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Indulgence vs. Overindulgence: My Understanding of Brahmacharya

I’ve always loved the summer time in Minnesota. After our long winter of grey days, early evenings and hibernation, we come to the surface again with renewed energy. In the early summer we reacquaint ourselves with our neighbors we haven’t seen or talked to all winter and enjoy the bright skies and sunshine until dusk. We indulge in more physical activity outdoors, great food (our bbq’s are the best) and drinks.

With all the beautiful indulgence of summer, our lives feel fuller and more satisfying than ever. Our moods are lighter and our smiles brighter. You can almost feel the bliss in the air.

This week I experienced an overindulgence hangover and have been contemplating why I’ve been feeling the opposite of satisfied the last few days. Instead of light and happy, I’m feeling exhausted, moody, and not a lot of fun for my family to be around. I’ve been craving solitude and feeling the desire to sink into my winter hibernation mode.

As I’ve witnessed these feelings and wondered why the desire, no, the NEED to allow for an abundance of quiet time the last few days, I think I’ve finally figured it out.

The Yoga Sutra’s provide an eight limbed path as a guide for us to follow in order to reach our bliss state, or samadhi. I used to think of this state as enlightenment and something that was not within reach for a simple yoga practitioner like myself. What I’ve come to learn through my practices, however, is that I can experiences glimpses of samadhi when my life is in a state of balance.

That balance is accessible to me when I’m taking care of myself and using the yama’s and niyama’s (a part of the eight fold path) to guide my daily living. These moral or ethical codes provide the guidance necessary to limit our suffering so that we can live with more ease and contentment in our lives.

As I think back over the last week I realize that my life has been out of balance. In my quest to fully enjoy the summer, I’ve slipped from indulgence (and being happily satiated) to overindulgence. Apparently an excess of good doesn’t actually equate to great.

This week we celebrated the Fourth of July. As many all-American families do, we hosted a BBQ at our house with over 30 people, a ton of food, drink, and merriment. I enjoy hosting friends and family and love watching kids run around through sprinklers and throwing water balloons at one another. The laughter, the conversation, and the hugs fill my soul.

So why have I been feeling a Fourth of July hangover (and not the alcohol induced version) ever since? Brahmacharya. I’ve come to the realization that the fourth yama - and the one that has been the most difficult for me to understand - provides the answer to my slump.

Brahmacharya is often defined as celibacy but my yoga teachers provide a more expansive definition and shared it as overindulgence. Whether we overindulge in sex, food, drink, or other pleasurable pursuits; overindulgence can still lead to disharmony in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

That’s what happened to me. I’ve learned that my introspective and introverted self can only handle so much stimulation before it becomes draining. Whether it be hosting people at my house, talking with clients and students at work, or engaging with other parents, I need my quiet time in order to find a balanced state in my life.

As I try to squeeze as much fun into my summer as I can, I realize I am bringing myself out of balance and into a state of frenetic energy that depletes me. Practicing brahmacharya means I stay committed to my self-care and recognize when I’ve had too much stimulation. It is letting go of the craving to “fit it all in” and strive to make this the “best summer ever!”. It is accepting, even embracing my ability to go within for all that I need (through meditation, yoga, and spiritual practices).

I still love everything about summer in Minnesota. But, I’ve learned that maintaining a state of balance in my quest to experience it all is essential to my overall wellbeing.

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