Bramacharya: Exploring non-excess



Instructions for living a life: Pay attention, be astonished, tell others about it. – Mary Oliver

Our philosophical focus for May is Bramacharya, or non-excess. This is the fourth of five yamas, or moral observances, that are mapped out by Patanjali in the yoga sutras. These observances are guidelines for how to live a good life. We’ve covered Ahimsa, or non-violence, Satya, truthfulness, and Asteya, non-stealing.

The fourth yama, Bramacharya, asks us to be mindful about consumption in all areas of life.

It asks us to examine what is “enough”. It also asks us to be mindful about how and where we‘re using our energy to avoid living in excess.

There are many ways that excess can show up in life, for example: work, food, exercise, sleep. Over-doing any of these will leave one feeling cut off from being able to truly experience the wonder of life. And yes, it’s possible to even to overdo yoga asana and use yoga classes as a form of escapism.

Bramacharya asks us to leave excess behind and move through the world with wonder and awe, paying attention to each moment.

Practicing bramacharya asks us to consider how we can live lives of moderation. Every day we face choices about what to consume, how to spend our time, and how to interact with the world. The practice of bramacharya is asking us to consider and choose what we put into our minds, bodies and hearts. When we make these choices with intention, we often choose differently. We make space for things that are actually important to us rather than just covering over something or trying to fill a void.

One of the big questions we have to answer for ourselves is why we tend toward excess. Knowing what triggers us to consume in any form is important.

I recently learned about the acronym HALT. A parent of a toddler told me about it – he uses it to help his child assess what they really need in any situation. I wish I’d learned a long time ago as I suspect it would have saved me a lot of anguish over the years.

I can think of many, many times in my life where I acted because of one of these states of being. I tried to feed my mind/body/heart with something rather than just take stock of the situation and feed what actually needed to be tended to: my literal hunger, my emotional state, my need for human connection or my need for more rest. Sound familiar?

As Deborah Adele says in the book The Yamas and Niyamas,

“We have to be able to discern between what the body needs in the moment and the story our mind is telling us.”

Why is it that we reach for something to soothe us rather than taking care of whatever is at the root of the situation?

For the month of April, we’ll be exploring what non-excess looks like in life and on the yoga mat. Some things to consider:

  • Is it possible to live in non-excess? Can you consume, work, sleep and play just enough? Examine what is “enough” for you.
  • Can you find the wonder in your daily life? Can you take time to slow down and experience what’s right in front of you?

Written by Amanda Barp

Amanda Barp is co-founder of Watershed Wellness, a licensed massage therapist with 10+ years experience, a registered yoga teacher with a passion for learning and teaching about the human body & how to feel at home in it.