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Beer Yoga: Only Intoxication! No Yoga!

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.”

Oth­er Texts

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.

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