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Exploring Yoga Philosophy: Brahmacharya

In this article I offer practical tools and exercises to practice the fourth Yama: Brahmacharya, on and off your mat.

What are Yamas?

As we saw in the last article on the eight limbs of Yoga; in the traditional Yoga system the first aspect of practice is called Yama or the practice of relationship, which underscores the importance of connection to others as being integral to all expressions of Yoga. Yamas are ethical practices that guide us towards healthy, fulfilled relationship with others and in turn, ourselves.

The five yamas:

  1. Ahiṃsā - non-violence, respect for life, kindness

  2. Satya - truthfulness

  3. Asteya - honesty, integrity

  4. Brahmacharya - non-excess, moderation

  5. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness


The principle of non-excess, moderation relates back to all the other Yamas especially Asteya; once we have practiced and understood non-stealing and integrity we can start practicing non-excess, finding our 'just enough', understanding our attachments and limits.

So how does non-excess manifest in our day-to-day lives?

- I feel full, therefore I won't eat the extra scoop of ice-cream,

- I find pleasure in watching tv but I don't watch it when I know I have other things to do,

- I notice that I have a tendency to overwork, therefore I decide to impose myself a few days of complete rest every week.

Let me offer other (perhaps not as obvious) ways to practice non-excess:

- I notice that when I feel sad, I tend to turn to sweets and somehow it soothes my craving. instead I decide to sit with my sadness and see what it has to show me,

- I love to feel busy and important but I notice it takes away from my ability to find awe and wonder in my life, therefore I practice rituals that connect me to divine timing (instead of clock timing),

- In yoga class, I sometimes feel that in order to get the full benefits of the practice I need to follow everything my teacher does even when it doesn't feel right for my own timing. Therefore I choose to quiet down my ego and respect what my body wants even if it is not as 'deep', 'fast' or 'cool' as what others are doing.

When we practice Bramacharya, we begin to understand that non-excess is not about no pleasure or no enjoyment, rather it is about enjoyment in its fullest form.

When we over-indulge, we quickly go from satisfaction and contentment to excess, which makes us feel bad (whether physically, mentally or emotionally) and takes us away from the purity and beauty of the experience itself. One of the best ways we can practice non-excess is through our connection to God (or source, or intuition, or the universe); it takes us off the centre stage and what we thought of as 'important' quickly feels insignificant.

When we open our eyes and hearts to divinity and holiness we begin to notice beauty around us, to feel full and joyful because every moment where we don't feel busy, we make space for life. We (re)develop our ability to wonder, admire and feel awe, just as children do. As Joseph Campbell writes:

Be true to the purpose and limits of each thing in existence. Behave purely and serve purely the reality of what you are given by making every human function without exception a religious act of sacrifice and worship.

Join my group classes in person in Lisbon or online to learn more ! Let's dive deeper at one of my upcoming retreats 😊

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