by Lisa Lindstrom
If you told me that I would be writing a blog post about bramacharya, I’d have said, “no way,” probably with an expletive or two. Sometimes you have to start with the hard stuff.
Bramacharya is one of the five yamas, the first branch of the eight-limbed yogic path. They are yoga’s basic guidelines for how to interact with the world. According to yogic philosophy, the yamas are kindness/ahimsa, truthfulness/satya, inner abundance/asteya, moderation/bramacharya and letting go/aparigraha. They’re deep and beautiful and I love studying them. And as far as I know they don’t conflict with anything else you might or might not believe in.
The interpretation of bramacharya that I like and use in my classes is essentially: smart personal resource allocation. How and with whom do we use our energy? Do our words, behavior and thoughts lead us toward peace and happiness? Or do we create our own chaos by participating in little (or big!) things that get us briefly high, but then crash when they are over? (As research shows, dopamine hits can create a cycle of imbalance and leave our nervous systems on a wild ride). Can we make an effort to use our energy on things and with people that make us feel intrinsically happier, more peaceful and purposeful? This sounds wise to me.
Here’s where I get stuck. In observing bramacharya, it’s suggested that the way to achieve a more level peaceful existence is moderation in our actions, speech and thoughts. My brain reads that and says, “so boring!” Who EVER got excited about moderation!? That’s not the stuff of energizing love songs, page-turning books or epic nights out. I love a sweet adrenaline boost and activated senses. (Betsy says I like “shiny objects.”) Moderation, middle road, equanimity…blaaaaahhh.
Rolf Sovik, President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute and a clinical psychologist in private practice says, “When the mind is freed from domination by the senses, sensory pleasures are replaced by inner joy…when our senses connect with the pleasures of the world, they offer us plenty to delight in, but they can also throw us off balance and squander our energy. Maintaining equanimity while living in the world of the senses is a pivotal task for yoga practitioners – it helps us restore harmony to body and mind.”
I definitely want inner joy! But not via walking the middle path.
And yet, I get occasional flashes of what I think Rolf is talking about. On those occasions when I pause, listen deeply to myself, and act on what I find, I feel at ease and closer to the real me, which feels so good. It can be an unexpected moment in the middle of my day or a more cultivated meditative moment, but they are blissful (and fleeting). As one of my wisest yoga teachers says, “when we are bored it’s a sign that the ego is unraveling. The ego loves to be entertained because then no one is minding the store.” She’s so right. Being able to “be” in the less shiny/more dull parts of life and still belong to yourself is the ultimate freedom. And freedom is pretty darn exciting!
So bramacharya (and frankly all of the yamas) is a large part of my yoga. How do I choose every day to maintain equanimity, without being indulgent or repressed? Live and experience the world’s gorgeous sensory pleasures without going overboard or creating an addictive pleasure-seeking circuit? I don’t know how to do this exactly, but I think awareness and reflection are a good start.
Level 1 Vinyasa - Thursdays, 9:30 am in Scarsdale
Level 1 Vinyasa - Saturdays, 12:30 pm in Scarsdale
And every so often, you can catch her Hip Hop Yoga class. With the next one coming up on March 21, 7pm in Scarsdale.