Non-excess (Brahmacharya): Studying the Yamas

One could argue that the notion of non-excess, or Brahmacharya, is the antithesis of modern society. In this day and age, we want and we need and we covet and we buy. Then, we repeat it all in about eight months when the newest gadget or phone is released. It’s a cycle that becomes more engrained the longer you’ve been stuck there.

What exactly is Brahmacharya?

woman in seated forward fold, sitting on the grass with hills and a sunsetSometimes Brahmacharya is translated as celibacy. An article by Coral Brown in Yoga Journal states,“Brahmacharya translates as the concept of celibacy or, applied to a more modern lifestyle, it is the art of continency, sustaining energy, and not depleting your vitality.”

In his article, “The Five Yamas,” Timothy Burgin elaborates on this idea. “Brahmacharya (continence) states that when we have control over our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy. To break the bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, we need both courage and will. And each time we overcome these impulses of excess we become stronger, healthier and wiser. One of the main goals in yoga is to create and maintain balance. And the simplest method for achieving balance is by practicing Brahmacharya, creating moderation in all of our activities. Practicing moderation is a way of conserving our energy, which can then be applied for higher spiritual purposes.”

In The Yamas and Niyamas, Deborah Adele says, “Brahmacharya invites us to live with God, not excess.” She notes that by giving up all of the things that are unnecessary and keep us unfocused and distracted, we can have a closer relationship with God. When you whittle away all the extra, you are able to be still within and listen better.

How could I practice Brahmacharya?

Donate items.

Periodically, I go through the rooms of our house and make donations to local organizations like DAV, AFL-CIO, or Salvation Army. The things I donate are good things that we just don’t need anymore. Sometimes, there are things that have never been used! These things, this stuff, create a clutter in my house that leaves me feeling frazzled and unorganized. Frankly, it gets to a point where I can feel like I am being consumed by my stuff.

Today, we are not only going through the house to find items to donate. We are also clearing out cabinets for a potential kitchen remodel. While the kids and I were away for the weekend, my husband started clearing out kitchen cabinets, keeping only the essentials upstairs and putting the rest in the basement. I have been pleasantly surprised that the only items that I’ve retrieved from our basement have been four glass bowls. Next week, I will probably box up that stuff in the basement and donate it.

Be mindful.

In a previous article, I talked about taking my time to observe, smell, appreciate, taste, then eat a raisin. Slow down. Enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it. When you drift and find yourself doing something you did’t intend to do (like overeating), try to stop yourself and ask why you’re doing this. Address the issue, slow down, and try to resolve yourself to practice moderation.

Create (and stick to) a budget.

At my house, we are also re-evaluating our household budget. The last time we did this was probably seven years ago, so we’re way overdue. We have started writing down our purchases so that we can be realistic about what we’re spending when we set our budget. The funny thing is that I find it so annoying to have to write down my purchases in this log that I have quit lots of frivolous spending. On the days when I’m being a stay-at-home-mom, the kids and I get groceries, gas the car, run errands. Essentially, I try to do all my purchasing in one day because I don’t want to mess with recording receipts throughout the rest of the week. What’s weird is, we’re spending less money, our household is running more efficiently, and my husband and I haven’t even set a budget yet!

What are you doing to practice Brahmacharya? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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