Brahmacharya, usually translated in English as celibacy, stems from two Sanskrit roots: Brahma and charya.
Brahma: the Vedic God of creation. Brahma is therefore related to absolute consciousness, the one true principle, and the unchanging reality that is Brahman.
Charya: to be focusing on, engaging with, or going after
Together, we can see that it refers to having your entire mind and being totally focused on uniting with your own true nature, one’s own Atma. Brahmacharya is essentially to have behavior consistent with the path of Brahma.
Let’s take a look at the fourth yama in some more detail, we’ll explore:
- Brahmacharya Meaning
- Yoga for Brahmacharya
- Brahmacharya in Your Life
There are many different interpretations of this one, but the one I think fits best for modern life is being mindful of how you use your energy.
What enriches your soul? What activities have the most value to you?
I imagine that the answer to these questions might not necessarily be scrolling through social media all day, and instead will have something to do with spending time with people that you love, working on a project that lights you up, learning new things, or doing fun activities.
Yet, unless you’re an incredibly disciplined yogi, most of us are guilty of spending more time on things that don’t actually make us feel that great.
I can certainly think of many times I have opened TikTok or Instagram for comfort when I know that a walk or quick asana or pranayama practice would have made me feel much better instead. This alone tells us a lot about Brahmacharya!
Practicing the virtue of right constraint means that you have more energy left to put towards the important things in your life, like growth, development, and liberation. In more yogic terms, it will fill you up with ojas (non-physical energy, core essence, or vigor).
In a society that mostly values speed, success, and productivity, living by this yama can be a revolutionary act of self-care. Asteya and Satya similarly talk about turning your focus away from external stimuli and finding peace within – Brahmacharya is no different.
The moderation of the senses in this way will mean that we turn the mind inwards in order to cultivate more self-awareness, discipline, and personal growth.
What about celibacy?
Shandilya Upanishad details Brahmacharya as ‘refraining from sexual intercourse in all places and in all states in mind, speech or body‘.
When one is so focused on achieving union with the absolute and knowing the true nature of oneself, the natural byproduct of that may be that sexual urges are restrained or suppressed.
For those practicing Brahmacharya in this way, restraining from sexual activity would not be seen as a negative thing.
The importance of their personal relationship with Brahman makes it so that desires become an unnecessary, materialistic, or superficial aspect of their nature.
In Buddhism, monks and nuns (bhikkhus and bhikkhunis) practice Brahmacharya as a way to end suffering (dukkha), maintain pure conduct, preserve vital energy, and reach enlightenment.
If this concerns you, don’t stress. When Patanjali wrote the sutras and called for the constraint of sexual behaviors, he was writing to people who had literally renounced themselves from society. This might be applicable to you today, but for many of us, it isn’t.
It was developed as a practice to deepen your life force energy and gain deep insights into your absolute self and the nature of the universe. Can you still do that without abstaining from sex? I’m certainly not the ultimate authority on yoga, but I think so.
Celibacy might not be for everyone, and that is totally ok! You don’t have to restrain from sex to be a true yogi and there are other important ways that you can incorporate this yama into your life.
Like anything, if you overindulge in it, don’t use your energy mindfully around it, or don’t stay true to your own feelings, it can make you lose sight of your true self and sex is no different from this.
I personally like to live (mostly) by the motto ‘everything is good in moderation‘.
Yoga for Brahmacharya
Here are some of the yogic ways that you can preserve your energy and engage in Brahmacharya:
1. Prana Mudra
This mudra incorporates the agni, prithvi, and jala mahabhutas. It helps to sustain energy levels and channel the flow of prana (life energy) throughout the body.
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)
This pose stimulates the internal kundalini energy at the base of the spine and increases vitality
- Gomukhasana (cow face pose)
Helps to preserve sexual energy and redirects it toward the upper chakras
- Balasana (child’s pose)
Child’s pose can be used as a touchstone in your practice to check in with where you’re spending your energy. Are my actions hurtful or helpful to maintaining a right use of energy?
For example, are you over-exerting yourself and expecting too much of your body?
- Om somaye namaha
A Chandra (moon) mantra that illuminates the mind, strengthens your subconscious, and deepens your understanding of life.
- Om aryamayai namah
This mantra is thought to contain within it deities such as Shiva, Shri Vishnu, Ma Durga, and Shri Ganesha. This should be chanted if you are struggling to direct your energy toward those things that are conducive to growth and enlightenment.
The Gayatri mantra is a great mantra for pretty much anything! It will help dispel negativity and give thanks for the powers of growth and transformation, something that plays a big role in Brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya in Your Life
1. Moderation in Diet
Everything we put in our bodies greatly impacts how we feel, especially since an estimated 90-95% of our serotonin is produced in our gut, playing a key role in the communication between the gut and brain.
Therefore, we will definitely reap the rewards by being a little more selective with our diet. This might be choosing to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, including Ayurvedic principles in your diet, or making the decision to home cook more often.
The same could be true for alcohol as well, which the over-consumption of can have damaging consequences on our health. You could try doing a dry month (like dry January), or have an alcohol-free weekend if you’re a regular drinker.
Often there is a lot of societal pressure around drinking too, and this is where the discipline to practice the right use of energy comes in, despite how challenging or tempting it might be to act otherwise!
With so many of us often in a rush it can be easy to chew our food without a second thought, but be sure to eat slowly too. Digestion starts in the mouth! This is the same with drinking, try not to chug things down so quickly that you don’t get a chance to be mindful about it.
2. Moments of Silence
Introducing some moments of silence on a regular basis into your day can help us to come to know our true nature faster, enabling the purification of our minds and spirits.
The true self, or Atma, cannot be known through the mind or through thinking. Through these meditation periods, even when the mind feels bogged down with constant thought, you are showing a restraint of speech and making a commitment to clearing the mind.
3. Create Boundaries
With yourself, your families, friends, workplace, and anyone else in your life!
Boundaries show where one thing ends and another begins, and this is effectively what they do in a relationship too.
They define what behaviors are acceptable for you; they could be emotional boundaries, financial boundaries, time boundaries, physical boundaries, or intellectual boundaries.
For example, there might be a conversation topic that is just off limits with a particular person as a way to protect your own peace. At work, you might tell your boss that you can only spend a certain amount of time on a project as you have other things that need your attention too.
By setting clear boundaries and managing people’s expectations, it will ward off burnout, help you to act with moderation in all areas of your life, and sustain your energy for other important things.
With yourself, you could create a schedule with a dedicated evening or morning routine, only allow yourself a certain time being exposed to blue light, or schedule breaks in your day that you can dedicate to asana, meditation, pranayama, or journaling.
4. Moderation of Emotions
Emotions can often make us feel powerless and like we have no control over our energy, and that’s why it’s important to try and moderate your reactions where possible.
It’s really important that we sit with our emotions so that we can process them properly, but it can be easy to spiral too. This seems much easier to state than it is in practice, but regulating your nervous system is a good first step in ensuring your emotions don’t rule your life.
When we aren’t regulated, our emotions have an effect on our autonomic nervous system, endocrine glands, and hormonal activities.
Through the sustained practice of Brahmacharya, we come to live in the infinite divine consciousness instead of the mind-dominated world of our five senses and impulses.
If you want to look at our articles on the previous three yamas, you can check them out here: