During my yoga therapy training, and in groups in general, I struggle with knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet. When I feel I have something to contribute, and when I need to listen. It’s never easy to know. I want to stay engaged and participate regularly but not be the one who speaks less and last OR the one who ends up rattling on and on and taking up space that others may want to use.
Brahmacarya is one of the yamas that Patanjali writes about in the yoga sutras. The yamas are ethical principles that guide our interactions with others and the world around us. Brahmacarya is often translated simply as “moderation,” and many associate this with eating, sex, shopping and bad habits we need to slow or stop. But it is more complex than that. It is also about examining the energy you have in a given time period and being more conscious about how you use it. How you give AND how you take.
Which is how this experiment of my “group energy” began. And why it still continues to this day.
I am rarely the one to speak first, so I decided that at least once or twice during a 10-hour training session, I would speak first without hesitation. This was a challenge as I didn’t have time to organize my thoughts, but I did it anyway. I found that it created a relief in the group at the beginning of conversation—and I was sharing the responsibility of getting the conversation moving.
And it created relief for me; I had contributed and started the conversation and now I could sit back and listen. All that energy of figuring out WHEN to speak, WHAT to say and whether I could possibly offer something as valuable as those before me—all that crazy, unnecessary energy was somehow now not happening. I was just listening and engaged with the group. Actually learning vs. simply spinning my mental wheels!
I also had to examine why I never wanted to speak first. Was it a lack of confidence, a perfectionist tendency to have my response all put together first, or perhaps a fear of saying the wrong thing or missing the actual point of the question (i.e., humiliation!)? It was likely all of those things. As a child, I had a very vocal mom, who often left me with little space to speak and lots of time to think about what I might say.
She was a wonderful mom in so many ways, but I became more of a listener than a contributor, and that pattern stuck with me. I had so many conversations stuck inside me that never got out, and I began to think they must not be important. No one was asking me for my opinion, so it must not matter. As with all childhood patterns, we must examine how they were useful for us then and determine if they are simply in our way as we grow older and more independent and as we face entirely different situations and challenges.
So despite my past patterns and tendency to hold back, I created new ways of managing my energy in group situations that serve me better in my current life. And here’s what I learned: I was more engaged when I made myself ready to speak first, and I was also more comfortable simply not saying anything during a discussion. Sometimes I just added a note or personal experience to what someone else shared. And my verbal contributions weren’t guided by what I had to say or contribute—I was not evaluating “Is what I’m going to add important or more worthwhile than what someone else has to say.” Instead, I was staying engaged, contributing more often and being more concise than usual—tossing in a joke here and there but not chiming in just to throw in a joke. (OK, I still did that a few times 😊)
I also found myself more relaxed and energized, even though the days in training were horrendously long! It was a flow, in and out, in and out, and I had found a way to eliminate the stress of figuring out when to talk and what to say exactly when. What a LOT of mental energy I had been wasting, and that mental energy was making my physical body exhausted much, much earlier.
There's a popular theory called Spoon Theory used to illustrate how people with chronic illness can manage their energy. It was created in 2003 by writer and blogger Christine Miserandino and uses spoons to represent units of energy. The idea is that you have a set number of spoons at the start of each day, and you have to choose how you want to use them. Each thing you do uses one or multiple spoons, depending on how much energy it requires (this number can be different for everyone). While it was created for people with chronic illness, I think we can all take a lesson from it. Just like brahmacarya, it demonstrates the importance of managing your energy and making sure you put it into the right things. Those things can be different for different people and depend on what you want to accomplish, but it's all about managing your energy so you're not wasting it on things that don't benefit you.
So how are you managing your energy in your daily life? Can you find something that is making you utterly exhausted and examine it? Maybe it needs to go, be moderated or changed, or maybe something else needs to go to allow more of your finite energy (or spoons!) to be devoted to the first thing?
These are just some of the questions brahmacarya asks of us. 😊