Sunday, March 21, 2010

Alcohol and the Mind/Body/Spirit Connection

It is common knowledge that the world's major religions do not condone drunkenness.  Nonetheless, the abuse of alcohol continues to thrive in many cultures worldwide, particularly in wealthier nations.  Many people who claim to be, or who indeed are religious or spiritual continue to drink alcohol.  Until recently, I was certainly one of those people. 

For most of my life I was able to tolerate moderately high alcohol consumption.  I started drinking in high school and hadn't really stopped recreational drinking until recently.  I was never abusing alcohol to the point of addiction or damage to my health, but I was a regular social drinker.  When I first met my husband, we spent a great deal of time in bars together.  Most of our family members drink or used to drink recreationally.  In the past, splitting a bottle of wine with my husband at dinner was normal behavior for me, even after having children.  This is no longer true.  Why?  My body simply cannot tolerate more than one glass of wine or beer, and on a rare occasion, one cocktail.  After analyzing this physiological change, I have concluded that my new intolerance of alcohol results from the mind-body-spirit connection. 

As an adolescent and young adult, I was always interested in spirituality but had never undertaken a true spiritual path.  As a working adult and then a new parent, I was more focused on getting through what I perceived to be day-to-day life; spiritual seeking wasn't a real priority for me.  I prayed, but I had no regular spiritual practice. 

Since January of 2009, I have been regularly practicing Buddhist meditation, reading a daily Bible scripture, reading other favorite religious texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and praying daily.  Since September of 2009 I have been regularly practicing yoga 3 to 4 times per week.  Gradually over the past 15 months I have noticed some dramatic changes in not only my thinking and my emotions, but also in my body.  Foremost among these physical changes is my aversion to alcoholic beverages. I still enjoy the taste of wine, but I have to be vigilant about limiting my intake of it or I suffer from crippling physical fallout.  Three glasses of wine at dinner will knock me out physically for the majority of the following day.  I do not attribute this change to aging, because my older relatives and friends can drink me under the table.  I am fairly certain that my body is being transformed in conjunction with my mind and spirit.  Had I heard someone tell me this two years ago, I would have been skeptical.  Now, I understand how spiritual and mental contentment are not compatible with intoxication.  I understand this not only on an intellectual level, but on a basic physical level.  This is a true breakthrough for me. 

In the interviews I am conducting for my book on grown children of severely depressed or mood disordered parents, alcoholism is a constant theme.  I had not expected this.  I am over half way through my interviews, and almost every person I have spoken with has either battled with alcoholism or had an alcoholic parent.  When I was younger a psychologist warned me that I have alcoholic tendencies.  There is certainly a connection between depression and self-medication with alcohol.  I am extremely grateful be to learning about this connection in-depth.  This lesson coincides beautifully with my own progress in this area. 

I would like to leave you with some spiritual teachings on intoxication from three different belief systems: Buddhist, Christian and Yogic.  When I read these words now, they have an entirely different meaning for me than they did when I first encountered them.  May you be richly blessed in your mind, body and soul. 

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical
and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and
in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol
or any other intoxicants, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain T.V.
programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my
consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future
generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion by practicing a diet for myself
and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation, and for the
transformation of society." (The Five Wonderful Precepts, by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.)
"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit."  (Ephesians 5:18)
"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.  Yoga also considers alcohol to have an adverse effect on the central nervous system, and in particular the brain. The integrity of the central nervous system is considered very important by the yogis, since one of the goals of yoga is to improve the health of this system, and much of the progress of yoga is achieved via this vital communication system.
Modern science agrees with yoga on this point, since alcohol is known to first stimulate and then shortly afterwards depress the central nervous system.
Alcohol also causes poor sleep. Alcohol cannot compare with the effects of yoga. Yoga produces a natural stimulation without the depressing after-effect. Yoga also produces a general feeling of elation. The increase in life force produced by practicing yoga cannot be duplicated by drugs." (Yoga's View of Nutrition, from

1 comment:

  1. I feel similar to you in that I don't enjoy drinking more than one glass of wine now since it will not allow me to achieve all of my goals the next day. I want to feel AMAZING the next morning, and, unless it's Organic, I now wake up with a headache from one glass of wine much less three! I enjoyed the post, Michelle. Thank you.