Yama #4 Brahmacharya
Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama, which translates as chastity, celibacy and continence. I remember when I was learning about each yama: non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing… but when I learned about celibacy? Uh-oh. I knew I didn’t like the idea, and I knew my husband wouldn’t like it either!
And that’s exactly how people can misunderstand this yama. Although the translation is chastity, you have to remember the entire reason for practicing yama and niyama, and for practicing all the eight limbs of yoga: for spiritual enlightenment, for emancipation of the mind, for freedom.
So how would chastity help you with spiritual enlightenment? Before you stop reading, worrying that I’m going to tell you never to have sex again, let me explain the history first: the ancients believed that the loss of semen was a loss of energy and of life. Since our purpose of life is to attain spiritual enlightenment, losing any energy that would otherwise help us to attain that goal should be avoided.
This is where you can actually apply this yama: it is not demanding celibacy, “not one of negation, forced austerity and prohibition” as per B.K.S. Iyengar, but of conservation of vital energy for the benefit of spiritual attainment. When you realize this, it makes a lot more sense and is more approachable.
Mukhunda Stiles translates the sutra as, “By abiding in behavior that respects the Divine as omnipresent, one acquires an inspired passion for life”.
Not only is it recognizing and respecting the deep value of your own vital energy, it is seeing the beauty and vital energy in all beings. It is not wasting that vital energy, not wasting your life or taking for granted the lives of others! This! This is something I can follow, something I can believe in, and something beautiful to lead me down the right path.