First of all, I'm not suggesting in any way that you need to give up sex or relationships to practice Brahmacharya. I know all of us Brogis are part of the modern Western world, and intimate relationships are one of the (most wonderful!) aspects of our lifestyle. So fear not! There are ways to apply this yama so you can get the full benefits of Brahmacharya, without throwing the baby out with the bath water... so to speak :)
Firstly, a reminder of what yamas are and are not, which I think is particularly helpful to remember with this one! They are not precepts from up above dictating what we should or should not do because it is "right" or "wrong" or will please/ offend some higher being. Like all yamas, Brahmachayra is not a "you should do 'x' or 'y' thing will happen to you" kind of deal, but rather a suggestion of how to live based on hundreds of years of observation of that which makes a happy and fulfilled life.
And who doesn't want one of those!
So, although traditionally defined as "celibacy", Brahmachayra has been given a more expansive definition in modern usage to be more in keeping with today's world - where most of us are modern "householders" involved in relationships and families (as opposed to living by ourselves meditating in cave) This definition refers more to introducing the concept of "moderation" into our lives, instead of complete withdrawal from the sensual realm. Yes, there is the option of following Brahmachayra to it's logical conclusion and never having sex again, which is a fine choice for those of us who would like to do that... but for those of us who would prefer not to (raises hand!) we can still practice a form of Brahmachayra which will still be of great benefit.
So how do we do this? How do we practice moderation to live lovely happy and fulfilled lives?
One of the main functions of Brahmachayra is to help us preserve and harness our energy towards that which is important. One thing we probably all know about sex - or even the idea of having sex - is that is is very very distracting! Who hasn't wasted energy fixating on some desirable seeming individual, that could probably be better spent somewhere else?
Erm... not me of course... I read about that in a book ;)
Anyway my point is that we need to begin noticing where we focus and use all our energy, and see if it is doing us good... or harm. We live in a very consumerist, capitalist society and are actually encouraged to do the opposite of Brahmachayra at every turn; spend, spend, spend, obsess, desire, want!
"Living in Brahmachayra means we have control over our impulses of excess, whether that's in shopping, food, sex, drugs, tv... anything. Whatever it is that we like to indulge in, lose ourselves in or obsess over... gone!" (The Yoga Lunchbox)
Personally I have a little saying I use to help me practice Brahmachayra and keep excess and obsession at bay (can you tell this is a big one for me!) Whenever I feel myself about to fall into habits that would take me away from the path of moderation I ask myself "What do I get in exchange?"
Overeating sugary treats: in exchange for doing this I get increased health, more energy later, feeling better without sugar and other toxins in my body, nice un-zitty skin... etc etc
Buying that unneeded new pair of shoes, just because: in exchange I get more money to spend on cool things I really want, like holidays or a new guitar
Having that extra one (or five!) drink too many: not having a hangover, more time to do fun things the next day, less crankiness at work tomorrow, better health and more energy... on it goes
Obsessing over that hottie down the street: more energy to focus on other things, less giving a f...ig what anyone else thinks of me, less time doing my hair/ more time to write this blog... :)
Are you getting it now?!
"Wasting time and energy on excess of any kind takes us further away from our path and our goal" (The Yoga Lunchbox)
So think about areas in your life where you might place unnessecary energy, or indulge in habits that ultimately aren't doing any you any favours, and see if you can apply Brahmacharya to those. I think you will be excited by the results! But don't just believe me, listen to what Swami Sivananda has to say:
"The practice of Brahmachyra gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind and long life. It invigorates the mind and nerves. It helps to conserve physical and mental energy. It augments memory, will force and brain power. It bestows tremendous strength, vigour and vitality. Strength and fortitude are obtained"
To bring it back to our original topic (refresher: S.E.X) this article has some great points on what practicing Brahmacharya actually means...
"When it comes to chastity, celibacy is merely an option, not a decree. More important is the intent. A person can choose to be celibate, but if he or she continues to treat the opposite sex in a demoralising or disrespectful manner, then chastity is not being practiced. On the other hand, those who are faithful to one mate, who treat their significant other with kindness, who place love above lust in all their actions, can most likely be defined as chaste... It is a matter of attitude, reflection and behaviour"
"Treat your body and the bodies of those belonging to others... with reverence and respect. Acknowledge that sensual pleasures of all sorts... are earthly in nature and to be enjoyed in moderation... Be responsible and conscientious in your dealings with the opposite sex. Have one serving of ice-cream, don't eat the whole carton. Don't drink and drive, either. Practice Brahmacharya on this level and you will never have a stomachache from too much food, suffer a hangover or wake up in the morning next to an embarrassed stranger"
Amen to that Brogis! Brahmacharya doesn't sound so bad after all now does it?
You might also be interested in:
Yamas and Niyamas
Yama 1 - Ahimsa
Yama 2 - Satya
Yama 3 - Asteya