Brahmacharya: channelling desire, building community

I went with a friend to find an ayurvedic doctor today, for a consultation and massage. We got lost. When we finally found the address it turned out he had moved.  A young woman came out on the front porch of the neighbouring apartment. ‘Are you from the Iyengar Institute?’ she asked. ‘Oh yes, I am a student there myself. Come, come.’

She invited us into her home and after helping us locate the doctor’s contact details told us that she had been a student at the Institute for about three years. ‘It is so good’, she said. ‘My teacher is Kishore. I have a sedentary job, designing embroidery patterns, always sitting, so twice a week when I am doing yoga it is good for that. But it is a lot of practice. Not just in class, but outside also.

Before, we thought that it was just for rich people and foreigners. We didn’t realise that local people could go there, because the foreigners came to see Guruji, and we thought it must be a lot of money, not for the likes of us. But then someone told us no, you can go there and it is not too much to pay. So we went. Everything there is so nicely done. The building is so beautiful. Look, I have this’. She produced from a large brown envelope a picture of BKS Iyengar; smiling, twinkling, piercing.  ‘He was so old but look how beautifully he kept himself’, she indicates his legendary bushy white eyebrows, trimmed neatly to reveal that gaze.

‘He did such a lot, bringing yoga across India and the whole world’, she continues. ‘He could have gone and settled in America, in Europe, anywhere, and have a lot of money, a big house. So many universities in America offered him so much money to come there. But he stayed here in Pune and taught yoga, and helped so many people.’

When the admissions for the new year’s class enrolments at RIMYI open in June, there are queues of local people from across the city wrapped twice around the block. They pay what generally seems to be regarded as an affordable termly fee and are allocated two classes per week.

BKS Iyengar was offered the untold glamour and riches of the world. For anyone, and especially for a boy from a poor village who has known real hunger, that must have represented a considerable temptation. Such was his sadhana (spiritual practice) that he stayed home on his mat, creating a local yoga community which quickly spread across the globe.

Brahmacharya is often mis-translated as just celibacy. Only in certain cases does its practice manifest as life-long renunciation of sexual activity. More broadly, it refers to the practice of continence; of the mindful control of sensuality, not its repression. Every time that life throws up a temptation, (and they will be thrown up in the most unexpected places and guises), we have a choice. We can decide to run with the desires of the senses, which will soon run out of fuel, or to re-channel the energy of that desire towards building a strong and stable community of body, breath and mind.

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