Would you like some Vino with your Vinyasa? Musings on Yoga and Alcohol

With Lululemon Athletica bringing out their new craft beer ‘Courageous Blonde’ and the uptake of Vinyasa + Vino and Beer yoga classes, the subject of yoga + alcohol has once again ignited intense debate in the yoga community.

Of course for many there is nothing better than chugging a beer or sipping a wine following a yoga class. Yoga teachers drink, yoga students drink – why not do both together? On the surface it may seem a harmless matching of favourite activities! But I think the popularity of these classes doesn’t negate the need for a discussion around yoga and the role of yoga schools, yoga teachers and alcohol.

Traditionally, alcohol consumption is not part of yogic practices. Of course if we look at the Hatha Yoga Pradipika alcohol is a substance that the yogi should not consume. There are many reasons that this would be recommended, due to the quality of consciousness when under the influence of alcohol and the sattvic clarity of mind we might experience when not influenced by a drug (alcohol is a drug!).

Yet, this argument is too simplistic. Modern yoga has gone way beyond what was taught in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and has changed, evolved and transformed. To base my belief that it’s not a great idea to mix alcohol + yoga classes on the HYP would be reductionist. There are more nuanced and sophisticated reasons for us to reconsider hosting a Vinyasa + Vino class at our studios.

In the interests of disclosure, I don’t drink alcohol. That said, I have friends who practice yoga and occasionally drink alcohol. I don’t see a problem for people who truly consume alcohol in moderation. Yet to know this moderation, many years must be spent not drinking in order to examine the attachment one has personally and socially to alcohol. Once we unhook those associations, it may simply be a drink we enjoy the taste of occasionally.

Whether we drink occasionally or not, it is important to reflect on the implications of serving alcohol in yoga settings. For me the issue with mixing alcohol and yoga schools is that students come to us as a positive way to engage with their lives, be healthy, overcome bad habits, forge new patterns, relax and find meaning in their life. That is why they might attend a Friday night yoga class instead of Friday night drinks. When we then provide alcohol in these settings, we actually undermine those subtle shifts that yoga schools provide a space for students to undergo.

This is not about judgement or controlling what our students do or don’t do – but about trying our best not to undermine our student’s efforts to make different choices. For the yoga teacher who drinks occasionally and then offers alcohol at their yoga school it may seem innocuous. I think it is easier to forget that Australians often don’t drink in moderation. In this country alcohol consumption is at crisis levels. If we offer alcohol as part of yoga we may actually be encouraging and reinforcing maladaptive coping styles (which drinking can be). Further, we leave yoga in the dark ages of health promotion campaigning which is attempting to unhook sports / fitness / health from alcohol consumption.


Alcohol is not inherently problematic. It is our relationship with alcohol that is – and in Australia, we have an issue with alcohol. It isn’t drunk in moderation.

Herein lies the problem: it seems innocuous to wrap up a Friday night class with wine or beer, but we are participating in a larger cultural problem – supplying alcohol to people who are potentially abusing alcohol regularly. In Australia a quarter of our population drink excessively at least once a month. This is an issue because:

Excessive alcohol consumption is a cause of a wide range of health issues and other harms including being the major cause of road and other accidents, domestic and public violence, crime, liver disease and brain damage, and contributes to family breakdown and broader social dysfunction.”*

We may not know it, but people who attend our classes could be struggling with their alcohol consumption. Having a space to go to that doesn’t supply alcohol is a helpful way to begin to create new patterns which aren’t alcohol dependent. Of course they can just skip the ‘beer yoga’ or ‘Vinyasa + Vino’ class, but schools adding alcohol to their classes send the message that alcohol and yoga are a fit. It is this normalising the mix of yoga / wellness / alcohol that is the issue – as many people need support in order to not excessively indulge in alcohol.

Maladaptive Coping

We all have our crutches; it is naïve to think yoga teachers don’t also. But the issue with alcohol as a crutch is the flow on social and health effects linked to misuse of alcohol. Research tells us that some of the reasons people drink include:

“relaxation, mood alteration, enhanced creativity, intoxication, addiction, boredom, habit, to overcome inhibitions, to escape or forget or to ‘drown sorrows’.”**

These problems have better solutions than alcohol! They have solutions which actually nourish the mind and body and over time can help move people away from maladaptive coping and towards life long positive tools. Ideally yoga teachers might help with provide these tools through asana, pranayama, meditation and relaxation practices. We can encourage moderation through providing spaces which are alcohol free.

Yoga, Public Health & Social Responsibility

In many ways, yoga is stuck in the Dark Ages. Yoga communities can sometimes encourage a lack of discrimination and an ‘anything goes’ attitude. To my mind Beer Yoga or Vinyasa + Vino is an example of this. It is unbelievably naïve and somewhat ignorant to think it is harmless.

When it comes to sport + alcohol researchers, the Australian Medical Association and many other bodies interested in our nation’s health are actively campaigning to unhook alcohol and sport in our psyche. One of these ways is through campaigns to remove advertising of alcohol at sporting events. Yoga (while being so much more!) is now understood as part of the fitness industry and it would be helpful for us to read, examine and ask about the implications of mixing yoga + alcohol.

One of the key messages and concerns with sport + alcohol is that:

“The association of alcohol products with sports and sportspeople can have an impact upon public perceptions and individual behavior.”***

Whether we like it or not, as yoga teachers people look to us for inspiration and as role models. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, or need to be perfect, but we are trying to live well and minimise the harm we inflict on ourselves and the world. One possible strategy could be that we don’t engage in the promotion and supply of alcohol in yoga settings. This would be a step towards providing a nurturing environment for the quarter of the population who are at risk of alcohol abuse. Further we can demonstrate to our students that Friday night yoga doesn’t need to end with drinks to be relaxing or fun!

I am not suggesting yoga students or teachers should not drink alcohol. Nor am I suggesting we lie about whether we drink or not to our students. However, I do believe it is important to clarify the message we are sending to students when we provide alcohol in a yoga setting and to begin to examine the research around harm reduction and alcohol abuse so that what seems like an innocuous addition to a timetable is made with awareness of the complete picture.

About the author:
Jean Byrne PhD is founder of the Yoga Space and offers Mysore classes in Perth, Australia. She is on the Yoga Australia Council of Advisors and is Senior Yoga Australia member and Authorised Ashtanga Yoga teacher. She is passionate about yoga education and mentoring yoga teachers. Join her in Bali this August for the Heart of Yoga Mentoring Intensive.


* NHMRC ‘Alcohol and Health Australia’

** National Drug Strategy Survey (2013)

*** Clearinghouse for Sport ‘Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship in Sport’