If Patanjali, the ancient sage credited with writing the Yoga Sutras, saw this blog post, he would undoubtedly roll his third eye. He would wonder why on earth I was writing about cookies in a post about Brahmacharya. Brahmacharya, in its original form, suggested a practice of celibacy.
Consider the time period in which the Yoga Sutras were written. Depending on your source, they were written in 400 BCE or 200 BCE or 200 AD. The scholars don’t all agree on the exact date or even the exact author, but it’s safe to say they were written a really long time ago. Life on this planet was not much like it is now. Plus, they were written in another country on another continent and steeped in a different culture than the one you may live in. Imagine yourself as an ancient yogi, having given up all of your worldly possessions to devote your life to yoga. Imagine living in a cave with the clothes on your back and just enough food to survive. You would spend all of your time meditating, chanting, practicing and teaching yoga. Your practice of Brahmacharya would literally mean a life of celibacy, such as the life of a Catholic priest.
The typical modern yogi is not interested in celibacy. In my years of practice, I’ve never heard of anyone actually practicing celibacy (on purpose) as part of their practice. I have vague memories of reading about the rare person who takes the vow, and I have heard through the yogi grapevine that there are some Yoga Teacher Training programs that require their students to abstain during their training. I can’t help but wonder how that plays out.
For most contemporary yoga practitioners, Brahmacharya is taught and practiced more as a practice of moderation. As in, save your energy for the things that really matter. If you are lucky enough to have figured out your Dharma (your life purpose – more on this another day), you will want to conserve as much of your physical, mental, and emotional energy as possible to pursue that Dharma. Don’t use your energy for things that simply waste your time. Consider some of the distractions we use that take us off course on a daily basis:
Screens – this includes ALL of your devices with screens, such as TV, computer, cell phone, iPad or other tablet, etc. I love connecting with people on Facebook and laughing at Modern Family or Big Bang Theory as much as the next person, but sometimes I look up and realize hours have gone by. Hours that could have been better spent elsewhere – with my family, in the yard, outside walking or hiking, reading, writing, or practicing yoga!
Socializing – There’s nothing wrong with socializing; in fact, it’s wonderful. But like anything else, if you overdo it, it can take away from more important pursuits.
Sex—I can’t have a blog post on Brahmacharya and leave it out. I believe you can have a healthy sex life and still practice Brahmacharya. Put the focus on healthy! A healthy sex life is one in which your desires do not overpower your thoughts. Consider fidelity, promiscuity, respect for self and others.
Cookies (or cake or drugs or alcohol or nicotine or caffeine or insert your vice here)—I read once that Stephen King savors a cigarette each time he completes a novel. Once a regular smoker, he has found a way to enjoy the rare cigarette while still enjoying good health.
The bottom line is moderation--enjoying all of the pleasures of life in moderation. When a craving or habit is unmanageable and out of control, we are no longer practicing Brahmacharya. The desires or cravings are running the show. We can’t have that.
Take the reins or the steering wheel or any other metaphor you like. Make mindful choices about how you spend your time and energy. That qualifies as a modern yogi’s practice of Brahmacharya.
Coming back to my vice. I suspect my cookie addiction will be with me for as long as I draw breath. I strive for moderation. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I fail. I am human, and that is okay.
If you would like to sample the amazingness of the cookies that inspired this post, in moderation of course, the recipe came from the NY Times. After a quick Google search, I realize I may be the only person on the planet who was not already familiar with them.