“Do you play sports?”
I look up from this sentence that gushes out of my brain. Who is distracting me during this sacred, creative moment?
He is twenty-five, tall, and muscular in a way that makes me want to rip his shirt off so I can embark on a lesson in human anatomy. His voice is low: his cadence slow and seductively rhythmic. The features of his face are slightly feminine. On my fingertips, I can feel the blade that etched his exquisite eyes. So, I let myself go there for a second. I’ll give him my number. We will meet at a bar. Maybe, he will invite me over to his place or perhaps he will try to finagle his way over to mine. We will have: unsatisfying sex. Hey, he looks athletic. Maybe the sex really will be fantastic. Then, he will say, “Hasta luego.” He will ignore me at the cafe. He will pretend like it never happened. He might even have a girlfriend.
“Do you run? Would you go running with me? What, you don’t run? Then, how do you get a body like that…”
“No, I only run when I am about to miss a plane.”
I wake up from my rather unsatisfying fantasy. Ego reminds me that at thirty- one, I am not getting any younger. There is this dull, pavlovian urge to flirt back. But, it is just that: dull. I smile, participate in some Spanish small talk and delve back into my writing.
After fifteen years of yoga practice, do I finally understand Bramacharya?
When I first learn about Bramacharya, I assume the yama mandates celibacy. I am sixteen and just starting to consider where yoga exists outside of the vinyasa flow. I attend a lecture on the yamas and niyamas. I resonate with ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), and Asteya (not stealing). I am willing to consider Aprarigrahana (non-possessiveness). However, as a virgin, Bramacharya feels a little inapplicable. Intimacy of any kind sounds rather unappetizing.
A couple of years later, I attend my 200 hour teacher training at It’s Yoga San Francisco. The second day, we start climbing the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. The beautiful, wise, and strong Katie Carrife discusses the yamas and niyamas with us. She is pregnant. Right away, I realize bramacharya is not synonymous with celibacy. Rather, she eloquently explains: bramacharya encourages us to be mindful and respectful in all things: body, mind, and speech
Are you respectful with your words?
Do you practice respectful and responsible sexuality? Are you a loyal, loving partner?
As a teacher, are you careful to put boundaries up between yourself and your students? So much is happening when you instruct a yoga class. Channels are opening up, people are having revelations in their bodies. Sometimes, the students get confused and interpret this as an attraction to you: the instructor. You offer a simple adjustment in child’s pose. The student is a little overzealous, thanking you after class. You feel conflicted: you want the student to stay your loyal student. But, you don’t want to be sexualized. Your role as an instructor is sacred. Accordingly, it is so paramount that the teacher maintains appropriate professional boundaries to preserve the safety and sanctity of the yoga practice. I have been fortunate to only experience a few inappropriate teacher interactions. But, they left such an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Yoga is where we go for solace, so I remember this when I communicate with students on and off the mat.
Sometimes, Bramacharya isn’t about sex.
Marie tells me a story about a girl who works out obsessively and eats restrictively during the week. On the weekends, she gorges herself. She repeats the process week in and week out: a most painful samskara.
“Bramacharya.” Marie reminds me.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Coincidentally, I started my yoga journey while I was recovering rather painfully from anorexia. ]But years after, I still found myself oscillating between starving or stuffing myself. During this time, I also discovered I could drink alcohol to hide from my emotions. Suddenly, I played with potions and emotions like I was my own chemistry set. And, I know that I am not alone in my thoughts, my feelings and my struggles with Bramacharya. It took me many years to get to where I am now. And still sometimes, I slip past the moderating line of moderation. Where is that glass of Sancerre…
“You would not understand: you are a yoga instructor!” My friend laments after confessing to eating junk food or drinking too much or fantasizing about someone else.
Yes, I do understand. I am a human, not a saint! This is modern day Bramacharya. Bramacharya isn’t naivety, celibacy, abstinence or sainthood. Bramacharya is learning to treat yourself and others with respect and dignity. It’s a dirty secret that is so prevalent in the sisterhood. We have pain, or we are undernourished. So we grab on to the one thing that we know will fill us up: something that will make us feel temporarily full, happy, and loved.
But, it never does, does it? Hangovers crush the skull. Stomachaches question our food choices. The sex was fine, but you feel a little emptier after the affair. Some people prefer cigarettes, drugs or prescription pills. I don’t judge, because we have all been there. We all struggle with Bramacharya.
Last year, Marie appeared to me in my dream. She told me that it was okay that I was drinking and eating my feelings. But, I had to remember that I would never find happiness that way. I had to discover happiness within myself first.
Where do you find happiness within yourself? Where is there an energetic block that inhibits your ability to self nourish? Is it physical? Do you need to sleep? Do you need to hydrate and nourish with water, produce and protein? Is it spiritual? Do you need time alone? Do you need nature? Are you creatively starved? Do you need to write? Are you lonely? Do you need a therapist? A cat to snuggle?
Are you experiencing a toxic situation? Do you feel undervalued in a job or relationship?
Be honest with yourself. What does your spirit need to be happy. Be gentle with your mind and body. You can be celibate, abstinent and sober. But, the core component of bramcharya is respectful moderation. How do you care for yourself so you can show up with light and love in the universe.
Only love is real, but you have to start by loving yourself.