balancing self-care: brahmacharya

I absolutely, unequivocally adore food. I love the scent, the crispness, the decadence, the savoring of chopping, baking and broiling. I LOVE big grain bowls overflowing with veggies and salads for breakfast and cookies for all meals. And yet, bizarrely, I barely eat anything from Monday morning to Wednesday night. It’s a very, very bad habit that precedes crabbiness, constipation and an overall sense of impending doom for the whole of humankind.

Left to my own devices, from Monday morning to Wednesday evening, I am completely and utterly absorbed in my work: in teaching, in managing, in cleaning, in advertising, in inviting, in begging, in writing, in transmitting the extraordinary teachings of yoga. I am, completely and utterly, out of balance.

Brahmacharya is the fourth ethical consideration of Yoga as found in the Yoga Sutras. (Brush up on the first three we discussed: ahimsa, satya and aparigraha.) It means “moderation and conservation.” It is, in my opinion, the most difficult yama to uphold. Because it is (surprisingly) easy to live an unbalanced, impulse-motivated lifestyle. It is, if you can believe it, much easier to eat oatmeal-butterscotch cookies for every meal than it is to plan, prepare and eat healthy food every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

And, brahmacharya is an essential aspect of yoga philosophy that informs the practice of self-care. It reminds me that I must make my own well-being a priority before I can take care of anyone else. It reminds me that I MUST step away from the chaos of immoderation—by sleeping well, eating well, resting well and loving well—to lead a balanced life.

One thing that helps me practice brahmacharya is to identify impulses, actions, anxieties and perceived expectations that make me feel out of balance. When I write these down and compare them to things that make me feel awesome, energetic and balanced, my steps toward greater self-care seem pretty obvious.

Try this simple exercise to approach brahmacharya:

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes and jot down notes and observations that finish these two sentences:

  • After your five minutes, close your eyes and take 3 big inhales and exhales.
  • Open your eyes, circle 3 things in the “I feel balanced and whole” column that you are going to do THIS WEEK.
  • At the end of the week, notice how you feel and congratulate yourself on your commitment to greater self-care.

“We see that the chaos of immoderation brings us pain and anguish—and that the calm, clear energy released by moderation actually affords us the opportunity to realize our dreams.” -Rolf Gates

how to balance your mind in an unbalanced world.

Springtime. I come out of hibernation and act like a maniac. I want to take all sorts of yoga classes all over town, attend all sorts of events, run all sorts of trails with Russell Clive, plant all sorts of herbs and be ridiculously active until the sun goes down. I think, “I have so much energy now that the sun is shining! I am invincible!”

And then the next day, I need a 2 hour nap and am wearing pajamas by 3 pm.

My reality slackens its grip on the wisdom of “a balanced lifestyle,” something I wholeheartedly endorse as a yoga instructor. In yoga, we call wisdom “ishvara.Ishvara is the collective consciousness that we all have access to if we are quiet enough to listen. However, if we are unbalanced– if our energies and attentions swinging wildly between frenetic activity and forced hibernation, then we are not listening to this wisdom.

Ishvara is a wisdom tradition and also a teacher. Ishvara teaches us to humility by reminding us that there is a wisdom bigger than our individual ego. Each of us has direct access to these teachings through yoga and through meditation.

Isvara doesn’t demand or cajole or plead, it teaches and leads our life back into balance when we are at the end of our tether.

My go-to fix for finding balance in an unbalanced world is a pranayama technique designed specifically to restore balance to the mind and increase focus.  

Nadi Shodana: Alternate Nostril Breathing

  1. Use your right hand. Make a ‘mudra’ of first two fingers extended, other fingers lightly folded in to the palm.
  2. Rest the first two fingers lightly between the eyebrows. The knuckle of the thumb rests lightly on the right-side bridge of nose and the knuckle of the ring finger rests lightly on the left-side bridge of nose.
  3. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  4. On an inhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and inhale through the left side of the nose.
  5. On an exhale, apply light pressure to the right side of the nose and exhale through the left side of the nose.
  6. Continue alternating the breath in the nostrils for 10 rounds.
  7. To finish, rest your hands lightly in your lap. Take 3 cleansing inhales and exhales.
  8. Quietly affirm to yourself: “I maintain focus and balance.”

Emerge from this practice feeling focused and balanced. Use it as often as needed throughout the day. It’s perfect before an important meeting, after lunch break or anytime your mind slides towards imbalance.

Happy Balancing,

-lisa

(editor’s note: a version of this story was published April 10, 2017 on mayayoga.com. used with permission.)