Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Lets Talk Yoga and Alcohol

Listen, if you want to drink beer and wine, go for it. I absolutely am a social drinker.

Occasionally, I drink a beer because I like the taste of it. Occasionally, I drink wine because I like how it pairs with something. If that is why you drink, this doesn’t apply to you. If you drink because of the health benefits, this doesn’t apply to you.

However, if I am completely honest with myself, 95% of the time, I am drinking beer or wine to shift my mood. I am drinking it because there is something inside of me that is keeping me from being open and free. There is something inside of me that is keeping me from being able to have fun on my own volition.

This is why drinking is prohibited in Yogic texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and most schools of Yoga. Because instead of being present with how you actually feel, you drink yourself into a place of feeling better. When we drink, we are not fully ourselves. If you think you are, ask somebody who is with you when you drink. They will absolutely list off characteristics that were not there before you picked up that glass.

We often trivialize alcohol because some of the characteristics we pick up are positive.  When people drink, they sometimes get happy! They are fun! Uninhibited! If you are smoking weed, you may even be quite profound. You guys, I watch a lot of crime shows. I don’t know why. Maybe I was a cop in a past life.  It is documented, that some people who murder, feel stillness right afterwards.  This is how many serial killers are born.  They continue to kill so that they can feel that stillness afterwards. Like Dexter. Have you seen it? He would count down the days between a kill and he would start to feel out of sorts until he did it again.

Listen, alcohol and murder are not equivalent. I am not saying that. I am using this crazy extreme example to explain that just because something makes you feel good, does not mean you should do it.

Yoga is 24/7. You may not get it right 24/7. You may be messing up 19/7.  You may be drunk, 5/7.  Attempting to get back on the path is what puts us…well…on the path.

The end result of Yoga is to be ecstatic by your own volition.

Here are the real questions. I asked myself these as well. Since I do drink from time to time.

Why can’t I let loose and be uninhibited without the alcohol? (For me, it is my religious upbringing.)

Why can’t I let go of  stress without it? (For me, not really trying. Alcohol is easier.)

Why can’t I have fun without drinking? (For me, not really trying. Alcohol is easier.)

Why can’t I open up without it? (For me, I have trouble being vulnerable and showing emotion.)

Why do I need it to unwind? (For me, because I can’t handle the consequences of living my life.)

I don’t make excuses for drinking. I don’t try to justify it. I don’t try to use logic to turn it into a spiritual practice.

So, I already know that some of you are thinking, “what about the spiritual traditions that use drugs and alcohol?” First of all, let me get this out of the way, I am not an anthropologist, historian, preacher, or an expert in spiritual drunkness. However, research seems to show that the use of drugs and alcohol in these situations,  is highly ritualized.  It is used in ceremonies or with many rituals attached. It is often even prepared in a very ritualized way and only certain alcohols and drugs are used.  It is usually overseen by a Shaman or Guru.  It is not people driving home going, “Man, my boss really laid into me. I hate my job. I am going to stop in at the Wine Vault and get something to help me relax.” They are probably not using Meth, Mollies or Lean for theses rituals.

In these scenarios, alcohol and drugs are used in the way that Yoga is used. Yoga is traditionally very ritualized because, if left to our own devices, we would use it to solidify our egos and unhealthy habits. Using a Yoga practice to deny what you feel, is the same as drinking alcohol to deny what you feel. That is why we have to get on our mats no matter how we feel.  Without that ritual, Yoga just becomes another drug.

Every human experience is backed by a chemical basis. People try to put in chemicals either in the form of drugs or drink or whichever way, to manipulate their chemistry into a pleasant experience. If all you are seeking is a little bit of pleasure, I am not against it. But if you are a pleasure seeker, wouldn’t you be interested if you were given an opportunity to have a much bigger pleasure? If you could learn to be drunk all the time and fully alert, wouldn’t you be interested?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with alcohol, I am ignoring it because it doesn’t have enough kick in it. I am constantly drunk on something else – simply drunk on life. I can get intoxicated on just my inhalation and exhalation. People have fallen for alcohol because that is the biggest thing that they have seen. I am offering them a different drink, a drink which is much more intoxicating than alcohol. Most people who have tasted this with me have given up alcohol, not because they think it is bad, but because they think it is kindergarten stuff. They have grown beyond it.

The question is not about wrong or right. This is not a moral standpoint. It is just that it is very limited. You drink a little bit tonight and tomorrow morning you get a big hangover. But I can be drunk twenty-four hours of the day – no hangover, it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s good for health! Isn’t this a better way to drink? We look at alcohol, drugs and all these things as kindergarten stuff because we can get intoxicated a thousand times over just with our aliveness. Why simply wine? You can get drunk with the di-vine.- Sadhguru

I am not saying you should stop drinking or that you are a bad person if you drink. I drink and I clearly don’t think I am a bad person LOL  I have gotten to the point where my tolerance is next to nothing.  After 2 glasses of wine, I am toasted. When I drink more than one beer or glass of wine,  I either get sick or sleepy. My body is loosing its tolerance for it. I do think it is the Yoga. If we are working diligently on the path of Yoga, things fall away. That may not be alcohol for you. It may be anger or greed.

I love this video by Kino MacGregor. She is talking about vegetarianism but what she says still applies. She talks about not pushing yourself to be vegetarian. That when you want to go that route, it will naturally arise within you.  It is the same with alcohol and that is the route I am going down. Already veg.


