Drunk at Yoga Class

Dear Helena,

A couple times recently, I have gone to my evening yoga class after having drinks with friends. I admit that I may have been a little buzzed. Is it bad form to go to yoga while under the influence? —Asanas on Ice

Dear Asanas on Ice,

You don’t need to be a Vedic scholar to guess that classical yoga tradition frowns on booze, whether you’re on the mat or off it. But we’re not living in India a thousand years ago. Both social events and yoga classes often happen in the evenings, and if they happen in that order, you may well end up downing a Duvel before doing the downward dog. But is that really a problem? Surely it’s better to do yoga while a little buzzed (or while watching Lost for that matter) than not to do it at all?

Angela Gargano is one of a growing number of yoga instructors who organize yoga and wine retreats. Participants often stay at a winery, and perhaps see the yoga classes as a way to atone for all the wine tasting and gourmet meals. Gargano says that yoga “brings you into the present moment and helps you appreciate the flavors of wine or food much more.” But at such retreats, most of the drinking takes place after yoga is over for the day. If you imbibe beforehand, it’s often in the form of a light lunchtime tasting, and the yoga that takes place afterward is the restorative variety.

Still, drinking anything at all before yoga can be challenging, as I found on one of these retreats. I sampled two or three wines at lunch (just a few sips of each, I swear) and found myself rather giggly during the opening meditation.

It makes sense to save the vino for after your vinyasa class, because while yoga may enhance your drinking, unfortunately the reverse is not true. Standing on one leg takes a lot of concentration, which is why police officers make you do it if they think you’ve been drinking and driving. If you’re even a little woozy, a balancing pose might cause you to topple into someone else. Les Leventhal, a San Francisco yoga teacher, says that though he hasn’t noticed any students who were soused, he has spotted a few stoners: “I asked them to not attend. ... It could be unsafe for other people if they like to do a lot of [upside-down poses].”

Another good reason not to go out for drinks before yoga: When a cocktail guest refuses the offer of a second drink, saying, “I’ve got yoga after this,” it’s a little like when people say, “Oh no, I’m doing a cleanse.” It makes everyone else feel self-indulgent.

So if you’re out at a bar, skip your evening class. You can even tell yourself that socializing is a form of yoga, says Leventhal. “Everything is yoga for me on or off the mat, so if you are out having a good time with friends, let that be your practice.”

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.