Alcohol, Diet and Yoga

Since time immemorial mankind has used various methods of fermenting sugar from fruits, grains and herbs etc. to produce alcohol. This has been drunk in all kinds of functions from religious ceremonies to Bacchanalian orgies. Indeed, it forms one of the sacraments of some of the biggest religions in the world. However, between these extremes we find it as an integral part of the social setting of a large proportion of the human race, over all continents of the world.

Many people enjoy an occasional glass of wine with a meal while very few are alcoholics. If alcohol is approached in a balanced way then it can enhance one's enjoyment of life. The occasional indiscretion does not hurt but negative habits can kill. Most teetotalers won't agree that alcohol can have a balanced place in one's diet, but for the average person living a normal life, it can be used like any other edible substance. For example, when wine is taken in moderation it aids the digestion because of its high pectin content. Wine has been used in the rural communities of many European countries just as we use coffee or tea; even children use it. However, in these societies we see a higher than average number of cases of cirrhosis of the liver which points out that alcohol can only be beneficial as long as one does not over indulge.

In order to have a balanced view of alcohol, an objective attitude is necessary. This implies a scientific examination of alcohol and its role in daily life so that awareness may expand into those thought patterns that have developed unconsciously, perhaps due to our familial and social conditioning, depriving us of flexibility, spontaneity and the ability to choose what is right for ourselves. We must remember that alcohol has been used for millennia in most parts of the world and try to understand why. Wine often is served as a medicinal supplement to provide fluid and natural vitamins and minerals in a form that could be easily stored. It was also used for its intoxicating properties to relieve tension and frustration.

Most drinking alcohols are made from bacterially fermented fruit, grain, herbs and vegetables. This process of fermentation is also seen in other aspects of our diet. Yoghurt or dahee is a result of the bacterial fermentation of milk and it has many beneficial properties apart from being delicious. At BSY we use a fermented rice dish called pakkal, made by leaving rice to ferment in water for up to three days. Of course, it has not had time to form much alcohol, but it is used, especially in the hot season, to stop diarrhoea as is yoghurt or dahee. The benevolent bacteria of the fermentation process reline the intestine replacing the harmful, toxin-producing bacteria. However, we cannot overload our stomach with yoghurt or pakhai without feeling sick and suffering the ill effects, so we cannot overload our body with alcohol. The next time you drink a glass of wine, remember not to go to the point of intoxication. The feeling of intoxication is caused by imbalances in the body, depression of the nervous system, tiring of the liver from an inundation of toxins and poisons, creating strain and tension and unbalancing the metabolism. The body must then work overtime to correct this condition. If it has been overstrained by constant intoxication, it may no longer have the capacity to restore balance, resulting in disease and early death unless a course of treatment is sought and adhered to.

One interesting point for those who like to drink is that yoghurt can lower the blood alcohol level. One can, therefore, reduce the toxic effects of alcohol by mixing a new drink, for example: yoghurt, fruit squash and brandy. The natural use for yoghurt in this context is as an anti-hangover remedy on the morning after a binge because it helps to neutralize the hyperacidity that comes after drinking and eating rich food.

Restoring the Body

Liver

It is the liver which is traditionally associated with alcohol poisoning. You know if your liver is strained when you wake up with bloodshot eyes which have dark, sagging circles beneath them and a heavy, perhaps nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach. If your eyes have a yellowish tinge then your liver is really non-functional. Emotional problems may also be related to liver dysfunction. To correct this damage, lower your consumption of coffee and cut out alcohol altogether, at least for a few months. Eat carrots and use cold-pressed vegetable oils instead of butter, ghee and other fats. There are many natural remedies but the best is reputed to be dandelion. This is available in your garden as a weed and the leaves can be added to salad or vegetables.

