When I first became aware of the yamas and niyamas (two of the eight limbs of yoga) in the Yoga Sutras, I read them as a list:
With the nature of an individual who thrives on lists, I decided to approach one at a time. Starting with Ahimsa: loving kindness. I would learn to express and practice loving kindness to the exterior world as well as to myself. Then I would move on to Satya (truth).
What I came to realize is two fold. Firstly, there is no conquering of these inspired teachings. There is no one moment when it becomes possible to check Ahimsa off the list. Secondly, the yamas are profoundly intertwined with each other, to the point of being unable to separate. I came to realize that “yoga” requires a different approach than say, training for a marathon.
While there is something extremely satisfying to setting a goal (marathon), creating a plan (training program), acting out this plan (training runs) and achieving said goal (medal at the end of the race), as my understanding of the yogi path deepens, I understand that some journeys are life-long.
Brahmacharya is the conscious decision to use our life force to unveil our dharma (our life’s purpose), instead of frivolously dissipating it in external pleasures (most often interpreted sexually). At first, this meant nothing to me. I’ve been in a monogamous and committed relationship for a decade; I haven’t recklessly dissipated my sexual energy in a long, long time.
As I began to dive deeper into my understanding of self, I came to re-examine my relationship with alcohol. It dawned on me that my generation uses alcohol as a socializer, as a stress relief, as a reward, as commiseration. We use alcohol as a way to numb ourselves to whatever is happening today, good or bad. We use it as an excuse to escape this moment.
Once I began to understand the nature in which I consume alcohol, it became much less appealing to me. I realized that I don’t need a glass of wine in my hand to enjoy the company of my friends, to release the stress from my day, to feel the freedom to do whatever it is that I want to do. I stopped drinking alcohol without any regret or sense of missing out at all. The awesome side effects included most notably lack of hangovers, reduced anxiety and increased awareness of the present moment.
By applying Brahmacharya to my daily life and “indulgences”, instead of interpreting it as harnessing sexual energy, I began to better understand how to respect myself and the gift of life that I have been given. I’m not saying that I’ll never indulge again. I’m not even saying that I’ll never indulge too much again. But again and again, as I begin to apply these ancient values to my own life, I end up traveling into a deeper sense of connection with my spirit and with the world around me.
Since I’ve opened my eyes (and my heart) to the possibility of profound joy, love, spirituality and power residing within me, it seems like the possibility of profound joy has increased.