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The Latest Devolution of Yoga in America: Wine and Yoga

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    As if Yoga in America was not already extremely distorted, here is the latest devolution: Wine and Yoga, as described in a current New York Times article. See
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 16, 2006
      As if Yoga in America was not already extremely distorted, here is
      the latest devolution: Wine and Yoga, as described in a current New
      York Times article.

      See also the article:
      By Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati


      By Cindy Price
      New York Times
      December 15, 2006

      On the one hand, there is Angela Gargano, a yoga instructor in
      Madison, Wis., who doesn't quite see what the big deal is.

      "Yoga can be very serious, sure, but why not have it be really fun?"
      she said, shrugging off concerns that yoga purists might raise an
      eyebrow at her latest venture — yoga-and-wine retreats.

      On the other hand, there are those like Nancy Elkes, a New York-based
      yoga trainer and instructor who doesn't necessarily condemn drinking —
      she just isn't so sure it goes with yoga.

      "After a yoga class," she said, "the last thing you're thinking about
      getting is a drink."

      Nonetheless, when Ms. Gargano, who owns Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison,
      teamed up with David Romanelli, Yahoo's Mind/Body columnist, last
      August to stage a weekend-long yoga-and-wine retreat at the Fairmont
      Mission Inn and Spa in Sonoma, Calif., it was successful enough for
      Mr. Romanelli to schedule a lineup of seminars across the country for
      2007. Tomorrow, Ms. Gargano will take the idea international with a
      retreat in Barcelona. And next year DeLoach Vineyards, in Sonoma
      County, will hold its own series of yoga-and-wine retreats.

      For Ms. Gargano, the idea was sparked when Mr. Romanelli held one of
      his popular yoga-and-chocolate seminars at her Madison studio. Ms.
      Gargano loved pairing yoga with something unconventional and was
      eager to try a spinoff. When she told Mr. Romanelli about her
      background in wine, the two decided to team up.

      "I was struck by the similarities between the two," said Ms. Gargano,
      who was helping her Sicilian father choose wines for the family's
      restaurant by the age of 16. "Which sounds kind of funny, but both
      yoga and wine can be very intimidating to people. I noticed yoga
      students coming in and saying, `I'm not quite sure where to get
      started with this.' " It was a concern she'd heard before, while
      working as a wine buyer and sommelier in San Francisco.

      But while the notion of combining yoga with another facet of American
      pop culture is nothing new — Mr. Romanelli, in fact, is currently
      creating a "Yoga + ___" concept series with Yahoo.com — serious yogis
      may draw the line at wine.

      "Yogis tend to think the drug is the problem," Ms. Elkes said. "But
      then what about Tylenol? Refined sugar? Caffeine? At some point, one
      has to say, O.K., if you want a glass of wine, but I don't think it
      should necessarily go in conjunction with yoga."

      Especially, she pointed out, if you're doing something like Kundalini
      yoga, an intensely meditative form of stretching that many Americans
      closely associate with the Sikh religion — though, for the record,
      many Sikhs would argue that their religion and yoga are not as
      closely intertwined as Westerners believe. Nevertheless, Sikhs who
      have undergone the Amrit ceremony are instructed against using
      tobacco, alcohol or any other form of intoxicants.

      "Kundalini does things to balance your nervous system," Ms. Elkes
      said. "And then for you to go do something that changes that? It's
      going to affect your nervous system after you've done all this work
      to balance yourself. You'll soon find out that drinking and Kundalini
      don't go well together."

      That sentiment is shared by the popular Web site Holistic Online,
      which states in no uncertain terms: "Yogis do not touch alcohol,
      since they consider it to lower the vibrations of their subtle body
      (astral body). This defeats the purpose of yoga, which is to increase
      the vibrational level so they can gradually unfold their Higher Self."

      But for Rachel Cimino, a Californian who has practiced with Sikh
      instructors at Los Angeles's star-studded yoga empire, Golden Bridge
      Yoga, the deviation from ritual isn't a deal-breaker.

