The Ayurvedic Perspective on Alcohol
As with everything in Ayurveda, there is no substance that is considered beneficial for everyone or harmful for everyone. Alcohol is no exception. In fact, although the ancient texts of Ayurveda do speak of the dangers of alcohol, they also share that, when consumed by the right person, at the right time, in the right environment, alcohol can in fact offer specific benefits. The Charaka Samhita even clarifies that alcohol can act as a Rasayana (rejuvenative) when used in the appropriate circumstance.
For example, certain alcohols, depending on how they are consumed and in a very limited dosage, can actually bring balancing qualities, and thus pacification, for Kapha dosha or imbalanced Kapha, such as distilled alcohol (scotch, bourbon, vodka, gin) because they offer the Rasa (taste) of Katu (pungent), and the Gunas (qualities) of Usna (hot), Laghu (light) and Ruksa (dry) which are the opposing and therefore balancing properties for Kapha Dosha.
The Ashtanga Hridayam, provides specific guidelines, called Madyapana Vidhi (method of wine drinking), for how one can approach drinking any alcohol and still remain in alignment with Swastha, and in turn avoid the issues that come with unconscious overconsumption:
- Only drink if you are already in good health. If the body is weak or sick, especially in the case of a severe Vata imbalance which causes catabolic breakdown, drinking alcohol will lead to further weakness and degradation, as alcohol is a toxic substance.
- Only drink if you are in good spirits. Ayurveda considers that happiness is related to the level of Ojas (vital energy, the final product of digestion) that one possesses. And although alcohol will give you an impermanent boost of happy chemicals, it will not provide long-lasting and true happiness and equanimity, and whatever unhappiness was present before consumption will reappear swiftly before the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
- Only drink if you are in a safe environment. Only drink at home or in a specific location, where there is no danger or chance of being harmed or harming others, and ensure there are 'physicians' (people who are sober) present, who can watch over you. Ayurveda does not recommend that you move around between locations while drinking.
- Only drink if you are celebrating and with good company or your beloved! According to ancient Ayurveda, moderate alcohol consumption, called sukha-mada-prada, can cause a sudden release of energy, extroversion, creativity, humor, deep sleep, waking up refreshed, mental satisfaction, nourishment, good health, digestive health, excellent virility, and pleasant intoxication and this energy is best shared with good friends, family or your lover. In fact, Ayurveda considers alcohol as a Vajikarana (aphrodisiac) and the Ashtanga Hridayam speaks to how alcohol can be enjoyed with our beloved.
- If you choose to drink, only drink in moderation. 2 servings max per session. For moments of deep intimacy with your lover, the Ashtanga Hridyayam recommends up to 3 drinks to 'please the wife.' When taken excessively, Ojas becomes depleted and the effect is damaging.
- Take Rasayana (rejuvenating) herbs before and after drinking. Recommended herbs include those that support liver-function and increase Ojas, such as Amalaki, Shatavari, Turmeric and the herbs found in our Liver Scrub Potion. In our modern world where the bitter Rasa is almost entirely forgotten, many can benefit from the liver-protecting actions of these herbs for cleansing, purifying and boosting the blood and liver. In cases of over-consumption, the liver can become overwhelmed, and will struggle to detoxify the blood. Take 1/4 to 1 tsp in warm water, aloe juice or mixed with honey before a drink.
TO DRINK OR NOT TO DRINK?
The most important factor that should be held if you decide (or decide not) to have a glass of wine or beer, is Awareness. This sets the tone for right relationship with any substance or behaviour. The difference between doing something impulsively, out of dependence, or out of social and cultural conditioning and pressure, versus doing something consciously, is always Awareness. And this Awareness makes all the difference. With Awareness, we are no longer a slave to our patterning, which is a diseased affliction unto itself. When Awareness enters into any action, we are endowed with presence and mastery over our lives and the choices we make. Enslavement and addiction can ultimately be put to an end.
So bring awareness into any choice, including if you choose to drink, as well as into the process, the experience, and into the way you feel before and after any consumption. Notice how your body responds. Notice the kinds of thoughts that run through the mind. Notice the reason, the why, as to whether the choice is to drink or not to drink. Notice and pay deep attention. This will help you come into a conscious relationship with alcohol, rather than using it as a strategy, a coping mechanism or an unconscious habituation.
May we be free and sober to the precious lives we've been given. And, may this freedom be the medicine and the deep health that we seek!