Drinking doesn’t get in the way of Yoga.
Well it doesn’t. I drank for years and years. My relationship with alcohol has been every bit as tumultuous as any other relationship. It started with the odd fling. Until it became this habitual comfortable routine of just semi oblivion. There were some very dark times when it was a full on obsessive needy co-dependency. Real Cathy and Heathcliff screaming into the wind stuff.
I was never a full on cliché of an alcoholic, slurping down vodka for breakfast. In my 41 years of life I had only ever woken up once with a stranger which is pretty good going. Alcohol has only made me vomit on 3 occasions in this life. Granted I do have a fairly robust constitution. I rarely drank so much that I could not get up and work the next day, go to the gym. And Yes… Oh Yes… I am a Yogi. Who also happens to teach Yoga.
In the Yoga World there is a lot of judgement around drinking. A lot of people who say things like “Well I’ve never understood drinking. I mean life is so beautiful, why would you not want to be present?” Or they helpfully point out that alcohol is a toxin. A bit like pointing out to someone that smoking isn’t good for you. Or how living on cheesecake will make you fat. As if we all didn’t know
OR- on the other hand-they drink and excuse their habits by relating it to spiritual texts. Because they feel shame around it and need to come up with a good story as to why they crave the escape. Like quoting the Five M’s ritual from the Kula Arnava Tantra, conveniently forgetting that text was written for lifelong ascetics and is not in fact designed to be encouragement for hardened party animals (Sorry Sadie Nardini)…. Or its OK if its ‘organic. But Yoga practice- or fixating on physical Yoga asana practice- does not make you immune to the lure of the Wine Witch.
I completely understand why people want to drink. The very world we live in seems to be Hell-bent on destroying itself. There is plenty of everything and yet we are force fed a poverty mentality and the pantomime of politicians telling us how f***ed we all are. And the people in control. You really couldn’t make it up. No one on this planet needs to starve but they do. The cancerous power of politicians and companies that endorse the poison chemo of Fracking. People living in war zones who have had everything dear to them destroyed. People insisting on separation and more separation. Social media, Facebook and Instagram replacing actual interaction. Can you even remember the last time you dropped in on someone at their house? Just to say Hi? Tinder replacing getting to know people. We have never been more lonely.
And just look at The Yoga World. Log onto Facebook and see all the chirpy adverts for “Rock your Yoga Body” and “Yoga Burn” and airbrushing and appearances, appearances, appearances. How to be a Career Yoga teacher. The emphasis is always on transformation, growth, success. Yoga, it seems, has become Capitalism too. And you’d better make sure you look right. Add an O to Prana and you get Pro-Ana. So you can rock that thigh gap in your ironic leggings that were made by kids in China. Suck it in for Instagram. And living like that is actually escapism too- every bit as much as drinking is. Wipe out your soul in a fug of Hot Yoga and books on how to manifest more more more.
Or to borrow a bit of Trainspotting lingo…. Choose Life. Choose Instagram with your green juice and your Yoga mat. Choose whacking an Om symbol on anything that doesn’t move. Choose venomous exchanges on Yoga Teachers Forums. Choose Tie Dye. Choose Kefir. Choose The Secret. Choose keeping your Yoga within the confines of the studio. Choose competing for the attention of a Guru. Choose competitive humility. And I’m sure you can think of more.
The world of Yoga makes me want to drink. It makes me want to drink in the worst possible way. Not in a bar, or with organic cocktails. No. It makes me want to sit on a park bench with a six pack and yelling obscenities at strangers FURIOUS type of drinking.
Yoga as we know it, arising from the Tantras that are at the very root of Hatha Yoga was an early taste of counter culture in this world. Yoga to me is freedom. It is being unashamedly who you were meant to be. Its loving yourself and the world without apology. It is the living tradition of the Law of Love. It is radical. It allows you to explore your own shadow, not to push it away with ego trips.
There is a real lack of Love now in the Yoga world. Too many people obtaining self esteem from being Yoga teachers. Endlessly worrying about what they should say/do/wear in front of their audience. Turning the little they have learnt into marketing exercises. Forgetting that to teach Yoga is to be of service. That you are there for your students and not vice versa. To be authentic, to do your best and to encourage others to do theirs. And to foster self practice in your students and not encourage dependency on you as a ‘teacher’.
So the state of the world- the state of the ‘Yoga’ world and the state of my own inner world all colluded to make me crave some Space. I have overworked for a long time. Holding down an office job to pay the bills. Teaching most days. Rare days off. Managing my practice maybe 3 times a week Feeling guilty and tired. I was drinking 2-3 glasses of wine 2-3 times a week. Home late and alone after teaching and being on buses as I had no car.