      "Yoga has become so American, and we have this cafeteria attitude of
      picking and choosing what we like," Ms. Cimino said. "If you were
      very serious, it would definitely interfere with being a yogi. The
      best time to do yoga is at twilight, from 3 to 5:30 in the morning,
      when your energy is most powerful. And if you're hung over, you're
      altering your chemistry."

      But, she added, "if you are doing yoga a few times a week, you can
      probably throw down a few glasses of wine. I guarantee that 80
      percent of the people that do this also go tear it up."

      For Ravi Hari Kaur Khalsa, a 20-year Kundalini veteran who teaches at
      the New York Open Center, the key to pairing wine and yoga is
      moderation. "I don't think we can be rigid and across-the-board about
      these things. I'm hoping that the instructors running these places
      are responsible, and I trust that they are," she said.

      "Now, will I condone drinking and doing yoga?" she said. "Absolutely
      not. I would never want to teach someone drunk; that's just
      dangerous. But what is wrong with people sitting out in the vineyard
      and enjoying themselves? There's a lot of suffering in the world, and
      people have a right to live their life. It's a tough world."

      For her part, Rosemary Garrison, the San Francisco-based instructor
      who will lead the DeLoach retreats, thinks moderation is the key as
      well. The retreats will feature vegetarian meals from the 18,000-
      square-foot organic garden, cooking classes and twice-daily yoga
      sessions. The wine poured for dinner will come from DeLoach's own
      vineyard, in the Russian River Valley.

      "You could get five yogis in a room, and every one would have an
      opinion on everything," she said. And though she plans to tailor her
      classes to the skill level of the participants, she intends to focus
      on her area of training, vinyasa yoga — a fairly vigorous form of
      yoga that she maintains does not prohibit alcohol.

      "I certainly would not want to say that vinyasa yogis are all
      lushes," Ms. Garrison said. "But in the traditions I've practiced,
      alcohol is not off-limits.

      "Still," she added, "I don't imagine it's going to be the kind of
      thing where people are drinking to get drunk, but more about enjoying
      the beauty of the wine and the setting, and having a weekend of
      healthy indulgence. Have a glass of wine, enjoy your night, get a
      good night's sleep and come to a really cleansing, vigorous practice
      the next morning. I mean, that's what a lot of my students here in
      San Francisco do anyways — that's their weekend."

      AT Mr. Romanelli and Ms. Gargano's retreat last summer, guests didn't
      shy away from indulgence when they kicked off the weekend with a five-
      course dinner, with wine, at a local restaurant.

      "Yoga's something that is spiritual to me — whether I play Bob Marley
      when I'm doing it or not," Ms. Gargano said. "I feel like we've lost
      the spiritual connection to the land that food and wine grows on, and
      I think anything that can bring us closer to that is good. If someone
      thinks that's unorthodox, that's fine — and there's room for a lot of
      different things within the world of yoga.

      "We've gotten really far away from our food sources," she said. "And
      that was what was nice about the retreat — getting people to really
      connect to the wine. If you go to a wine bar, that's one thing. But
      if you stand there in the vineyard with the people laboring to make
      this wine, it just really resonates a lot more."

      With that in mind, Mr. Romanelli and Ms. Gargano's goal was to
      integrate their two subjects fluidly rather than have them coexist in
      the same weekend. For instance, her grounding-down class was followed
      with a vineyard tour, where they talked about how the vine growing in
      the earth affects the taste of the wine.

      "We tried to bring it all together," Ms. Gargano said, "so that
      practicing yoga completely brings you into the moment so that you can
      appreciate one of life's great pleasures, which is wine."

      But will American yogis buy it? "Let me put it this way," Ms. Cimino
      said, when told about the coming retreats. "If they do have a wine
      retreat somewhere in Northern California, sign me up. I want to go."

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