There’s a concept in yoga called Brahmacharya (it’s okay, I’m sure I don’t pronounce it right either). This word can be translated to mean ‘right use of energy’ and, when it comes to Brahmacharya in the winter, I think hibernating animals have got it spot on. I’m not suggesting we wrap up and go to bed for a few months, but I reckon we can learn from these creatures.
What is Brahmacharya?
So this Brahmaharya thing is one of the Yogic Yamas (stay with me), and these are a set of moral principles – if you will – which form part of Patanjali’s 8 Limb System of Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient Yoga text that is the foundation of a lot of the Yoga we practice today.
So, Brahmacharya, is one of the principles for a yogi to adhere to. It’s often translated as celibacy, but can be taken more broadly than that to mean right use of energy as I mentioned earlier. Kevin Courtney defines it in the Wanderlust book as:
“the conservation of vital energy in order to direct one’s attention towards divine pursuits and self knowledge”.
Brahmacharya & modern living
I think we can take the ‘divine pursuits’ part of Kevin’s definition broadly. It doesn’t mean we need to be dedicating our time to any God, more that we spend our time doing what we have decided is divine for us (so it could be God, but it’s also fine if it isn’t). Divine can mean of or like god; devoted to god, sacred; very pleasing, delightful. A synonym for divine is beatific which means feeling or expressing blissful happiness.
So, if we combine the definition of beatific with the ‘sacred’ part of divine I think we come up with a recipe for Brahmacharya that works in our modern lives. To me, it means putting my energy into that which I have decided is sacred to me. Connected to what I’ve identified as my purpose – that which I want to put out into the world. It’s directing my energy towards these things rather than, for example, half an hour aimlessly scrolling social media.
Brahmacharya, self care and winter
You’ll be pleased to know we’re now heading back to the hibernating animals. “What do they have to do with yoga?” you might ask (although clearly you’ve never seen this collection of images of animals doing yoga). Animals hibernate in winter to preserve vital energy, their purpose at this time of year is essentially to stay alive with scarce food resources until spring. They’re wise to the fact that if they go running around all winter like a crazy thing, they will burn up the limited vital energy they have at this time of year.
I think there’s something in this for us too, in terms of using our energy correctly in winter. Preserving energy sounds good. Think about how you feel as soon as it starts to get darker in the evenings. Do you feel like working late into the evening, or staying out late partying (I mean, I never feel like this but I believe some people do?) or do you feel like wrapping up with a book and a warm drink and getting an early night?
It’s okay to want more sleep in winter. It’s okay to feel like Hygge-ing it up. This is, I believe, practicing Brahmacharya. Of course, we still need to ensure the body stays warm, healthy and functioning well and some dynamic exercise is part of this for sure. But for the other things – for my work – I’m taking some influence from nature.
How I’m practicing Brahmacharya this winter
I’ve got some big things I’m working on building, work wise, at the moment. I could rush into working all the time, doing anything and everything I can think of to grow my business ideas and really pushing. There is definitely part of me (the impatient part) that wants to do that.
But I know if I were to do this I’d end up burnt out, unwell and probably with work that’s not as strong as it could have been. This is not a season of hustle, this is a season of rest and seed planting. I’m imagining my projects and ideas are tiny little seeds. This winter I’m tucking them deep into the earth, watering them, nurturing them, gently tending to them to allow them to grow. In spring they will bloom and I can harness that energy to bloom with them.
I know this gardening analogy is a bit off, timewise, but this is what I’m imagining and how I’m practicing Brahmacharya this winter; by slowing down, taking time to rest (just like the animals), and using my energy to plant and nurture my seeds.