Why the Beer Yoga Phenomenon & Other Controversial Yoga Trends are Alarming Purists

“If you are going to yoga with the goal of getting high or buzzed, at least do so after yoga and not before or during class…Anything that alters your natural state of mind is no longer yoga in my book.”
—Jake Panasevich, Contributor, US News & World Report

In a 1940 Professor Walter Kitschnig told Holyoke College students to “keep their minds open—but not so open that your brains fall out.” 

I had been meaning to write this post for a some time. What prompted me to write it today is a couple of photos that were texted to me yesterday by our friends and neighbors Susan and Nelson Bye with the following message: “Thinking of you at the Hoffbrauhaus in Las Vegas.” They were having dinner and watched people doing yoga poses with beer bottles and found it humorous. Little did they know that posting about alternative and controversial yoga programs that were popping up around the world were on my “To Do List.”

Yoga has been taught as a sequence of physical poses to get fit and to calm the mind from the stresses of the day. For those wanting to take it further, it can be a pathway to personal transformation. But, there are a number of outlets that are selling the loftier charm of taking “inner calm” to a “higher level” (pun intended). The original “Bier Yoga” ads presents itself as the “marriage of two great centuries-old therapies for mind, body and soul” that pair the philosophies of yoga with the pleasure of beer drinking to take one to a higher state of being (again, pun intended). Two Berlin-based instructors were inspired to offer Bier Yoga classes after seeing it done at Burning Man (Esquire: January 01, 2017).

In recent years the focus has been to lower the bar to welcome the greatest number of people. But, the concern among mainstream yoga studios and aficionados is how to best accomplish this without diluting the essence of yoga.

There has been a great debate taking place on the world stage on whether yoga has “sold its soul” by passing off anything and everything as YOGA and pushing towards global commercialization rather than staying closer to its spiritual roots. Those roots include adhering to social and personal ethics, proper breath control, and reprograming the mind through mindfulness meditation to think in healthier, less stressful ways and create your own inner sanctuary of peace. The latter is becoming more common place in sports, high tech and financial service companies, schools, fire departments and law enforcement to name a few.

There are a plethora of yoga styles for the adventurous, some utilizing experimental musical genres, or alternative venues like beach yoga, yoga in the park, on a roof top, at an art gallery, nightclub, vineyard, and farm.

There are dog yoga classes with your four legged-friend, aerial yoga, laughing yoga, and even naked yoga that proposes to transform personal limitations, inhibitions and shame into a realm of personal freedom. On the more artistic side, there is glow yoga that utilizes fluorescent body paint that glows in the dark.

Then there are those who are pushing the envelope even further with cannabis (pot) yoga, and at the far extreme, the highly controversial: “gun yoga,” created by someone who was stationed with the US ARMY in India. I’m not even going to touch that one as it is no where near being on my bucket list, but have included a photo.

In closing, there is no way to put a lid on experimentation especially with the young and carefree. In the 60s I did plenty of experimentation. Gradually I upgraded my addictions to healthier outlets like yoga and meditation. When I first started doing yoga over 30 years ago, there were very few males in class.  If the only thing that is going help women get their husbands and boyfriends to take a yoga class is Beer Yoga or ganja yoga, until they find out they can obtain an organic high without the intoxicating additives, who am I to argue? But for those of you who are looking for a healthier workout that honors the mind, body and spirit in it’s purest form, your average accredited neighborhood yoga studio is still the way to go. As for me, I prefer to slowly sip a cold mug of beer with friends without yoga being a distraction:-).

Postscript: For the sake of fair reporting there are some teachers around the country that do straight up yoga classes with the add-on being pairing it with a beer at the local pub afterwards. They are happy to report that many of their male students confide in them that they would have never set foot in a yoga class were it not for the promise of beer. By the end of class, they were amazed how good they felt and have joined the growing ranks of students worldwide discovering the many benefits of yoga.

Photo Credit for first 2: Susan Zanders Bye & Nelson Bye
Photo Credit 3: Rediff.com
Photo Credit 4: Indiatimes.com
Photo: Jerry & Me drinking a cold one in Cambodia