Third Yama of Ashtanga Yoga
Brahmacharya has two main meanings. In the broad sense it means control of the senses or indriyas. More specifically it refers to celibacy or chastity. Like all traditional spiritual traditions, yoga advocates restraining from indulging in sensual gratification. One of the many reasons is that practicing the higher limbs of ashtanga yoga - dharana, dhyana, samadhi - requires a tremendous amount of energy or prana. This energy is built up through the practices of yoga such as asanas, pranayama and japa but is dissipated during sensual enjoyment. Of all the sensual activities, sex is the one that will be the most depleting to the psychic and nervous system. Most people don't like to hear this but, like the other yamas, everyone should practice brahmacharya to the best of their ability. It is a fact that the more people gratify their senses, the less energy they have and the less ability they have to meditate on the absolute.
The more broad definition of brahmacharya also includes conduct that leads to the realisation of the Self, or Brahman, study of the Vedas and scriptures, and contemplation on Brahman.
Benefits of Brahmacharya
There are many benefits to health and spiritual life that come from the practice of brahmacharya.
Practice of Brahmacharya gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind and long life. It invigorates the mind and nerves. It helps to conserve physical and mental energy. It augments memory, will force and brain power. It bestows tremendous strength, vigour and vitality. Strength and fortitude are obtained... He who is established in Brahmacharya will have lustrous eyes, a sweet voice and a beautiful complexion. Swami Sivananda,
Practice of Brahmacharya
Brachmacharya is considered one of the cornerstones of a serious yoga practice. The conservation of energy that comes from practicing celibacy is converted into Ojas and Tejas (spiritual energy). Eventually yogic powers can also manifest by the perfect practice of brahmacharya. There are many famous yogis and spiritual leaders who were established in this yama. Some of them are Sankara, Jesus, Gandhi, Hanuman, Lakshmana, and Bhishma from the Mahabharata. From their practice of brahmacharya they had incredible amounts of energy, will-power and thought-power to do great works for the world.
Many people mistakenly believe that practicing brahmacharya means suppression of the natural sexual instincts. Suppression is not what is wanted, because anything that is suppressed will eventually be released with redoubled force when an opportunity arises, the will becomes weak or when sadhana slackens.
The proper way to practice brahmacharya is to sublimate these natural urges into Ojas by a strong yoga practice that includes meditation, asanas, pranayama, japa, kirtan, satsang, and reading of scriptures or yogic texts. Contrary to some popular ideas and incorrect psychological beliefs, celibacy improves health and all aspects of life when practiced in the proper context.
It is worth noting that most religions place emphasis on brahmacharya, considering it a higher state of religious practice, and have nuns and monks who take vows of chastity. While not everyone wants to take vows and enter a religious order, there are also guidelines for householders to practice brahmacharya within their personal relationships.
Brahmacharya for Householders
Swami Sivananda recommends that for householders moderation should be practiced. He recommends self-control in order to have one or two children who are healthy and strong. He advocates living a more selfless life of charity, goodness and kindness, including worship of God. Marriage should lead the husband and wife upwards in the spiritual path towards a life of spiritual partnership. When this is accomplished, much spiritual progress can be gained.
It is beyond all doubt that a life of Brahmacharya is glorious and marvellous. At the same time, a life of moderation in the household life is equally good and helpful for spiritual growth. Both have their own advantages. You must have great strength to tread the path either way. Swami Sivananda