April 14, 2016

Not-So-Happy Hour: Why Yoga & Alcohol Just Don’t Mix.

Ryan McGuire/gratisography

There is a relatively new trend within the yoga community of creating events that combine yoga with something-else-fun-and-enticing.

Stand-up paddle board yoga, climbing & yoga, Glow-in-the-Dark yoga and aerial yoga are all things I’ve come across recently. At a time when yoga is becoming even more accessible to the masses, some of these sound like great news.

When you add yoga to a hike, you’ve appealed to hikers and introduced them to a different way to care for their body, mind and spirit. By combining two healthy activities, it seems like we, and humanity overall, are headed in the right direction.

But there’s also another direction in which this trend is heading: there’s Yoga in the Vines, Happy Hour yoga, yoga and wine tasting.

I believe there’s a vast difference in combining a yoga practice with an already invigorating endeavor, like hiking, and depleting the quality of time spent on your mat with consciousness-altering substances. And that difference cannot be overstated.

The latter feels like a gross representation of the overall aim, if the idea is to encourage practitioners—new and seasoned alike—to make yoga a part of their daily lives.

Alcohol dramatically affects your coherence, awareness and consciousness. Being genuinely interested in union surely means bringing pure coherence, full awareness and clear consciousness to your mat. When we come together as a community in the space of practicing yoga, we have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to create an atmosphere of growth and support. Of union.

It’s not that I’m proposing all yogis become teetotalers. Just like assuming everyone who practices yoga should be vegan, these sweeping generalizations and rules are more limiting than useful, in my opinion. But there’s a dramatic disparity between enjoying a glass of wine with family or friends, and taking the sacred space and energy of yoga and combining it with the escapism and numbing qualities of alcohol.

Globally, we seem to be in a particularly alcohol-heavy place in history.

Alcohol has become almost inescapable in our pursuit of having fun, celebrating special occasions and feeling cool and sexy. A substance this ubiquitous in our society was bound to be brought into previously dry situations, but the ease with which I can now find an event that combines practicing yoga with drinking alcohol is at least unsettling, and at most completely mind-boggling in its depth at missing the point.

I can be a bit of a curmudgeon where yoga and discipline are concerned, that’s true. I subscribe to what I feel is a purist approach to the practice, honoring traditions and history, while making the postures and vocabulary as accessible as possible to my students. I don’t play pop music, burn candles or rub essential oils on my students during savasana.

But I can appreciate that for some, music and candles and oils deepen and add to the experience of practicing yoga. I think anyone who is adding to and deepening their practice has the right idea. And who am I to say how anyone should go about that? It’s pretty personal work.

And yet…

I don’t know exactly where the line gets crossed from “deepening” to “diminishing,” but, to borrow from former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” And I’m looking straight at it when I see yogis heading for a bottle of booze together, under the guise of community and socializing, as soon as they step off their mat.

People come to yoga for a lot of different reasons. Whatever it is that brings us onto our mats doesn’t really matter. Practitioners who stick around longer than the first few weeks and months are bound to find way more than they thought they were looking for.

Which is one of the great gifts of this practice: come for the exercise, stay for an unexpected sense of integrity and surrender! Unless, of course, you’re distracted by a glass of Chardonnay along the way.

Because then, integrity and surrender get replaced with numbing and avoiding, which is why most of us head for the alcohol anyway, if we get really honest about it.  While that’s a story for another time, the point is that yoga is the wrong place and wrong time to invite qualities of resistance into our lives.

As the Bhagavad Gita says, “Those who strive resolutely on the path of yoga see the Self within. The thoughtless, who strive imperfectly, do not.”

Here’s to striving resolutely.


Author: Kelly McCormick

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Image: Ryan McGuire/gratisography

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