When I first learned about yoga philosophy, I became convinced that by following the Yamas and the Niyamas, it would be possible to truly find peace and happiness in this life. The only trouble is, these principles, while simple and straightforward, are very difficult for me to adhere to. The Yamas and Niyamas are similar to the ten commandments, the eightfold path, or other religious guidelines. Like most others, they include principles like not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc. Every now and then I’ll be reminded how important it is for me to practice these ways of living.
One of the Yamas I always consider my favorite is ahimsa, which means “non-harming.” In the beginning I liked to imagine that I had been living in this way for years given that I am a vegan and don’t cause any harm or suffering in order to feed myself like most humans do. However, this was foolish of me. Instead of casting judgment on others, I should have been looking more deeply at my own life. While I may not contribute to the unimaginable suffering of farming and eating animals, I still cause plenty of harm to myself and those around me in other ways. In the end ahimsa could cover all of the other Yamas. After all why avoid lying and stealing? Well partially because they cause harm to others or even yourself.
For a few months I tried to practice Satya, non-lying. It really opened my eyes to how often I lie. I didn’t really think I lied very much at all before trying this. After all, I’m not one to make up tall tails or be untruthful about important issues. However, what I came to realize is that I lie almost without thinking every day in very small, seemingly insignificant ways. Maybe I’ll make up an excuse for why I was ten minutes late for work. Or tell a friend I’m busy rather than being honest about why I’d rather not hangout that evening. Just little “white lies” that I’m sure all of us tell from time to time, more out of convenience than malice.
Despite the importance of these two Yamas I won’t be focusing on them today or the other two I’ve yet to mention (asteya – non stealing & aparigraha – non attachment.) Today I wanted to focus on the fourth Yama, brahmacharya. A lot of people throughout history have interpreted this Yama to mean sexual abstinence. However, now it is often translated more broadly as moderation. The purpose of this Yama is to remind us that more isn’t always better.
I’ve been confronted with that simple truth a lot recently. I love coffee, yet when I get carried away and drink too much it makes me incredibly anxious rather than energized. I also love exercise. It it a wonderful stress reliever for me. However, I tend to overdo that as well which ends up causing stress instead of eliminating it. I’ve even begun to get carried away with how much kratom I use, adding more and more powder to every glass when it actually works just as well or even better when I use less.
Moderation has always been a very difficult concept for me. It always seems to be all or nothing, never a healthy balance. Perhaps I am just too careless to be bothered to pay attention to my body and listen for it’s cues telling me when enough is enough. My tendency to be rigid in my routines doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the natural fluctuations within me to be honored and addressed. That is one of the most difficult parts of this Yama for me. There is no one else that can tell me what moderation means to me. I have to discover the right balance for my own life. And in order to do that, I have to be open, curious, willing to experiment, and practice listening to my intuition. Brahmacharya requires looking inward. It requires me to be honest with myself, to trust myself, to respect my own needs and limits. Sometimes I’d even prefer to interpret it as abstinence. Not having sex is much more straight-forward and easy for me. (I’ve been doing it for years without trying!)
Moderation becomes a more and more complex concept the longer I think about it. I’ve spent so much of my life living in excess that I don’t even know where to start. I want to start regardless though. Someday I hope to be able to live my life in accordance with all of the Yamas and Niyamas. I have been blessed with this wisdom from ancient yogis passed down to me through countless generations. I am so grateful for their guidance. But now it’s up to me to apply this sacred knowledge to my own life in order to finally live in a way I can be proud of.