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Maitri musings: brahmacharya (right use of energy)

  • by Claire Ferry - Jan 28, 2019

How often do you stop to notice how you really feel, what your body is telling you?

We're usually living on auto-pilot, getting through our daily responsibilities of work, family and home, eating and exercising, and often accompanied by the distraction of the radio, music, social media.

We may achieve plenty this way, and yet doesn't it feel busy? And like you're missing out on something vital?

That vitality is brought about by accessing that inner joy, the universal human experience variously translated as spiritual awareness, God, love, enlightenment, peace.

Think about where most of your energy is directed. Physically it might be getting through all the daily responsibilities and requirements - earning a living, maintaining home and shelter, caring for loved ones. What about mentally? We often spend time worrying, either about what is already past, or about what might never come to pass in some anxious attempt at reading the future. We direct energy into relationships, some are mutually beneficial and supportive, some pull your mood down a hole.

Where does all this busy-ness leave you? In my personal experience and observation of people at class, we are often drained and then feel the need to recover. Unfortunately our recovery choices can compound the issue: mindlessly through social media leaving us with a sense of time wasted, or jealousy or a sense of inadequacy compared to the lives we perceive others living. Or automatically (or secretly) eating or drinking, leaving feelings of shame or lack of self control, bingeing on TV shows that leave a nasty taste in the mouth (overly violent or sexualised, or just superficial), or overdoing a sport or diet that causes injuries or obsession.

Brahmacharya is the fourth of the yamas from Patanjali's yoga sutras. It is often described as chastity, but that reduces the breadth of intent of this yama. It refers to the whole realm of the sensory world, and how we can moderate our energies.

Both overindulgence and repression of the senses can be harmful on our thoughts, emotions and bodies. We can look for the middle way, where sensory pleasures bring delight, not craving or guilt.

The first stage is to stop and listen - our body will tell us what we really need. Turning our senses inward though a yoga or meditation practice, or in the moment perhaps even just a few minutes of watchful breathing, can break the cycle of automatic action.

Am I really tired? In which case, maybe a gentle yin practice and sleep is just the ticket. Or am I lethargic, when a boost from a walk in the fresh air is what I need. In both cases, the outcome is feeling stretched, centred and refreshed.

Am I really hungry? Tummy grumbling, haven't eaten for hours. Then it's time to sit down and mindfully enjoy some food, rather than grabbing a snack on the go. Or am I actually just thirsty, bored or distracting myself from something else? A drink of water and a pause to breathe and reflect might mean the 'hunger' feeling passes.

Occasionally it may mean more momentous action - a change of job or location or relationship.

In all of those examples, the key is to pause and turn our senses inward, catching ourselves before automatic habit kicks in. This takes practice and the skills we learn on the yoga mat of awareness and breath, then dedication to right effort and action.

This awareness and restraint of our energies brings equilibrium, and finding that unbounded joy, peace and happiness that is already in our hearts.

And thank you to my friend Richard for the picture of waves crashing at Helen's Bay - all that abundant energy!

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