The fourth yama is brahmacarya.
This Sanskrit word has various connotations in Indian culture. It means celibacy, but is also to do with the phase of our life when we are young and still learning and developing – a time perhaps we should be concentrating on our studies and avoiding distractions.
I choose to interpret brahmacarya as a practice of boundaries.
Healthy boundaries are an essential aspect of relationships with other people, and with the wider world. We need to know where to draw our metaphorical ‘lines in the sand’;
- what we do, and what we don’t,
- who we spend time with, and who we don’t,
- what we eat or drink, and what we don’t,
- when we wear a face covering, and when we don’t!
Without boundaries, life makes no sense at all – we don’t know whether we are coming or going. It feels hard to make decisions or take action. We can experience overwhelm or burnout.
Back in May, I invited you to consider that restriction can be a support and this theme seems relevant again now that the external restrictions we have faced over the last few months are starting to ease (at least here in the UK).
We now need to replace those restrictions with boundaries or limits that we create for ourselves. This is a tiring and challenging process, but ultimately satisfying when aligned with our inner wisdom or truth (satya).
Our empty spaces are in particular need of protection from boundaries.
Busy-ness is like water – it will flow into anywhere there is a gap for it. I feel I need to create dams around my free time, our family meal times, our sabbaths – and my yoga practice. If I don’t protect these spaces I soon find them flooded with work, plans, meetings or social activities (all of which are welcome and enjoyable, just not all of the time).
Of course there are also situations where restrictions are just that – unnecessary limits – and I have to confess my daughter’s attempt to provide me with a ‘yoga mat’ and box me in on the beach is a trivial but good visual example of that. It is all about context – had the beach been very busy I may have welcomed a clear line in the sand to protect my space.
The five yama remind us that our yoga practice need not be restricted to a mat, although the practice we do on our mats is a welcome support for our lives.