Let me introduce this post with the one phrase that has become a cliché to most Hindus. Hinduism is not a religion; it is a way of life. Before you let out an exasperated sigh and roll your eyes, let me explain. Over 60,000 years ago, a wealth of knowledge was revealed to the world in the Agamas. These are scriptures that were directly revealed by Sadashiva to the world. Hindus consider the Vedas and Agamas as the highest authority. In these 60,000 year-old scriptures, He gives human beings a manual for living life. Everything from the best way to brush your teeth in the morning to the best way to achieve enlightenment is mentioned. Therefore, by attempting to squeeze Hinduism into the narrow western concept of “religion” makes it extremely difficult to talk about issues like yoga, which on the surface do not seem religious, but are in fact exactly that, if you insist on using the word “religion.“
I recently came across the ridiculousness that is beer yoga. Yes, your eyes aren’t failing you. It is in fact beer and yoga separated by nothing more than a tap of the space bar. I came across some interesting views on this topic and decided that it might make for a good blog post, so do hear me out. I’ll be addressing the counterarguments that I faced that I frankly didn’t even think existed. I’m glad I saw these differing views as it gives me a chance to explain.
The instructions for yoga are given in the Agamas, one of the foremost religious scriptures for Hindus. This, by definition, makes yoga a religious act. There are many problems that arise from removing yoga from the source. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on Ashtanga Yoga.
In 2008, yoga researchers in Europe published a survey, that lacked a control group therefore limiting internal validity, of practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga indicating that 62 percent of the respondents had suffered at least one injury that lasted longer than one month.
However the mass media has reported injuries in other styles of yoga equally as often as in Ashtanga Yoga. For example, Bikram yoga, Hot yoga, and Iyengar Yoga, have received equally bad press.
This excerpt clearly shows the dangers of not practicing authentic yoga. It is our responsibility to seek gurus who teach authentic yoga. Yoga is a gift to humanity. It is being distorted, the distortion is leading to undesirable side effects, and ultimately yoga as a science is being branded as being dangerous. In reality, authentic yoga, done as prescribed by the scriptures, is anything but.
Secondly, the word yoga literally means “union” and yoga was designed as a way of achieving oneness with the whole, the “brahman” the cosmic soul, atman, God, or anything else you may call it. Ashtanga yoga is commonly practiced today but Sashtanga yoga is the original yoga, revealed directly by Sadashiva. It has six (sashta) limbs (anga) or parts. Now, each of these parts plays a vital role in yoga. Asanas (postures) make up only one of these parts. Yoga holds a deep spiritual significance and to cut off its limbs and present it to the world as “yoga” is ridiculous. To pick and choose like vultures over the mangled remains and sell the parts is downright barbaric. Knowledge of anything cannot be complete if the intention of the author is forgotten.
Many people practice yoga and don’t have any spiritual significance attached to the practice. There is a point to be made here: yoga, if practiced in its completion, is by definition a spiritual practice, since the path of yoga is to achieve oneness and express the powers of enlightenment. Second, if you are practicing only asanas, then it is wrong to call it yoga. Mislabeling the practice leads to misrepresentation of an entire culture eventually rendering the original practice obsolete.
Recently I was met with someone who was offended that I had called their yoga practice inauthentic because personally they do yoga to “calm down and get a good stretch.” I would like to point out that this should be labeled as “stretching” and not as “yoga.” To call this yoga is the equivalent of taking East of Eden by John Steinbeck, a novel loosely based on a bible story with similar themes, and marketing it as the Bible. Apart from being totally disrespectful, it is just plain wrong.
As Swamiji puts it beautifully, “Because you always see the ocean from the beach, the moment the word ocean is uttered, you only visualize the beach. And because yoga starts from bending the body, unfortunately the moment the word yoga is uttered, you think it is only bending the body.”
Next, is my main point. Alcohol and yoga don’t mix people! Yoga requires a certain lifestyle. There are multiple yogic practices that when done while intoxicated can lead to severe vomiting and even damage to the brain. There are other asanas that require a completely vegetarian body. If yoga is removed from its source and only parts of it are marketed to the world, these prerequisites are lost and yoga again becomes “dangerous.”
Alcohol is not expressly prohibited or even discouraged by Hinduism. In fact, Hinduism is so varied and rich and everything is given its place. It is common practice to offer alcohol to the main Kala Bhairava deity (a form of Shiva) in Ujjain, India. However, yoga requires a certain lifestyle, and to disregard that is nothing short of foolish.
Another misconception that came up was this: there are yoga gurus who smoke weed in Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. I’d like to point out the significant differences that exist between their practices and the practice of our yoga. Actually, the sadhus that live here not only smoke weed, but also offer it to the deity. The sadhus (ascetics) have done extreme tapas (penance) and achieved the state of Samadhi. They have completely mastered their bodies and have complete control over their bodies. Some Naga sadhus have performed extreme acts of physical strength because the physical laws that limit our bodies no longer bind them. However, to equate this with recreational smoking and beer yoga is wrong. Yoga is designed to help us achieve the state that they are in.
Here is an excellent article about the Naga Sadhus and the various feats that they have performed (read the last section to have your mind blown): http://www.kumbhmela.com/naga-sadhus-embodiment-of-non-violence/
Yoga is a unique gift to the world and it’s a unique contribution by Hinduism. Anyone who is interested in learning yoga should do so from an authentic source so that they get the complete experience. The fact that there are people out there that are making a mockery of this practice should not discourage true seekers from learning authentic yoga. The scriptures have stood the test of time and will continue to do so for ages to come. For anyone who is interested, here is a link to a PDF copy of a book by living avatar Paramahamsa Nithyananda that gives the original scriptural references for each yoga posture, along with an English translation and an explanation by renowned yoga gurus.
– Ma Nithya Priyathmananda
As always, leave comments below and let us know what you think!