This is one of those questions that isn’t an easy yes or no answer.
For starters, What is a Yogi?
The term yogi translates to one who practices yoga. Most agree that this goes beyond attending Hatha yoga classes and practicing asana (postures). Being a Yogi or Yogini (female), also means understanding and living by the code of conduct of yogic philosophy and striving towards enlightenment or liberation.
The Yamas and Niyamas are two limbs of yoga which set down a moral code. We can explore this question in terms of some of the Yamas and Niyamas.
The first Yama is Ahimsa or non-harming; avoiding things that bring harm to yourself or others. Yogis need to honestly ask themselves if drinking is harming themselves or others. Is a hangover not a clear sign of harm to the body? Have harmful actions taken place while intoxicated? But what about drinking in moderation? Is one or two drinks harmful? That’s a question each yogi has to answer for themselves using the second Yama Satya or truthfulness…
The fourth Yama is Brahmacharya, sense control. This Yama is used in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relation to sexual activity. It doesn’t always imply celibacy, instead responsible behavior and only using sexual energy to connect deeper to spiritual self and truth. It probably not necessary to explain how alcohol might make keeping Brahmacharya slightly more difficult for most people.
The first Niyama is Sauca or purity. Keeping ourselves clean on the inside and the outside. We practice asanas and pranayama to clean toxins in our body and lungs. Does it make a whole lot of sense to spend so much time and effort on practices to detox the body then consume toxins on purpose?
Santosa is the second Niyama and it means contentment; having peace within despite life’s difficulties and accepting everything exactly how it is. If one is truly content, is there need to consume an intoxicant that alters perception of reality? Drinking to forget life’s problems or de-stress could be seen as a sign of discontent or wanting things to be other than they are.
Yamas and Niyamas set aside, it just made sense to me to quit drinking when I committed myself to the path of yoga. Dedicating so much time to working on balance, it seemed counterproductive to partake in a consuming a substance that knocked me off my balance. I don’t want to miss a morning of practice because I am sick, or a night of meditation because I am buzzed.
I officially quit drinking after doing my second Vipassana meditation retreat. In the discourse Goenka spoke about how the causes of suffering are either craving or aversion; either wanting something that wasn’t there or wishing reality to be other than what it is. Drinking helped spark craving in me as well a crutch to avert from deeper set insecurities. It was a big transition when I quit drinking because I was so accustomed to having a couple drinks to help me loosen up in new social environments. Without alcohol in these settings I’ve learned to stare down and observe my insecurities. Observing them truthfully help me grow more comfortable in myself and I’ve learned how to have a great time without drinking. More and more frequently, I’ve begun to have little flashes of contentment that are sometimes so strong they give me a natural high.
But that’s just my story. I know other respectable yoga teachers who drink in moderation and their practices don’t seem affected by it. I think at the end of the day we all find balance in our lives in different ways. And besides, nobody’s perfect. I know I still have ways to go before enlightenment and successfully living all the Yamas and Niyamas. Being a yogi is about walking the path, accepting where we are on it, and doing the best we can with what we have to work with. Until we reach enlightenment none of us are walking the path perfectly. The way I see it, the important thing is that we are aiming in the right direction and keep moving.