When the teacher said that he’d place us into small groups I rolled my eyes, before I remembered where I was. I’d paid for this and signed a contract voluntarily. I wanted to be here, and had been told to leave my ego at the door. But it’s not the sort of thing that does what it’s told.
My desire to become a teacher stemmed from a vain longing to glow, and appear forever young, like all my favourite teachers did. In our ‘sharing circle’, everyone else claimed their urge to teach bloomed from a desire to serve. I’m not like them, I thought. I’m still vain. And yet, I don’t want to become one of those people who posts spiritual affirmations at sunset on their instagram.
How did I ended up in this kundalini yoga teacher training? When I signed up, I read a clause in a small font that said: Kundalini teachers should refrain from drinking alcohol. I was so sure that I couldn’t make this sacrifice that I didn’t give it a second thought. I love drinking everything except whiskey. My best memories start with the warm rush of a stiff negroni and the gentle buzz you get from about two glasses of champagne. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to drink a lot of pretty much anything. It’s part of my identity. I’ve always been a party girl.
The interesting thing about the no-alcohol business, is that none of my teachers expressly said that I must stop drinking if I’d like to become a kundalini teacher. Even though it’s advised, kundalini recognises everyone’s right to make up their own mind. Some have quietly mentioned that they don’t drink themselves, but none preach openly about the effects of an alcohol-free life. Their disposition and demeanor do enough.
When it was my turn to tell my story, 40 open faces met my gaze. They all looked like people who’d never been hurt before. They looked warm, and happy, all of them. I told them that I discovered kundalini yoga in Cape Town. That I was meant to leave that perfect city after seven days and continue my travels, but ended up staying for three months. Kundalini class was my daily dose of bliss, at a time when I was free and happy, but without direction. I’d just quit my job to be a writer, and travel. I had some money, but not much idea what to do with it. I was floating. I told them that while I love the circus that is New York, I need kundalini to remain happy and stable in this extremely stressful place. Nodding heads agreed.
After the first days of yoga immersion, I was given the space to consider why I drink and how it benefits me. Without anyone telling me what to do, I got to thinking, and decided I should make a case for myself in favour of boozing. It was strange to recognise that I had a choice in the matter.
I used to drink because I was a lawyer, and it stressed me out. Wine soothed me like tea. It help me maintain my sociable facade even though I was tired and burnt out. Getting drunk convinced me I had a life. If I was ever nervous on a date, drinking gave me courage. Drunk, I become a blurry, messy, wild person, that isn’t me. But then, I quite liked that person. She was reckless and spontaneous, and always had a good story to tell the next day. There was an urgency in the way she talked: drunk me was desperate, and full of good ideas.
After not very long, I quit the job that was making me unhappy to go travelling. Cue Cape Town. Despite feeling free and happy, and finding kundalini, I only drank more. I equated freedom with drinking whenever I wanted. I drank because that’s what everyone does when they travel. You make friends drinking. You rent space at the bar to watch the sunset when you order a sundowner. It doesn't matter if you're alone. Everything seems easier. Sober, I would've been afraid to walk up to people I’d never met, and put myself out there. After CT I continued travelling up the East coast of Africa towards Ethiopia. After setting up the tent each night, I was physically exhausted. I’d earned half a bottle of wine. Fuzzy and warm in front of the campfire, with a cup of red in my hand, I felt content, and unburdened.
A coincidental string of events led me to New York City. Luck and the generosity of others have allowed me to stay. Here, I practice kundalini at a studio called Golden Bridge. Until recently, I've spent most of my nights drinking at happy hours, dinners, networking events or at home. In the States, one vodka equals about two and a half standard drinks. Some mornings I’ve woken up so hungover, having blown $150, that I’ve vowed never to drink again. Crying alone in my cold apartment on New Year’s day 2015, I read a blog called ‘the adventures of a Sober Senorita’, about a woman who gave up alcohol for good. I didn’t need to do that, I thought, but good on her.
I’d enquired about yoga teacher training so many times, that when a course started in New York in October, I had to sign up. I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Kundalini is the yoga of awareness. All the strange movements and breath techniques somehow serve to bring who you are and the things you do into focus.
When I think about how even two glasses of wine makes me feel I realise that one of the things I love about it is how it lets me off the hook, in the sense that I’m one of the group but also less like myself; I’m insulated from the world, what’s happening around me and also what’s happening inside, what I’m thinking about. Even when I’m just a little tipsy, and will still remember everything the next morning, I’m more prone to snap. I can get angry and argue over the smallest things. I can also be funnier. I eat the foods I’d never consider during the light of day. If I do something wrong I feel sheepish and guilty, but reach for the same excuse every time: I’m sorry, I was just a little drunk. I wasn’t myself.
Some mornings after these nights I wake up foggy, others not so much. But even after two glasses of wine I have the feeling I’m not as intelligent as I can be. Not as quick. My work ethic is sloppy, and my ideas aren’t exciting.
Now I’m a writer, I work for myself. When I’m not on top of my game it’s only my career that suffers. I’m no longer a small cog in a large organisation. There’s no one to hide behind.
This alone is enough of a reason to stop drinking. But even so. I don’t want to feel left out. And I’m not sure that I have the gumption to always be an outsider. The thought that people might think I’m boring haunts me. But I keep looking at myself in the mirror and wondering, what if? What if the only way I could ever write the kind of story I know I’m capable of, is by making a drastic change? Then I’d rather have the story. It’s hard not to drink when everyone else is, because you’re immediately singled out, even by well meaning friends. They try and cajole you into a drink because by refusing you raise a tiny mirror to them, and perhaps for the briefest of seconds, make them question their own actions. I’ve experienced it enough times as a vegetarian. We’re pack animals. Having a salad instead of a steak, or a seltzer instead of a wine invites others to ask why. You’re placed in the spotlight and made to explain your decision. It’s hard not to waver under interrogation, when the refusal was hard enough to begin with.
For years I’ve over-emphasised the value of alcohol, overlooking its negative effects. It’s not helpful to speak in extremes. But it’s helpful for me to question myself, and each drink I hold in my hand - as $10 wonderful dollars, a one way ticket to relax, a piece of my headache tomorrow, the perfect accompaniment to my meal, the loss of a good idea, a slice of pizza I’ll eat at 3am, and ultimately, as an unnecessary luxury which I can decline if I feel like it.