Row brewing over global craze for beer yoga

Balancing act: Over 1,200 people have attended beer yoga classes in London. © Getty

Does doing the “Drunken Row Boat” betray a sacred tradition? Purists have condemned yoga teachers who incorporate beer into their classes. Beer fans say it makes yoga more accessible…

It is a tradition reaching back 5,000 years, a spiritual and physical practice that aims to expand your mind, free you from suffering, and ultimately help you find inner peace — even enlightenment.

Now, during classes from New York to Bangkok, it is practiced with bottles of beer balanced on your head.

This is beer yoga, a craze which began two years ago in Berlin, after two yoga teachers were inspired by watching people combine the drink with yoga at the Burning Man festival in California. It has since travelled around the world.

In London, the first classes were set up by Guzel Mursalimova. She says beer “lowers the barrier” for those who might be intimidated by the practice, especially men.

Yesterday, the UK’s professional body for yoga teachers, YAP, condemned the classes: “Yoga is a sacred practice that has deep philosophical, spiritual roots. Alcohol is not compatible with it.”

In fact, yoga can trace its origins all the way back to the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, which existed between 3300-1300 BC. Over the centuries, it developed into a spiritual practice of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

For a long time it was mostly practiced by monks and religious ascetics who focused more on the spiritual aspects rather than Downward Dogs and Sun Salutations. The latter were not introduced until the 1930s, when modern yoga was first being developed with more emphasis on health and exercise.

By this time, it had spread out of India and was gaining popularity in Western countries, thanks to a young Hindu monk named Swami Vivekananda. He travelled to the US in the 1890s, gained a huge following, and wrote the first English book on yoga. “I give them spirituality and they give me money”, he said of Americans.

Now, yoga is practiced by two billion people around the world, and is recognised by Unesco’s cultural heritage list.

Is beer yoga a stretch too far?

Health and hoppiness

Yes, say some. Yoga’s cultural and spiritual roots have been lost. Beer yoga is the latest in a long line of absurd trends, which include goat yoga (yoga with goats), doga (yoga with dogs) and metal yoga (yoga with heavy metal music). They are invented by people who do not understand its significance. This is cultural appropriation, stealing a sacred practice away from those who invented it. It is wrong.

It is fine, argue others. Yoga has been evolving and changing for centuries. There are many different branches, and one does not take away from another. Besides, beer yoga is more mindful than it sounds. People are encouraged to focus their minds on the smells and tastes, or to balance their glass without spilling it. Anyway yoga is good for you; the more people who enjoy it, the better.

You Decide

  1. Have you tried yoga, or do you want to?
  2. Is it wrong for people to practice yoga without knowing about its history and tradition?

Activities

  1. As a class, do the four-minute desk yoga routine at the top of Become An Expert. Then discuss: How do you feel afterwards?
  2. Think of another cultural or religious practice that has been widely adopted by the rest of society. Research its history. Then write a short piece arguing why it is (or is not) cultural appropriation.

Some People Say...

“Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.”

Amit Ray

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Yoga has never been just one thing; there are six different branches, which each focus on different aspects. For example, raja yoga emphasises meditation and spiritual contemplation. Hatha yoga is more about different physical poses, called asana. This is most commonly practised yoga in Western countries, where it is generally seen as a form of exercise.
What do we not know?
Exactly when or where yoga began. The first references are found in texts written around 2,500 years ago, but many believe its origins lie 5,000 or even 10,000 years in the past.

Word Watch

Enlightenment
The Western name for a similar concept in Asian religions. In Buddhism it is called bodhi or satori, while in Hinduism it is called moksha. Both involve finding a state of understanding and release, which end the rebirth system.
YAP
Yoga Alliance Professionals.
Compatible
This sentiment has been echoed by the American Yoga Alliance, whose chief ambassador told The Wall Street Journal that: “The goal of yoga is to gradually clear the mind and purify the body and alcohol dulls the mind and body.”
Indus Valley Civilisation
An ancient civilisation which reached from modern-day northeast Afghanistan, over Pakistan, and into northwest India.
Jainism
A non-violent Indian religion.
Ascetics
Those who withdraw from society and deny physical pleasures, in order to reach a higher spiritual state.
Swami Vivekananda
A Hindu monk who travelled to the US and Europe in the 1890s, introducing people to Hinduism and Indian philosophies (including yoga).
Two billion
According to the United Nations.

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