Very recently two organizations in Delhi worked together to organize what is called “Beer Yoga”. This group calls it “Be-Arogya”! The videos of the Beer Yoga session feature people taking a sip of beer and then doing something that resembles a Push up and then again taking a sip. A Times of India article published in January refers to the participants as Beer Yogis. Other news articles on Beer Yoga report the beneficial effects of beer on the body and how the practices can be extremely relaxing. Internet search reveals that Beer Yoga started in Germany as a movement and now is in full swing in many countries, with a lot of youngsters adopting it.
As Yoga is gaining popularity all over the world, it has also become vulnerable to severe distortions. Shri. Rajiv Malhotra calls this digestion, a process where the source is completely forgotten and the practice takes an unrecognizable form. On a lighter note, Beer Yoga is not just digestion but can lead to serious indigestion.
The “Yoga Industry” is being estimated at close to 30 billion dollars and the focus seems to have moved away from traditional practices to a more premium lifestyle package that includes Yoga accessories, retreats and expensive diet choices. Yoga studios that charge hundreds of dollars and thousands of rupees have cropped everywhere in the world. What is more dangerous is that the source Guru Parampara of these practices is untraceable. They are either consciously hidden or carelessly forgotten. Shri.Rajiv Malhotra has extensively spoken about this issue in this video.
Though, historically, we can trace the origins of Yoga to India, many Indians of today need a better understanding of what Yoga is so that they are able to differentiate the authentic forms from the distorted ones like Beer Yoga.
What is Yoga?
In popular literature, Yoga is often defined as the union of the body with the mind. Classical Yoga texts go deeper than the mind-body connection and establish the fundamental connection of the individual and supreme consciousness. Maharishi Patanjali in Yogasutra 1.2, says: Yogaschitta vritti nirodhaha. He clearly says that the removal of mental modifications or ripples in the Citta is Yoga. This quieting of the mind leads to seeing oneself.
In Chapter 6 of the Gita [Verses 1–4], a Yogi has been defined as the one following the science of union of the individual and ultimate consciousness with no inclination for external activities that distract one from introspection and reflection. When a person is no longer carried away by pleasures of the senses and is not affected by the fruits of one’s action, then the person is truly said to be in Yoga.
Traditional Yogic sciences were handed down in a careful manner so that the practitioners aspire for the right outcomes. Many spiritual organizations, even today, adhere strictly to the principles laid down in Yogic texts. These organizations have managed to reach out to the masses yet preserve the roots by creating environments where discipline is followed, the names of the practices are from classical yogic texts and they create the right entry barriers so that only those thirsting can gain access to this rich knowledge.
Personal and Moral Discipline
When one goes through various texts that have insights into the Yogic tradition, one can find detailed descriptions of the code of conduct that practitioners need to adopt. Activities like “Beer Yoga” strip the practices from all its antecedent conditions and focus only on the physical aspects. Hence they look more like gym exercises without any regard for one’s personal or moral discipline.
In the Samadhi Pada, Maharishi Patanjali gives detail insights into the state of Yoga and Samadhi. He emphasises the need for persistent practice and removal of desires lead to a still body and mind. In the Sadhana Pada, Patanjali Muni gives an eight fold path: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The first limbs, namely Yama and Niyama, ensure that the practitioner’s character is aligned to the Yogic system. It requires the practitioner to observe non-violence, honesty, contentment and removal of negative qualities like stealing, obsession and jealousy.
Bhishma’s Insights on Yoga in The Mahabharata
In the Moksha Dharma Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma offers his insights on the practice of Yoga. He explains as follows:
“Immersed in yoga, he would abandon all things, rapt in meditation. Possessed of great energy of mind, he has no desire for anything that excites the five senses. The wise man, withdrawing his five senses into the mind, should then fix the unstable mind with the five senses (into the Intellect). Possessed of patience, the yogin should fix his mind which always wanders (among worldly objects), so that his five gates (under the influence of training) may be made stable in respect of things that are themselves unstable… Though feeling annoyed in consequence of the flightiness of his mind, he should fix it (in meditation). The yogin should never despair, but seek his own good. As a heap of dust or ashes; or of burnt cow-dung, when drenched with water, does not seem to be soaked, indeed, as it continues dry if drenched partially, and requires incessant drenching before it becomes thoroughly soaked, even thus should the yogin gradually control all his senses…United with such felicity, he continues to take a pleasure in the act of meditation. Even in this way yogins attain to Nirvana which is highly blessed.”
He further adds how Sankhya (Vedanta in this case) and Yoga are two paths to Moksha and he explains: “The manner in which silent recitation is connected (with each of the two paths) and the cause I shall now explain. In both as in the case of silent recitation, are needed the subduing of the senses and the fixing of the mind (after withdrawal from external objects); as also truth keeping up of the (sacred) fire, residence in solitude, meditation, penance, self-restraint, forgiveness, benevolence, abstemiousness in respect of food, withdrawal from worldly attachments, the absence of talkativeness, and tranquillity.”
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions that “Yoga is destroyed by the following six causes:—Over-eating, exertion, talkativeness, …company of men, and unsteadiness.”.
The Gheranda Samhita emphasizes the need for purificatory practices- Shatkarmas before the commencement of Asana and Pranayama practices.
We see from these various source texts that Yoga cannot be limited to set of postures but involves fine tuning of the external and internal environment. A practitioner starts out with learning the asanas but once the experience deepens, he/she experiences an inter-connectedness with everything around. The process is so refined that it is always imparted through a strict Guru-Shishya parampara. Distortions happen when the practices are removed from the larger context and transmitted as exercises. This, probably, is the issue with Beer Yoga.
Beer Yoga can be an intoxicating experience lacking any inner transformation. The word “Yoga” should, for sure, be removed from the name.