Yoga Is My Drug of Choice. ~ Stephanie Kohler

Via on Feb 21, 2011

Sunset Yoga by Andrew Kalat, on Flickr

Photo: Andrew Kalat

Altered States of Consciousness

Living in a city that is not permeated by yoga, I maintain a schedule and lifestyle notably removed from the mainstream. Socially, I am frequently in the company of people who do not practice yoga. In those instances, I am often the only person not drinking or imbibing some mind-altering chemical. So I’m often in the company of people stoned or high.

Typically, the stoned/high/drunk people interpret my behavior in two ways: either as disapproval of their consumption (not true) and/or my own love of sobriety. In their words, they enjoy “altered” consciousness—insinuating that sobriety is “unaltered,” and thus boring. It’s as if they’re meaning to say, “You’re such a square, Stephanie.” I respect both their opinion and their expression of it, though I disagree with their definition.

My reasons are not what people imagine. Though I value shaucha (purity), my abstention is less for the sake of a limb of yoga and ultimately because I prefer mindfulness. So I tend to avoid situations that draw me away from it. I drink champagne toasts at weddings sometimes, but don’t feel compelled to drink on New Year’s Eve, for example.

Sobriety, as in non-drunk, un-stoned, dis-high, should not be synonymous with “unaltered” consciousness. Though I have used drugs recreationally in the past, my consciousness now is far more altered than any of the times I had those substances in my body. The practice of multiple limbs of yoga (including breath work and meditation) keeps my consciousness altered, at least in comparison to its state before I practice yoga.

Acknowledging the range of altered consciousnesses, what then, is “unaltered” consciousness? If I consider heightened awareness as different (altered), then the opposite (unaltered) becomes some distracted state. By that rationale, altered consciousness is a paradox, given that behaviors and consumption always change consciousness.

In fact, I mostly exist in altered consciousness, in this sense of un-normal. Like many, I have “seen” profound visions underneath closed eyelids during meditation. In savasana (corpse/rest pose) and yoga nidra (yoga “sleep,” as in supine meditation), I often feel as though I’m levitating. Those experiences, from what my friends claim (and I still remember from my own past), are not so profoundly different from their altered states of consciousness.

Regardless of labels, what I share with people who partake of intoxicants is an appreciation of enhanced mindfulness, of heightened sensation. And when we’re present, there’s expansion.

Stephanie Kohler lives a life of eclectic and ecstatic passion. In no particular order, she is a writer, yogini, musician, teacher, nomad, lover, thinker, reader, dancer. She strives to balance effort with surrender, precision with laughter. Live life, love life, live love. Read more: southernwithasmalls.com

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8 Responses to “Yoga Is My Drug of Choice. ~ Stephanie Kohler”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Les Elephants, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Yoga Is My Drug of Choice. ~ Stephanie Kohler http://bit.ly/ePQ50g [...]

  2. Anne Falkowski Anne Falkowski says:

    My husband and I are both yoga practitioners and yoga teachers. We have a 14 year old daughter who became intrigued with getting high last year as many of her friends were experimenting with weed and drinking. She had not yet tried these substances but she was definitely curious and leaning towards trying it. Although we do not condone her experimenting with drugs at such a young age, we also know that if she really wants to check this stuff out, she will find a way. In addition to openly speaking with her about our own experiences (good and bad) with drugs and alcohol when we were younger we also shared with her how we get into our own altered states during yoga and how we open up instead of shut down. I think alot of younger people are looking for ways to feel more alive. Not necessarily more numb. Our yoga talk seemed to resonate with her and she asked us to teach her some pranayama and asana. Thanks for the posting.

  3. stephaniefrancesca says:

    Maureen & Anne, thanks for your feedback. Really interesting to think about this issue in the context of teenage drug use — Anne, you have amazing perspective on that situation! I love the idea that altered states from yoga help us "open up instead of shut down." Ultimately, I think all humans want to feel more alive. My first yoga teacher said that a single life, in the grand scheme of time, is a spark, but that yoga intensifies that spark. Here's to altered and intensified states for all of us!

  4. I'm with you all the way, Stephanie. There's no doubt that the Bhagavad Gita itself is about achieving a continual natural extreme high on life itself.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)
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  5. Meadow says:

    Stephanie, this was an absolutely lovely, succinct, and conscious serving of your perspectives on the topic. …and yoga nidra(even if I didn’t call it that) was my levitation of choice only a couple of nights ago (whoaa was that amazing)! I find myself drifting further and further away from the social and casualness of insobriety. Not entirely, to be fair, but it becomes less and less alluring, and for just the reasons you briefed. As “awareness” continues to upstage and hold supreme presence in daily life, more and more do I generally feel uncomfortable in a state which inhibits that clarity and equanimity. I don’t suppose a disposition that DIScludes me from appreciating the temporary suspension of my “work” here (Here, as in Spirit, and Work as in Inward Development), no. You will find me exploring the curiosities of the spectrum from time to time. But the value of all and in between resonate deeply. Thanks for sharing.

  6. stephaniefrancesca says:

    Wow, Meadow, thanks for sharing. I've often felt the same about the "casualness of insobriety," so I appreciate people that can hold a space for everyone's state of consciousness. Maybe a better distinction is consciousness (via whatever practice or substances) and unconsciousness?

  7. [...] on the mental plane to escape from the everyday world and instead may embrace defeat, fantasy, drugs, alcohol, depression, darkness and psychic/mental [...]

  8. [...] common. And true to reputation, chemicals of all kinds abounded (though I and many others chose not to imbibe—also a form of Radical [...]

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