Yamas for the 21st Century. Yama #4 Bramacharya: Resisting Distraction
I think before we even dive into this one we can all nod in agreement that distraction is DEFINITELY a problem for pretty much everyone. Be is sex, food, TV, our phones or online shopping we are guilty of distractions.
Patanjali outlines abstinence in his sutras and my first time looking into this yama I was not interested in Bramacharya. I understood it as the be all and end all of all buzz kills. I didn’t want to live my life with out sensory excitement and entertainment. I definitely took it to understand that a true yoga also doesn’t have sex. No thanks. But total abstinence was not what Patanjali was getting at. Toaist and Hindu philosophy describe sex as an integral and healing energy. In case you were worried I was going to rite about how we all need to stop having sex. I’m not, Iyenga has a great quote that says: ‘Sexual energy is the most basic expression of life force. It is immensly powerful, and it is essential to control and channel it. In no way should we despise it. On the contrary, we must respect and esteem it.’ And here is the shift. Sex should not be something to be embarrassed about, lie about or sneak around about. It should be respected, it should be seen as intimate and it should be cherished. Take a moment to think about some of the sex of your past. I know you might not want to go there. Drunken, affairs, quickies, sometimes in pretty disgusting places and often barely thought about leading up to and almost forgotten immediately after. What if we grew up learning about how powerful, how wonderful, how much of an art sex was? How would this shift culture? How would this change the way women and men are treated when it comes to sex before, during and after? I would love my children, if I have them, to grow up learning about the beauty of sex rather than the shame.
It is hard to change the taboos and understandings of the west. We look at sex in a very different way to the rest of the world. Don’t get me wrong there are most DEFINITELY parts of the world that are even more in the dark ages than us in regards to sex but we could be a lot more PROGRESSIVE. A perfect example of this is in what we call our genitalia.
- In sanskrit this is called a ‘lingam’ a symbol of potential and energy
- In the west willy, knob, dick, prick and the assault rifle…
Vagina or womb
- In sanskrit this is call the ‘yoni’ a symbol of the creative goddess Shakti
- In the west fanny-flaps, cunt, twat, gash, hole and minge…
Can you spot a serious problem? We don’t even speak about our sexual organs with respect how can we expect to do any different of actual sex? If we bring yogic mindsets, tantra, into our sex life as well we can promote healing, removal of blocks and a greater connection. Therefore Bramacharya is more about being able to control your sexual desires and harness them for the greatest pleasure at the right time and when you are in control. Not to be distracted by sexual urges and keeping focused. So then let’s move beyond sexual distraction and head into the sphere of the internet and social media. Take a breath. It’s going to be okay. I think most people can wholeheartedly admit that they have some level of addiction to their phones. The statistics of average time spent on our phones is rising every day. Each day new apps, new filters, new upgrades are making it harder and harder to become phone independent.
The internet has drained us of our attention spans with them dropping as low as 7-8 seconds before we become distracted and move on, this is decreasing by around 88% each year! The author of Greed, Sex and Intention went on a total digital detox for a week and made these realisations:
1. There is a lot of time in the day. When you aren’t spending literally hours on your phone you are suddenly left with a lot more time to do, well to do other things!
2. People don’t stick to plans. I remember when I was a kid, yes I am someone who grew up without phones or the internet (not too many of us), and we would have to go knock on our friend’s door to see if they were in or make a plan to meet and you would have to go there.
3. Without your phone or the internet you are really the last one to find out and the odd one out. The reality of our life is that thing have sped up to top speeds. Things move on quickly, news comes and goes quickly and without a phone and without the internet you are quite simply left behind.
So if we need our phones can we maybe put some rules in place? Harriet, my wife, came up with a brilliant idea to have a ‘Sunday Phone.’ This was a very simple key pad, no touch screen, no colour Nokia phone. She would use this on Sundays. That simple. Her family and close friends had the number in case they needed to get in touch with her but other than that she pretty much didn’t use the phone. She was more present, more attentive and was able to shut off and focus.
Some people turn the colour on their phones off which apparently helps to curb the addiction to our screens. You can set up restrictions on your phone where it alerts you when you have gone over the time allowance you have given yourself to help us limit our screen time. You can also turn off all of your notifications but this is hard when it has been proven that every time you receive a notification your brain releases serotonin. We are quite literally battling a scientific addiction. Somehow it has become socially acceptable to be on your phone texting someone else or looking at instagram while in front of a IRL human being but if we were snorting cocaine or slamming back pint glasses of gin people might start to worry about us.
When we practice yoga we start to analyse and think about our daily routines and the way we behave. Away from our phones and our notifications perhaps we can start to sense our addictions. We are also terrified of being bored. This is so obvious when I teach a yoga class that isn’t vinyasa. As soon as the poses slow down, we have to stay there longer and I stop talking I can sense the energy in the room change, the fidgeting begins and there is a sudden atmosphere of discomfort. We struggle to be still and silent or be in silence. That reflex of hand to phone has numbed our ability to be bored. Our phones replace that, whether they are contributing to us in any positive manner or not. Next time you feel the flicker in your hand to grab your phone while you stand in a queue or are waiting at a bus stop don’t react to it. Why not try just standing there. Try allowing yourself to be with your thoughts and work through them.
When you go to practice yoga think about all of the distractions and analyse if they help you focus and practice or are they a hinderance. Music. Leggings. Mat. Towel. Hairstyle. etc. I like to practice to music as it helps me focus. I wear leggings but they must be high waisted and not roll down. I practice with a suede non-slip mat as I find towels distract me. I like to practice at the front of the class, not to show off, but to not be distracted by other in the class and to keep my comparison at bay. This has taken years to work out and the decisions I make in a yoga class have been made with intention behind them. Perhaps we need to start analysing the things we do and the possessions in our lives in a bramacharya kind of way.
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