The Question of Intoxication

The use of alcohol, according to both yoga and medicine, is detrimental to the health of mind and body. Its effects on the liver, heart and nervous system, when used in large amounts, is well known. But what is not generally understood is that even small amounts have deleterious effect on brain centres linked to the psychic body, so that certain psychic faculties are lost through its use. When this occurs, even yoga may not be able to restore normal function.

Despite the known scientific knowledge available, the number of people using alcohol is increasing. In America in 1977, 71% of all people over the age of 17 used alcohol, an increase of 3% since 1974. Countries such as France, Germany and Australia drink prodigious amounts of alcohol and consume vast amounts of other drugs such as tobacco, analgesics and so on. In fact, the economy of these countries depends to a certain extent on the taxation gained from this source, which has the effect of propagating it. Many people do not realize just how much alcohol they consume, and that they may find this habit difficult to leave even if they want to. The borderline between abuse and addiction is too fine to take the risk. Our health suffers in both cases. Do you know your own limitation, in this regard, or what the abuse of alcohol is? Scientific evidence is showing that for each individual the safe quantity of alcohol differs. For some it is very, very small.

Effects of Alcohol

Three organs show gross changes due to the poisonous effects of alcohol: the liver, heart and brain.

  1. The Liver and the Endocrine Glands
    In the USA cirrhosis of the liver is the fourth leading cause of death between the ages of 25 to 45. Dr Charles S. Lieber, chief of the Liver Disease and Nutrition Department of Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has shown that alcohol stops the liver from burning fat, its normal fuel, in order to burn alcohol. Thus fat accumulates in the liver and body. Fatty liver is the first stage in the progression to liver disease, cirrhosis, or to alcoholic hepatitis. When liver tissue is destroyed by the toxic effects of alcohol it cannot effectively metabolise (break down) the endocrine secretion of the female hormone oestrogen which is produced in both the male and the female genitalia. The effects in the male is that this hormone starts to feminize the body and mind interfering with normal sexual activity. Other researchers have found that excessive alcohol makes the liver produce up to five times the amount of the enzyme that normally breaks down the male hormone testosterone. This adds to the increased feminisation and sexual problems.
    These effects lead to imbalance in the whole endocrine system. The pituitary gland, which is the master gland controlling the whole endocrine system, responds to this increase in oestrogen and decrease in testosterone by adjusting all the other glands of the body accordingly. The personality, thinking, emotions, sensations, perceptions are all altered and life changes, in this case for the worse. Thus quite a few yogic practices are required to rebalance the body systems and to allow function to return to a healthy and joyful state.
  2. The Heart
    Increased fat in the blood stream means that you have a greater chance to develop hardening of the arteries and subsequent heart attack. These changes are usually silent and do not show up until it is too late,
    Dr J. Mendelson, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, USA reported that people who have a special type of abnormal blood condition (type 4 hyperlipoproteinemia) characterized by high blood triglyceride (fat) levels, and this includes 15% of the American male population, were especially badly affected by alcohol, increasing their risk of coronary artery disease dramatically. Dr Gerald Reaven at Stanford University confirmed this and advises all people with high blood fats to stop drinking alcohol.
    Dr E. Rubin, chief pathologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, USA states that there is evidence to show alcohol poisons the heart causing weakness of the muscle due to its interference with calcium. It has been shown that this effect is not influenced by diet.
  3. The Brain
    Malnutrition was once thought to be responsible for the mental troubles of the alcoholic. Now it appears that alcohol interferes with B vitamins and their important role in nervous system maintenance.
    Other research is showing that no matter how excellent the diet, alcohol can do profound, long term harm to mental processes.
    In November 1973 D. W. Walker and G. Freund of the Veterans Administration Hospital and the University of Florida, USA reported in Science magazine that rats fed a nutritious diet plus alcohol over a five month period scored poorly in tests on learning and recent memory when compared with non-alcoholic, well-fed control rats. They state that their experiments "strongly supported the conclusion that prolonged alcohol consumption per se can result in an impairment of associative processes in the central nervous system."
  4. Other effects
    Other disorders resulting from the use of alcohol include pancreatitis, nervous system disease involving all the nerves of the body, and psychological disorders, which were perhaps present before but are heightened through the effect of alcohol on the endocrine glands and the nervous system.

Darkness or Light

The body is a marvelous organ. It can regenerate even after a prodigious amount of insult. The effects of alcohol abuse do not have to be permanent, however, once the body damaged by alcohol, repair becomes more difficult. The damage must be undone, therefore, prevention is still the best cure. Yogic systems generate power and light. They are a better substitute alcohol as they eradicate tensions and help to calm the mind. In affluent countries it is the younger generation who especially o a great deal to yoga for emancipation from the unethical and unscientific habit of alcoholism. They will gain the most from yoga and will find that it is not necessary to take drugs or drink alcohol to get high. Yoga will give them a fresh start in life, unimpaired by the scourge of alcoholism. It is the youth, therefore, who will have far easier access to the realms of light and wisdom, peace and joy.

The Blissful Nectar

In the spiritual literature of many cultures, there are references to the use of wine. This, however, is symbolic of inebriation, 'drunkenness with the divine'. They did not propagate the use of alcohol and wine but used the symbolism of wine to suggest to the uninitiated the bliss of divine experience. For example, the sufi poet, Omar Khyyam, wrote in his mystical work, the Rubaiyat:

Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,
A flask of wine, a book of verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness –
And wilderness is paradise now.

Here he was referring to wine as the nectar of life, the amrit or soma which is experienced by the person whose mind is always directed towards higher life.

In tantra, the pancha makara, the five elements, wine being among them, used in a ritual leading to the blissful awakening of kundalini However, except in very few cases, the pancha makara are employed symbolically, Sir John Woodroffe writes in the Kularnava Tantra:

Wine is not to be taken as wine nor flesh as flesh, nor is it permissible to partake in the ceremonies as a mere human animal ridden with greed and desire. The wine is the Shakti and flesh the Shiva, the divine substance... The bliss, ananda that arises when all these, .are fused in the consciousness of the participant is real release, moksha.

The amrit or nectar of yoga is also alluded to in Christianity In the service of Holy Communion, the Eucharist of bread and wine is taken, symbolizing the flesh and blood of Jesus the Christ. Its symbolism is the same as that alluded to in tantra. To be drunk with divine nectar is the complete opposite of the drunkenness that comes from alcohol. Yoga brings peace, vitality, total health, knowledge and divine inebriation, while alcohol brings intoxication and degradation filling us with toxins and disease.

With the divine nectar of yoga, what need do we have for alcohol. We do not need to 'loosen up' when we go to a party because we are already loose, relaxed, uninhibited. We do not need to relax from the pressures of a hard day's work as work itself becomes nectar for us. We do not need escape because we are happy with our lives, and are able to utilize each moment as a means to grow and become free from all addictions, cravings and habits.