Alcohol takes vitamin A out of the liver and into the blood stream. This is why alcohol lowers our resistance to bacterial invasion. Vitamin A deficiency weakens the mucus membranes, the body's first line of defence against germs. Thus alcohol lays us open to and further aggravates colds, influenza, laryngeal and nasal infections, sinusitis and eye diseases such as night blindness which are caused by low vitamin A. To remedy this use cold-pressed vegetable oils, sweet potato, all green, orange and yellow vegetables, especially carrots, spinach, pumpkin, melon, apricots, peaches, tomatoes and eggs, all rich in vitamin A. Also eat lots of salads with plenty of garlic, vegetable oil and lemon dressing to supply a large amount of potassium, useful in restoring liver function.

In order to speed up the process of liver rejuvenation, asanas such as paschimottanasana, bhujangasana, dhanurasana, mayurasana and ardha matsyendrasana can be practiced. These static positions place a stretch on the abdominal cavity, increasing pressure on the liver and squeezing it like a sponge. The toxins are removed as fresh blood is forced in. When asanas are combined with a beneficial change in diet, liver function is restored and essential elements such as vitamin A, sugars, etc. can be efficiently stored. Until liver function has been fully restored, use such cleansing techniques as shankhaprakshalana, neti and kunjal to strengthen the mucus membrane defence barrier.

Nervous and Digestive Systems

The B vitamins are also adversely affected by alcohol, especially vitamin B1, which has negative repercussions on the nervous and digestive systems. This is seen in its extreme form in alcoholics suffering from nervous and psychological disorders. It has recently been found that massive doses of vitamin B complex can restore much of their normal mental function. Lack of this vitamin may also result in depression, loss of initiative, poor memory, rapid tiring, poor appetite, and other symptoms of decreased vitality in the psychoneurological systems. B1 is further reduced by smoking and excess sugar or carbohydrate, especially polished rice. Drinkers should try to avoid these and take more brewers' yeast, wheat germ, all whole grains (unprocessed rice, wheat, etc ), seeds, nuts, legumes, and potatoes which are high in B1. The best way to retain B1 in grains is to cook them with dry heat as in wholemeal bread or chapattis.

The magnesium/phosphorus function of the nervous system is pressed by alcohol so that control of the white nerve fibres is disturbed leading to such disorders as chronic irritability, exhaustion and mental retardation in severe deficiency. Glandular function is also disturbed, creating metabolic, personality and emotional problems. With time and increasing amounts of alcohol, one loses control over his muscles so that if he drinks enough he will find it difficult to walk, have to hang on to things and may sometimes fall over. The muscles may simply refuse to contract. Magnesium can be found in plenty in all the foods already mentioned and is a good remedy against the sleepiness that can come with getting drunk.

All asanas, pranayamas and other yogic practices benefit the nervous system. Asanas help to restore muscle function, tone and strength. They also relax physical tensions generated by the accumulation of toxins in the body and by emotional and mental tensions. Pranayama is the ideal practice to purify and strengthen the whole nervous system, reintegrating it with the endocrine and immune body systems. Bhastrika, kapalbhati and ujjayi can remedy the damage which alcohol causes in the brain that distorts certain of our psychic faculties. Alcoholics suffering from psychiatric diseases generated by alcohol benefit from this as well as the poor sufferer of a hangover. Bandhas, mudras and meditation practices such as moola bandha, maha mudra and yoga nidra uplift the spirit, dispel fears, depression and exhaustion that alcohol can induce. Note: All the above yoga practices can be found in Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, a BSY publication.

Armed with Knowledge

With the above information you should be able to help your body recover from the toxic effects of alcohol more easily. Remember that alcohol can only have a place in the diet if one uses it in a sensible and balanced way. Some people may feel the need to take alcohol for something to do, because everybody else is doing it, because they are thirsty and prefer an alcoholic drink like beer, or to relieve anxiety,, depression or self-consciousness (in which case; they may feel an instinctive urge to use alcohol as a safety valve). However, we should never confuse this with the craving that the alcoholic feels which is a physical dependency. We all have intuitive faculties which tell us how to live correctly and constructively, if we do not damage them through faulty living or alcohol abuse. Cultivate your inner faculties through yoga and you will enjoy life more fully in all its multifaceted beauty.