Judging myself. LONELINESS.
A while ago I made the decision to keep my teaching in gyms, in schools, to my local University Yoga society. To focus on teaching in the community. In short to just focus on getting as many people practicing Yoga as I humanly can and sowing the seeds of their own practice. That to me seems a better use of my life force than running a studio and all that goes with that and endlessly flyering and marketing.
And so with that idea in place I started growing my classes and work. It occurred to me a year ago when I was online that I was a little low on energy. I wasn’t feeling great that day and thought perhaps it was time to not drink for a few weeks and get back into my practice and recommit myself. Then I found a forum for people who had made the decision to live without drinking. The fabulous Sheffield based soberistas.com. And I thought about it. It seemed unthinkable. And the fact it seemed unthinkable scared me. So I decided it was time to let go. I let go of my thrice weekly drinking.
I decided to stop drinking. Just stop completely. Not ‘moderate’ as that doesn’t work. And anyhow my drinking was moderate by the standards of many. Even if it did make me feel dreadful. And a lot of people feel mostly dreadful.
And summer was coming with it’s lighter evenings. I started going for long walks in the woods near my house. The first month was hard. Cravings. I would get this intense feeling of wanting to be ‘elsewhere’ and interpret that as boredom. I needed to sleep a lot. The sugar cravings were insane. This is apparently all normal for regular drinkers who stop. So I had a lot of early nights eating chocolate and reading Quit Lit.
As I had been drinking for years all the things I used to have a drink to take the edge off came up again. My father’s death. The pain of being left by the conscious choice of suicide. The death of all the people I have loved. Living alone and missing companionship. Anger. Being totally fucking furious at a man I loved with all my heart who left me quite a long time ago for someone else. And then, unexpectedly, thinking of him with Love. And remembering the good times.
I found an amazing support group with Jo De Rosa in the UK who I call ‘The High Priestess of Sobriety’. Who also writes and runs a retreat centre. Google her. This is a non judgemental approach to recovering from the habits that no longer serve you. The emphasis is on meditation and going within. No helpless victim thinking. I saw how my fondness for alcohol was actually a blessing. It was signposting that which I needed to attend to. So in this way addiction is a good thing. Cravings are a good thing on a soul level.
I started to deal with the past. And to deal with the anger. And to have compassion rather than judgment. To notice my own projections and triggers. I am getting a little better. Accepting myself just as I am is a work in process.
The book ‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace has also changed my feelings about alcohol forever. I used to buy into the myth of it being relaxing. But it really is not. People don’t tend to break out fighting in the streets when they are sober do they? Ethanol does have addictive qualities and we are all vulnerable. Alcohol is also marketed to be very appealing. If I was of a mindset that did conspiracy theories I would say that alcohol is the ultimate tool of social control. It is a depressant- so keeps us small. You don’t even need huge amounts it for it to take the edge off your vison. It encourages you to accept the drudgery of daily life and crave escape from that rather that to CHANGE your own reality so you have a life you don’t want to drink your way out of. It makes you crave shit food and keeps you sick. It makes you fat. It supports the pharmaceutical and the diet industries. Physically and emotionally it enslaves you. Alcohol is a liar and a cheat.
Quitting drinking forever has been one of the most liberating things i have ever done. And best of all it was easy. I don’t crave it. I can be aound people drinking and it doesn’t bother me. It’s like being a child again, back to that state of not needing a crutch. You wake up fresh. I swear the world looks more beautiful. I see beauty in the little things now and see the world in all its nuances. Yes I still get angry and want change but I FEEL things rather than just reacting to them. I FEEL myself rather than just reacting to others.
I have always meditated but my practice has deepened immeasurably. In Pranayama it feels as though I am there one hundred percent. My asana practice is calmer and stronger. I got more work doing what I love. I even passed my driving test and got a car so I could take my Love out further.
Sobriety has now become an intrinsic part of my practice. I have changed my mind about drinking. For me, it had its place. It was useful. Sometimes I loved it. But I have loved stepping away from it. What I knew about Tapas deepened immeasurably. For in quitting a habit, in letting go of a crutch you come closer to your own core. There is a rawness to it.
Drinking does NOT get in the way of Yoga. But given time, Yoga gets in the way of drinking.
I have been free of alcohol for a year now. It is no longer a source of pleasure. I found a new source.
I do not miss it.