Yoga Off the Mat: Fourth Yama – Brahmacharya (Non-Excess)

Posted August 27, 2021
The fourth yama in our “Yoga of the Mat” series is brahmacharya – non-excess. The literal translation of the Sanskrit word brahmacharya is “walking with God.” Most often, though, you’ll see it translated as celibacy, abstinence or my preferred translation – non-excess. I like to think of it as staying in balance or harmony so that your vitality remains strong and you can fully realize your purpose in life.


“Nonexcess is not about nonenjoyment. It actually is about enjoyment and pleasure in its fullest experience. The questions before us are: Are you eating the food, or is the food eating you? Are you doing the activity, or is the activity doing you? Can you enjoy pleasure without excess? In answering these questions, we have to be able to discern between what the body needs in the moment and the story our mind is telling us.” – Deborah Adele from The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice


The notion of brahmacharya calls on us to continually ask ourselves, what is enough? When we stay in this place of enough – not too much or too little of the things we need and desire – we tend to feel more energized and vibrant. We take in plenty of nourishment, excitement, information and challenge to keep us feeling full and content without going over that tipping point that leaves us feeling tired, lethargic, burnt out, stressed, unfocused and/or ashamed.


Practices for maintaining balance, harmony and vitality:


-Mindfulness. Check in with your state of being and energy at the end of each day and assess how you are feeling. If you aren’t feeling ideal or complete, take time to note or journal about what you feel caused this. You can then use this awareness to make an adjustment to your day tomorrow. I use The Self Journal – a daily planner which also has sections for daily reflection. We have a special company code that gives you 15% off: goyogalove.


-Sleep. Make it a point to set yourself up for a good night’s rest. I find when I’m well rested, everything else in my day tends to stay more in balance – my mind, my emotions, my eating, etc. Things I’ve found or heard can negatively impact your sleep include: screen time before you go to bed, eating within 2-3 hours of bed time, alcohol consumption 2-3 hours before bedtime, a room that is not completely dark or is too warm. I’ve also found it helpful to gain a clearer understanding of your biology and the type of sleeper you are genetically made to be (yes, we all have a gene that dictates our optimal circadian rhythm). There’s a fun little quiz here to help you learn more.


-Fasting.  I’ve found quarterly 3-day water fasts and also weekly intermittent fasting to be effective ways to re-set my energy and focus levels (and decrease cravings for the not so good stuff). Know that fasting completely from food is not for everybody, though, and if you have health concerns, it’s always wise to get perspectives and advice from a variety of medical professionals (know that there are varying opinions out there on fasting!). Beyond food, there are other things that eat away at your vitality that you can fast from such as: alcoholic beverages, social media (this is a big one!), news, gossip, complaining, criticism of self and others (try that on for just one day…it’s hard!), shopping, etc. Ultimately you have to pinpoint the few things that are having the greatest negative impact on your well-being and find your own sustainable way to do less of those and get yourself on the road to feeling your very best. If you do want a good read on fasting from food, check out Fast This Way by Dave Asprey.


Gratitude. When we are grateful for what we already have and for where we already are, we tend to not long for more, more, more. That’s not to say more is not a blessing. With an active gratitude practice, though, we develop a healthier relationship with both our present situation and our desires for the future. I make it a practice to think of 3 things I’m grateful for each morning as soon as I wake up, before I get out of bed. This means the first things in my mind each morning are positive, helping to jumpstart what I hope to be a good mental state for my entire day.


Lastly, there’s a Howard Thurman quote I love – “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive.” In teacher trainings when I talk about this yama, we do an exercise where I have everyone write down a list of things that make them come alive, things that energize them, fill up their cup, reignite their spirit. For just about everyone, 80% or more of the things they come up with cost little to nothing. When we are doing the things we love, we don’t need to over-indulge to fill a void in ourselves. We are full. We are vibrant. We are alive.


Do more of those things that make you feel alive this year. I know many of you are busy people. I feel you. But we are never ever to busy to start really living.


If you want to explore the yamas deeper, check out my online Embodying Yoga Philosophy Series where you’ll be guided through 5 full length practices centered around each of the 5 yamas. Enroll here.


Alissa Rodgers, eRYT500, is a Columbus, OH based yoga and meditation teacher and the founder and co-owner of GoYoga. She’s been practicing yoga for over 17 years and within the past 6 years, has shifted the majority of her practice toward exploring the philosophy and mindfulness aspects of yoga on a deeper level. This has positively impacted her life in many ways and it’s a true gift to get to share these powerful tools of yoga with others! Catch the GoYoga in person and live stream class schedules here.