Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama Patanjali describes. It is defined as “the life of celibacy, religious study and self-restraint” (pg 34). In my course of study, this is the most highly debated of the five Yamas. Did Patanjali really mean that to be a yogi one must renounce physical intimacy with another? I cannot answer this question for you, but I can share with you the role brahmacharya plays in my life.
Sometimes I dream of running off to a desolate mountaintop location free from worldly distractions to live the remainder of my life in practice and meditation, however, I have chosen the life of a householder. Many of us cannot live a life of worldly renunciation. We have families and social obligations that cannot be dropped on a zealous whim. That being said, how is brahmacharya relevant to us regular working folks?
If you think of celibacy in terms of energy, one who practices celibacy is retaining their sexual energy. This stored energy can be directed towards a higher purpose. Making a long story short, each of us has an abundance of energy that we spew and sputter all over the place. Sometimes I catch myself so wrapped up in my thoughts and stories that I leave a trail of mental smog behind meeverywhere I go. How often do we physically labor too hard and sleep too little, only to realize we have no energy left for those we love?
B.K.S. Iyengar wrote “The brahmachari will use the forces he generates wisely: he will utilise the physical ones for doing the work of the Lord, the mental for the spread of culture and the intellectual for the growth of spiritual life” (pg 35).
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Yoga. Schocken Books: New York, 1979.