You have to do you but something I am tired of seeing is justifying the use of drugs and alcohol.

“Doing classes at breweries gets students to practice Yoga so it is a good thing.” Yep. You may introduce some people to Yoga that way.  People get introduced to Jesus in prison and it is awesome.  Does it mean the crime they committed was cool?  I’m just saying. I am not answering it for you. Do you, Boo. I love the episodes of Lock Up that cover prison preachers.

“Beer is spiritual because it makes me feel good and spirituality is supposed to make me feel good.”  Refer back to the Dexter example above.  I loved Dexter. It was a great show.

I drink alcohol. I am in the club. However, I am not going to justify it. As a person on the path of Yoga, there is no excuse that justifies it.  I chose this path. I took it on. I am writing about it and going broke traveling to India. I am teaching it. I am not going to justify it. I am going to accept it. As Sadhguru said above, I am still doing kindergarten stuff.  I can’t handle my emotions, I need my binky/beer. I need to go down for a nap (get wasted so I can’t think anymore). It is not spiritual. I’m working on it.

Before, I shut this post down. Let me take it to the Sutras and the purpose of Yoga.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says that Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. It then lists the 5 fluctuations. Drinking is related to the fluctuations

Right Knowledge: If you are smoking and drinking for religious spiritual purposes, based on information from your Guru or Shaman and you cannot find his state without it, it is not your true state.  It is an altered state. The practices, we do in Yoga, are always pointing us to the state of Yoga. They are not the state itself.  Putting your leg behind your head is not the purpose of Yoga, however, it can point to it. It is the same for the drugs.

“The biggest obstacle to meditation is Vikalpa,
the ability of the mind to fabricate in spite of reality.”
– TKV Desikachar Madras December 19th 1988

“Through Vikalpa,
the mind fabricates thoughts of no essence, no substance;
and since meditation is, for most of us, the play of the mind,
Vikalpa is the greatest obstacle.”
– TKV Desikachar Madras December 19th 1988

“Even if one’s Guru says a certain thing will happen and it happens,
that is still Vikalpa, as it has not gone through the necessary progression.
When you take the word of the Guru for authority,
unless you put it through the process of discriminative investigation (Viveka),
the mere acceptance of it, even if true, because it suits your fancy
i.e. Vikalpa, will not make it valid for you.”
– TKV Desikachar Madras December 19th 1988

Misconception: Knowledge, that is not based on its true form, is misconception. The alcohol/drug blocks our ability to truly see and experience what is in front of us.

Verbal Delusion:  Thoughts arising upon hearing mere words that are not based on reality are verbal delusion.  Alcohol impairs our ability to see what is really going on in the moment. As a result, thoughts will be arising that are not based on reality.

Sleep: The mental modification supported by cognition of nothingness is sleep. I am sure you have heard of night caps. That is what alcohol does for me. I get sweet blessed sleep. I get to escape from my life without dying first… for like 8 hours. Also, if you drink enough, you black out. You are sleep to the world and again, ignoring and not dealing with how you feel.

Memory: People drink to block memories or to make them, LOL.  This really has a big baring on why I drink. I know I don’t need it. I know I will feel like crap and get super sleepy but man, it was fun at some point, so maybe it will be fun this time! It rarely is. For me. I am not speaking for you. Chears or not.




Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.


  • Eric N Peguero

    I love this article. For the most part, it is not preachy and considers the honest reasons why drink – every-so-often or frequently. Regardless of whether you practice yoga or not (and I do), the principles the author shares should be considered and explored. Where I often find difficulty is where the expectation is to do something because “yoga expects it”. For instance, Kino – whom I love – states as paraphrased by the author, “She talks about not pushing yourself to be vegetarian. That when you want to go that route, it will naturally arise within you.” The last sentence clearly implies that if you are to become a better person, it will “arise within you” because all yogis should be vegetarians – as the author is, too. Enlightenment, yoga or yolk may come in different ways without ever having to do a cleanse, becoming a vegetarian or having a drink so often. There are so many more important things. So, people who want to learn and practice should not be intimidated by all of these personal choices. Yoga is not a religion and it is not a set of rules that if you do not follow them makes you less of a yogi or yogini than someone else.

    If you sense that I am irritated, I am. The amount of preaching in social media by wonderful teachers is taking the “wonderful” out of the teachers. Yogis are not preachers. So… let’s stop.

    To the author, once again in case I wasn’t clear… Nice job in making 95% of this article so approachable. The most I have seen in a LONG, LONG time. From one yogi to another, namaste.

  • Sam

    Nice article. Another reason yogis drink alcohol is to maintain the relationships they have with friends and family. It is difficult to give up habits, especially the cherished and semi-sacred habits that sustain relationships. I tried to continue seeing friends and family after I lost interest in drinking, but the occasions where alcohol was involved were uninteresting and superficial unless I had also numbed my consciousness to the same level as the others. Then, I mostly stopped going to such occasions and, after some time, my friends and family began to think that I had become a rude snobbish person. The power of the group! The power of conformity!

    • Mira

      No offense at all, but do you need to drink alcohol to sustain relationships? Is this not a product of our culture? I just have a really hard time justifying alcohol for this reason. Do you have to numb your consciousness to sustain relationships? If so are these relationships really doing anything worth feeling?

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