The 3 Pillars of Life: Brahmacharya
Over the last few months I have been exploring the theme of the 3 Pillars—right diet, sleep, and brahmacharya—in my classes and personal practice to help ease into this new fall season with a stronger commitment to my self-care and Ayurveda. My first article in this trilogy emphasized diet and introduced you to the Ayurvedic term agni, which describes your digestive fire; it included a few recipes to enhance your digestion if it is weak or irregular. The second article highlighted sleep and offered some practical tips on how to improve your sleep with self-care practices and diet.
This month, I will shed some light on brahmacharya as well as creativity and their role in upholding the three pillars. Brahmacharya is traditionally a practice that emphasizes management of one’s sexual energy. From the yogic perspective, excessive sexual activity will weaken or exhaust your vital energy. Now just to be clear, the idea of brahmacharya is not to make us all monks or withdraw completely from all sexual activity—it’s actually to raise your awareness that engaging in too much sexual activity will reduce your shukra (sexual energy, reproductive fluids), which is necessary to build ojas. Ojas is the word Ayurvedic practitioners use to describe the most refined by-product that is created by the food we consume after it is digested to build up our tissues (dhatus: fluids, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nervous system, reproductive fluids). Excessive sex and stress will deplete ojas in the sperm and ovum as well as curtail ojas from entering the heart. Ojas is technically not considered a tissue of the body; it’s more like the strength or quality intrinsic to a tissue that gives you vigor, strengthens your immune system, provides stability to the body and mind, and keeps you juicy and plump like a newborn baby.
The Ayurvedic yogis believe that reproductive fluids are the final step in a 30-day process that creates the dhatus; as noted above, these fluids are one of the dhatus and are the ones that are produced last. Unfortunately, during the thirty days, many factors can compromise the production of the dhatus; if this occurs then it will lead to a depletion of ojas, contributing to the reduction of vigor, immunity, radiant glow, and longevity we naturally desire. Yet, if all goes well through the stages of food to dhatus transformation, our tissues will be strong and we will feel a surplus of energy that moves us to create or be creative on a regular basis.
What creative outlets do you have in your daily life? What do you love to do in your free time? In my opinion, responding to the urge to create when it arises is one of the most loving things you can do for soul. If brahmacharya is part of your regular practice, there will be a surplus of energy to explore in life, perhaps to ignite your next poem, photograph, or song. With too much sexual activity or stress it’s not uncommon to lose your libido or urge to be creative. As daunting as it might sound to add one more practice to your already busy life, I find that the rhythm of daily creative practice becomes its own habit and therefore grows easier over time.
As we head into the cooler, darker fall and winter seasons that invite us into the warmth of our homes, we’re provided with a great opportunity to evaluate our relationship to brahmacharya and creativity. Trust that whatever amount of creative time arises each day is the right amount. It’s the intention that counts. Trust that there is room in your day to practice and that you deserve this creative time. Antoine de Saint-Exupery has said, “A single new habit can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us.” This was my personal experience as I discovered and danced with this beautiful new stranger, who was truly none other than creative facets of the unexplored me. If you are ready to meet and embrace the creative divine in you, I invite you to undertake a daily creative ritual. Just as much as we need good food and sleep to be healthy and productive, I believe we also need to have space to do what we love in order to feel our best.
Purifying Through Fire: Creating a Fire Ceremony
The ancient Vedic culture, from which yoga is derived, has a long-standing tradition of rituals designed to pay homage to and communicate with the divine. In a Puja ceremony, one makes simple offerings in gratitude for the blessings they have received and to return a piece of these gifts back to spirit. In a Yajna, the ritual is more extensive. Here Brahman or Vedic priests communicate with specific aspects of the divine through the messenger Agni, the fire God. Yajnas, as prescribed in the Vedas, follow a specific template which include intention, offerings, and specific mantras to be recited. The following article describes the basic tenants of Yajna and Puja to provide a template for practitioners to create their own fire ceremony of purification and transformation.
1. Begin in Fullness
A central tenant in yoga is the notion of “purnam” or wholeness. All that exists arises from wholeness and is in itself whole. It is essential in our communion with spirit to understand that we are not separate from and seeking union; instead we are unified and remembering.
Purnam exists throughout the entire life cycle; from the blessing of a newborn baby to the cremation grounds of Varanassi, the wholeness of life is acknowledged through its entirety. As an individual soul, or, we go through a journey of transformation as our life unravels to reveal new layers of understanding. Regardless of one’s disposition, place in life, failures or successes, each individual is of “purnam” and as such, divinely whole. The practice of purification serves to dissolve the illusion of separation and bring the aspirant back into their knowing of wholeness.
As you prepare your body and mind for fire ceremony, do so from the intrinsic understanding that you are whole exactly as you are. Bring your whole self forward. Allow all parts of you, from the beautiful to unseemly, to open to the direction and guidance of spirit.