Brahmacharya is one of the key elements of yoga.
Some think of Brahmacharya as a life without sex. Others see it as a general attitude towards life. Lets begin by exploring Brahmacharya as an aspect of yoga.
The path of yoga was codified over 2000 years ago by the yogi and scholar Patanjali. He expressed yoga as having eight yoga, aspects or limbs, like the branches of a tree. I think it is helpful to conceptualize organically, where different aspects are integrated simultaneously. Neither yoga nor life moves in a purely linear fashion.
The first two limbs of the tree of yoga are known as the yamas and niyamas. I would define the yamas as “moral & ethicalethical principles,” and the niyamas as disciplines and conduct.
Brahmacharya is one of the 5 yamas. Literally speaking Brahmacharya means ‘the conduct ‘ (charya) that leads to Brahma, which is, in yoga philosophy, the experience of the Ultimate Reality. Buddhism would call this highest reality Nirvana; Christianity uses the term: the ‘Kingdom of Heaven within.’ Different names for the same river.
The question we each must ask is “what actions and experiences of mine will move me closer to this ultimate reality and what actions and experiences will move me further away.” It is deep in our spiritual hearts and conscience that we each find the answers for ourselves.
Brahmacharya and sexual relations
Historically speaking, in the ancient indian texts brahmacharya refers to one of the four stages of life. This first stage—brahmacharya–is the ‘student’ life. This is the period just before puberty and up until marriage. It is characterized by spiritual and secular study and strict adherence to the yamas: non-violence, truthfulness, not-stealing; not-receiving gifts and strict celibacy. In the yamas this celibacy is also referred to as brahmacharya. So the word brahmacharya refers to both a stage of life and sexual abstinence.
In monastic traditions, both Eastern and Western, celibacy, or abstinence from sexual relations is considered one of the foundations of the spiritual life. While this is often a life-long practice limited periods of abstinence are also an integral part of many spiritual traditions.
The basic idea of sexual-abstinence is that the same energy that fuels our sexuality, including our sexual thoughts, also fuels our spiritual quest. This energy is the creative force of the universe. Each of us needs to decide how and when we will utilize abstinence in our own lives and how and when to express our sexuality.
Sujantra speaks more on brahmacharya in his video Brahmacharya.