Yoga in Sanskrit means “unity”: of mind and body, the corporeal and the spiritual. And now, beer and poses. Several Chicago-area breweries, including Twisted Hippo, Great Central, Lake Effect, Metropolitan, and Temperance in Evanston, are now offering beer yoga. With these classes, though, come contradictions related to the clarity of sobriety and the cloudiness of alcohol, of fitness and pleasure. Beer yoga seems perfectly at home in America, land of excess and paradox, where we swat away one vice with a puritanical hand and reach for a different vice with the other.
Instead of having participants sip and integrate their beers into the poses, the breweries provide a free pour after the practice. Kristin Gulliford, owner of Namaste for Beer, which Great Central employs for their beer yoga classes, says that “to pay respect to both practices, consuming separately allows the patron to focus on the yoga, and then fully appreciate the beer.”
Why people have latched on to the trend likely stems from a need to cultivate equanimity in their lives, and to find communities in which they’re encouraged to do so.
“A lot of people enjoy the reward system,” says Chelsea Matsumonji, retail operations manager at Begyle Brewing, which has offered beer yoga in the past. “‘I was able to get up early, do a yoga class, and now I deserve this beer.'”
Begyle instructor Jessica Noble concurs. “If a beer is consumed after in celebration, then I think that’s as beautiful as the yoga practice.”
There’s a symbiotic economic relationship here: breweries get people to drink their beer, and yoga companies get people to take their yoga. And let’s be honest, because this is capitalism: both the brewery and the yoga company want to make money.
Yet there’s also a social cross-pollination taking place. More health-minded people visit the brewery, and those with limited yoga experience attend practices. When writing this article, I invited a friend who hadn’t done yoga since college to take a class with me, and he agreed. Would he have been willing to do it without the promise of a beer? Probably not. Would I have asked? Nope. Each of the breweries says something similar: beer yoga is about forming and strengthening community.
While there’s a perception of quasi-religious dogma around craft beer snobs and yogis, the beer yoga trend typifies our yearning to find like-minded people, especially when being a text message or a click away from anything or anyone can ironically make us feel more isolated.
According to Josh Gilbert, owner and founder of Temperance Brewery, “We may carry inaccurate ideas about yoga and craft beer the same way we may have unhelpful stereotypes of what a craft beer drinker looks like, versus what a yogi looks like. With Temperance Trikonasana, we’re breaking down those stereotypes and correcting the inaccuracies.” Temperance’s monthly sessions are fund-raisers for local nonprofit organizations, and the entire $20 fee goes to a different nonprofit. “We see the brewery—and especially the Tap Room—as a vehicle for building community,” Gilbert says. “It’s a much more enriching experience than if we were just offering yoga. And of course, the beer is a nice bonus at the end.” Since 2015, Temperance has raised almost $14,000 for nonprofits. So much for my earlier point about capitalism.
Jenny Arrington, instructor at Temperance, tailors her class to the monthly fund-raiser, and her class is about more than just the asanas or the beer; it also provides strategies for self-care and tools for healing. “At Temperance Trikonasana, participants experience a class that includes philosophy, mantra, pranayama, and meditations. I also make sure that everyone knows how these teachings can help them in their everyday life.”
On the surface, the goals of yoga, especially clarity of mind, don’t exactly align with alcohol, which everyone inevitably realizes impairs clarity.
“The whole subject of intoxicants is definitely something that’s discussed—sometimes hotly debated—amongst the [yoga] community,” Noble says. While she takes no issue with a postpractice beer, she has reservations about drinking during the practice.
Arrington agrees: “I am obviously moderate and love that we can cultivate the idea of temperance at a brewery with the same name, but changing the practice of yoga itself is an appropriation I won’t support.”
That line—between pleasure and self-medication, between the physical and the mental, between the corporeal and the spiritual—is everything. Yet we sometimes struggle to navigate it. As the folks from Twisted Hippo tell me, “Exercise is primarily for the body, yoga brings contentment and focus to the mind, and a well-crafted, delicious beer can feed the soul.”
Perhaps William Blake was wrong about where the road of excess leads. The road of moderation seems the better choice for most people. “The path to self-improvement is not creating strict rules for ourselves (that we’re likely to break) or engaging in extreme behaviors,” Gilbert tells me, “but rather approaching everything with a sense of curiosity (Beer and yoga? Let’s try it!) and moderation.”
The quiet of the practice, of breathing, of challenging ourselves, and letting go of what we carry, is indeed beautiful. To then be in a brewery and share a space, in quietude, when an early light slants through the windows and across the floors, beside tanks of beer and bags of barley and hops, is to be part of something beautiful too. Employees set up chairs and get glasses ready behind the bar. People’s conversations unfold as if you were a part of them. There is, forgive me, a mindfulness to it.
If yoga teaches us about how the body feels and observes, how we breathe and perceive, of the attachments we feel and need to let go of, perhaps beer yoga illuminates the idea that being in good physical and mental shape doesn’t have to mean starving out things that bring us pleasure. v