Several months ago, I did a post on this blog about yoga and vegetarianism/veganism. The question was, “Does a yogi need to be a vegetarian/vegan?” This time around, I want to address the issue of whether or not a yogi ought to abstain totally from alcohol.
Certainly, there is something odd and maybe even a little contradictory about being a yogi who drinks alcohol regularly. A yogi, after all, is supposed to be the model of someone who has achieved (or is working towards) transcendence of the senses and even the mind. Most people drink alcohol, however, to relax, to feel good, to get “a buzz”, etc. In other words, the whole purpose of alcohol seems to be to artificially induce a pleasurable physical and mental state of some sort. At least this seems to be the case with most social drinking. Of course, there are other instances where a person may drink in order to “dull the pain,” and this seems even more out of line with what we might call the yogic way.
But what about having, say, one or two beers? Is that really such a horrible thing to do as a yogi? Well, I think this is a really personal question, and one that really depends on a person’s state of mind. If addiction to the “buzz” of drinking alcohol is the main motivation behind drinking, then, of course, this seems to be out of line with yoga. Non-attachment is an important aspect of yoga, and addiction is pretty much the paradigm case of attachment.
I’ve found, however, that certain motivations for abstaining from alcohol seem not to be really genuine (in the yogic sense). For instance, in the presence of friends and associates at bars or parties, I have often refused to drink any alcohol, partially, I think, in order to make a show if it. In other words, my abstinence was partially performative. What was I performing exactly? The role of a yogi, I think. In other words, it is possible for a person to become so attached to a certain self-conception — e.g. “I am yogi” or “I am athlete” or “I am American” — that he becomes blinded by this, and, as a result, conducts all or most of his behaviors to reinforce this self-conception. In order to elevate a self-conception from mere fancy to actuality, a person may find himself constantly performing, so to speak, certain behaviors in full view of others in order to reify this self-conception.
In the end, I do think that drinking alcohol is somewhat inconsistent with the so-called yogic lifestyle. So I’m not suggesting here that we ought to forget about ourselves as yogis and run out to the bar. Rather, I want to suggest that a genuine reason for abstaining from alcohol is a lack of interest in it. A not so genunie reason is the desire to maintain a certain identity, in your own eyes and in the eyes of others. Merely playing the role of a yogi does not make one a yogi.