Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras for Modern Day Life: Energy For What is Important

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:38- By one established in Brahmacharya, vigor is gained.


Defining the Sutra

Through celibacy, you can use your energy to focus on other things.

Modern Day Application


Two things to remember about the Yamas

They are known as the great vow and everyone is not going to take that vow- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:31 calls the Yamas the great vow. These vows are taken by those who are looking to still the mental fluctuations through the path of Yoga.  the There is no judgment on those who are not interested in that path.

They are there to make it easier to focus on spiritual life-the less drama you have in your daily life, the more time you have to spend on doing the things you love, which for a Yogi, is spiritual pursuits.

All the controversy, about Bramahcharya, usually stems from the fact that many do not know that it comes in stages. For more on the stages, refer to The Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana by Sharath Jois.

Stages of Bramacharya


Do you remember when you were a teenager and adults would say, “Don’t go crazy over the boys/girls. Focus on your schooling. Go to college. Make good grades. You will have time for boys/girls later.” Maybe you have even said it to your own children.

This is the stage where the Yogi is completely submersed in the study of Yoga. They are learning the traditions, rituals, scriptures and techniques. Celibacy makes it easier for the Yogi to focus on their studies without the drama and responsibilities that often comes with relationships.



We like to think that because we are vegetarian, have a recycle bin, practice asana every day and wear a Mala that we are in the student stage. However, if you are pursing a career or relationship, married, or have kids, you are in the householder stage.  If you take the great vow, sex is in an honest relationship with one partner. The focus is on creating a stable and loving household.

Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, systematized Yoga for householders.  To Krishnamacharya’s surprise, his teacher told him to get married AND teach yoga.  This required great innovation. You would usually do one or the other but not both. Instead of requiring that students spend all day practicing asana, doing mantra,  studying, meditating and completing religious rituals, Krishnamacharya taught Yoga in a way that supported the life of the householder while still maintaining its benefits.

Krishnamacharya taught Pattabhi Jois and Jois gave us a modern take on Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga is perfect for householders.  You can do it early in the morning before work or before the kids get up. It gives you the strength and health you need to make it through a long busy day.  It is simple and convenient. You memorize a sequence of poses that you can do anywhere and you don’t have to do loads of complicated rituals before you start.  The 8 limbs are built into the practice plus two simple mantras are done at the beginning and the end. It is quick. Once you learn the sequence, it can be completed in less than an hour and 30 minutes. If you need a shorter practice, you can do the first few poses and the last 3. You can do it alone and anywhere. You don’t need any props or tools.


Once the kids are on their own and/or pursuing a career is not a priority, the practitioner simplifies their life and starts to focus on spirituality. The desire for sex usually naturally decreases.  Around this time, Krishnamacharya only focused on a handful of physical asanas and spent more time on Pranayama(breath work) and contemplation.  He taught his students in this manner as well.


During this stage, the Yogi puts all their focus on liberation.  The main practice is meditation. Near the end of his life, Krishnamacharya moved into a separate dwelling on his family’s property.  He spent many hours in contemplation and study and spent less time teaching and interacting with his family. During this stage, the yogi returns to celibacy.

It is possible to not go through all of these stages. Many people dedicate their lives to spiritual studies and never focus on career or children.  Some spend periods of their lives in and out of these stages. For instance, someone may choose to  let go of a career and study in Mysore for 3 months, travel around India visiting temples and living a simple, celibate lifestyle for a while and then return home and pick up a job.

Why it is Important

Yoga is supposed to make our lives easier. Celibacy, during certain periods of our lives, makes sense. For a student, retiree or renunciate who is focusing on their spiritual studies, conserving their energy gives them the vigor and energy for their studies. They only have one person to look out for and take care of. In relationships, we often have to put the needs of our loved ones before our own. Celibacy allows the Yogi to completely focus on themselves.

Celibacy is a compassionate act. Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who does not have time for them? Who wants to be the child of an absentee parent? Does it feel good to be with a spouse who has no energy left for you? Who wants to be the parent who is too exhausted to play with their children after a long day of study?

The 4 stages of Bramacharya allow us to have energy for what is important in our lives. We like to believe that we can have everything but you are choosing and someone (child, significant other) is losing. Setting priorities, helps us to keep the balance in our lives.  When we look at Bramacharya in the right way, it is not a restriction but a freedom.  It gives us the freedom and energy to be with our families or study uninterrupted.

Bramachaya keeps us in the “no more drama” zone.  Ninety nine percent  of the newsworthy and cringe worthy drama surrounding Yoga teachers, is linked back to sex. Bramacharya can be a saving grace for Yoga teachers. Yoga makes us strong, fit, joyful and vibrant and people are drawn to this.  For whatever reason,male teachers have it worse then female ones.  I have not studied with one male Yoga teacher who didn’t have women fawning over them.  I have been in the locker rooms of Yoga studios watching women put on make up, fix their hair and “getting right” so that they look good for the Yoga teacher.

It is so tempting to pick the low hanging fruit. A young girl with a beautiful body who will do anything you say. Taking the great vow and either picking one person to build with or just saying no, allows teachers to focus on their teaching, stay off 60 Minutes and 20/20, not have to flee the country and give all their money to their lawyer.


Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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