Recently lululemon athletica* issued a shopping bag with the Sanskrit word brahmacharya on it. The bag has caused a controversy among my fellow yogis. People have expressed shock that a yoga clothing company would make a bag that features the word BRAHMACHARYA spelled out by "french fries, cookies, cigarettes, condoms, and what looks like prescription pills and heroin needles." They feel it shows lululemon doesn't understand the word, or the yoga culture.
I am currently cycling through China and this kerfuffle over a shopping bag has got me thinking about what brahmacharya means to me, and also how a lack of brahmacharya has dramatically affected China.
The tradition I am trained in, and continue to study, is Tantric yoga. Yes, like Sting, but also like Buddha and the Dalai Lama. More specifically I study non-dual Tantric yoga.
Non-dual Tantric philosophy says that consciousness is manifested in each of us, and the purpose of our physical manifestation, even our duty, is to experience this body, this life. In other words, the meaning of life is to experience life.
To me, and millions of other yogis, including, I suspect, the people behind the offending lululemon bag, bramacharya doesn't mean celibacy, or a need to abstain from anything.
Brahmacharya says you should moderate your experience, moderate your consumption, and balance the choices you make so that you will be better aligned to experience your true self. Experience everything. A bit. But, don't take too much of any one thing (which is actually another yama, asteya).
Made In China
China is booming. Everywhere we go in the country there are gigantic malls being built, countless high rise apartments in various states of completion, factories spewing out the raw materials to build the high rises, and power plants chugging away to make sure there is enough energy to keep it all running.
For decades, China has been advancing its infrastructure at an astounding pace. The government says it is their right to modernise, and just because the West was industrialised first doesn't mean China shouldn't be able to catch up. There is sense in that.
They are also working hard to meet the demands of the West, who are greatly benefitting from the goods produced in China.
But, in China, there has been a severe imbalance, a lack of moderation. They are so focussed on building that there has been no room for other considerations, like preserving natural resources, or maintaining healthy air quality.
It is kind of like CrossFitter who is so focussed on weight lifting, that he forgets to eat well, get plenty of rest, and shower. He might get a few big muscles in the beginning, but it can't be sustained.
In China, the imbalance, the lack of brahmacharya, has led to its famously smog-filled cities. What is less reported is that it isn't just the cities. Everywhere we have gone has suffered from a sky dark with smog, the like of which we've never seen before.
Even when we were riding through the Qingling mountains we would see signs for scenic mountain views, but we couldn't see the mountains.
What China has begun to realise, however, is that it cannot continue as it has begun. If it wants to have any healthy citizens left to enjoy the new country that is being built, and if it wants to have any nature left to experience, it has to curb its emissions. It has to dial back on the excess of building, and balance it with conservation.
This year, China's carbon emissions increased by only 3%, a drastic decrease on its annual 10% increases for the past decade. Is this a sign that they are starting to embrace brahmacharya?
I am hopeful that the Chinese government will be able to reverse the effects of its own industrialisation before every stream is dry, before every citizen has cancer, and before tourists have decided it is just too unhealthy to visit.
I can see that underneath all the smog there is great beauty here. I just hope their new found appreciation for moderation hasn't come too late.
You can discover more about our bike trip in China on our daily journal, at My Five Acres.
All photos copyright Jane Mountain, 2013
*Full disclosure: I am a lululemon athletica Ambassador, which means they put my picture on their wall, support me as a yoga teacher, help me work on setting goals, and sometimes I teach yoga classes at their stores as I travel.