mentions a point to which she’s devoted much of her book Yoga and Vegetarianism – and this is the way in which humans, as a matter of business, misuse the reproductive capabilities of food animals. She tells me that “the sexual abuse of animals is ingrained in our culture, and it expresses itself in the practice of breeding, genetic manipulation, castration, artificial insemination, forced pregnancy, routine rape, and child abuse, which all fall under the category of ‘animal husbandry.’”
All of these routine animal practices might be considered to be seriously out of alignment with brahmacharya, and this misalignment hurts both them and us. Female food and dairy animals, she says, “are forced to become pregnant over and over again until their fertility wanes, at which point they are slaughtered and eaten. Male animals chosen to be sperm donors are sexually abused repeatedly, live in constant frustration, and in the end are slaughtered as well. Such practices are violent, crass and degrading to animals, as well as dehumanizing for the farm workers paid to do this work.”
She adds that, for their sakes and ours, brahmacharya (along with other yamas, like ahimsa, in particular) would ask us to rethink how we treat animals. “Expanding love, kindness and compassion to include all others – animals as well as the earth Herself – is our next big step in human consciousness. Please excuse me, but I cannot overlook the ‘animal issue’ in terms of the yamas.” Obviously, this is a point that’s close to her heart, and she makes a good case for it.
Like the other yamas, brahmacharya is subject to interpretation, but in the end, it has a lot to do with balance, and how we choose to use or “invest” our resources. “Each and every act and thought is an outflow of energy,” says Reverend Jaganath of the Yoga Life Society. “Some thoughts and actions offer beneficial dividends, while others simply drain our resources. In the name of continence, we are asked to be wise investors.”
At their heart, it seems like the yamas all center around intuitive ways of being, and of treating ourselves and others, so that we can be more connected internally and externally. Gannon sums up all five yamas in brilliantly simple terms: “The yamas are about how to treat others – to achieve the aim of dissolving otherness. As Patanjali [the writer of the Yoga Sutras] lists: As long as you see others and not the “One” – not the Self – then don’t hurt them, don’t lie to them, don’t steal from them, don’t abuse them sexually, and don’t be so greedy as to cause them to become impoverished.” And that pretty much says it all.