Bramacharya is when we recognize that yoga is a spiritual discipline, first and foremost. Like many Native American societies where adolescent boys would go on their Vision Quests, and like a Bar Mitzvah, where Jewish boys accepted their place at the Torah, bramacharya is the point at which a yoga practitioner becomes a spiritual seeker. After learning about nonviolence, truthfulness, and nonstealing, we might give up sensual pleasures and begin serious studies. So, bramacharya is about freeing ourselves from our senses in order to continue on the path. I feel a bit scared writing this - spiritual path is a loaded phrase. The great thing about living in the 21st century, however, is that we get to choose what that phrase means for us. Bramacharya, for us, can be the point at which we make the conscious choice to make a conscious choice, the point at which yoga is no longer about the yoga butt and deep breaths, but about a way of life.
The question we must ask ourselves, put best in my Yoga Teacher Training manual, is, "Who is in control? You or your senses?" It is almost cliche to say that in modern society we are bombarded by sensual (and I mean this in its true form - that which pertains to the senses, all five of them) stimuli. Everyday our food tastes sweeter, our music gets louder, our computers get faster, our movies jump off the screen, our tvs are clearer than live, and have you looked around? We are literally exploding! Obesity, heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain have taken over the world, and we have no idea what to do about it. Or do we? Who is in control? Do you consciously choose to text message while driving, while eating, while listening to music? Did you stop and take a deep breath before you did that? I saw "Avatar." The effects were absolutely amazing, but I needed some serious cool-down time after. I needed to tune out - literally. Our senses are being overloaded. In order to practice bramacharya, we need not become monks, but we must be conscious of who/what is in control of our actions.
Yoga used to be a secret spiritual path, passed down from guru to student. In the small world of the Temple or ashram, it was easier to live a life of asceticism. It is the same way that nuns and priests could live those lives in a convent and a church (I'm not going to talk about the priest issue, but that is very interesting to this topic). Today's spiritual and yoga masters have, however, recognized that this secret, but small world, is no longer possible. Not because of modern technology entering their secret worlds, either. It can no longer exist because the world needs more people following the path, even if it is not a "perfect" path. While yoga studios are ubiquitous, and various forms of yoga are taught at LA Fitness, more than asana has penetrated peoples' thoughts. Ancient texts have been translated, women have become monks, and the Dalai Lama (not an Indian yogi, but one of the masters who recognizes the need to teach the masses) speaks to sold-out auditoriums wherever he goes. I was honored to spend an evening with Paul Grilley (yin yoga / chakra teacher), and he mentioned that we are at a point in evolution where these teachings must come forth, or humanity might destroy itself. Some people will take these teachings and run, people like James Ray who turned an ancient and beautiful sweat lodge into a place where people die. But even with people like Ray, and in my humble opinion Bikram yoga, the world needs more people willing to step onto the path, to make yoga a daily practice. As I watch the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh dominate the news, I know that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is light popping up everywhere, and bramacharya is a reminder that yoga is different than running. It is a spiritual path, but it is one we can formulate to ourselves. (I plan to write a lot more about the personalization of yoga in future posts, so stay tuned.)
So, where are we left? We need not move to an ashram, give up all worldly goods, and become celibate. We need not spend weeks fasting, nor meditate 3 hours per day. But being conscious of our senses taking over will help open us to the possibility of connecting with ourselves and others more deeply. Spring would not be as lovely without the winter before it (trust me, I live in Phoenix now). We all know you cannot pay full attention to the road when you are texting. Being overrun with advertisements, emails, the news, food, drink, etc., however, takes our focus away from each moment of life just as strongly. But we can control our senses while still enjoying life. We can truly enjoy our dinner instead of inhaling it - each day needing something sweeter, more potent to entice us.
Some days an ashram sounds nice. But the path today is to get out into the world, to bring the light to the masses. Many yoga teachers talk about integrating yoga off the mat, into your life. Seane Corn (another popular yogi) has an organization called Off the Mat, Into the World, in which she travels to poor regions of the world to provide a week of volunteerism while also teaching yoga classes. So yes, we can be lawyers, psychologists, teachers, students, friends, partners, whatever, and integrate these teachings how we want. In fact, the masters have asked that we do. That is why we even know these teachings exist. So, here is to taking that deep breath before eating, putting down the cell phone in the car, and watching something live instead of on HD in our living rooms . . . at least sometimes.
Blessings and Namaste!
© Copyright 2010. Rebecca Stahl.