Whether it’s a bottle of wine shared with friends at dinner, or a glass of wine by yourself, ayurveda has insight to share on just ‘when’ to wine.
Before we get into the winey details, there is a short answer to the question “When should I have wine?”, it is a simple and a classic ayurvedic response: it depends!
What is a yogi to do, to wine or not to wine? Yogis, and other health minded folk, look at food and drink with an eye to enjoyment and to support our health. We are ALL about nourishing, digesting and evacuating! So what does our wine sipping depend upon?
First we look at how the taste, the gunas or qualities of the wine, will help us support our digestion and constitutional balance. Learning just how to enjoy and stay in balance takes some thought. This mindfulness is important to bring to all areas of our lives. Often we yogis (and anyone changing their relationship to their own body) talk about how our lives have begun to change in subtle ways: sleep patterns, friend groups, clothing style, and grocery purchases.
Our attention often moves to the consumption of good ol’ American favorites: coffee, meat and wine! And our attention is brought here because our relationship to consuming is changing. We are realizing that “it depends” on if what we eat will nourish us or leave us feeling otherwise.
Should we get anxious, shamed or fearful that someone in the yoga or ayurveda community will ask us to stop having our glass of wine or cuppa' coffee to be a better person? Not for a minute! Ayurveda is an ancient medical system that has adapted over the centuries and remains vibrant and relevant...and it is not because it said no to meat and wine.
In the Classics, the three Sanskrit textbooks that hold much of the translated information on medicine, the ayurvedic physicians refer to alcohol’s ability to “quickly reach the heart and mind thus having a direct effect on the qualities.” (The qualities are the 20 gunas, or attributes, that describe all matter or the doshas—Vata, Pitta, Kapha.) The ultimate outcome is that our deep vitality, or ojas, will not be supported. Over time, alcohol consumption will create agitation and finally dullness. (Ring a bell?!?!) The Classics tell us, “The wrong use of alcohol will create illusion fear, grief, anger, disease and death.”
The Classics go on to tell us that, “If one takes alcohol it must be used in relation to understanding the qualities of the food or drink and; the consumer’s age, the strength of digestion, current state of health or disease, and season of the year or even time of day.”
Check out this common situation where wine is used to shift our mood…and consider a few winey guidelines to help you consume with your constitution in mind! First tip, that a “glass” of wine is 2 to 4 ounces. That might be the most important adjustment of all!
Situation #1: Bad Day
You had a horrible day at work. You can’t wait to get home and have a glass of wine…or two…to relax and forget about it. Who has been here before?!?! If you are coming home feeling agitated, stressed, frustrated and/or angry, the qualities of alcohol (heating, drying) will intensify these feelings. You will feel much better, and be better able to handle the next day at work, by doing some agni sara, enjoying a nice long savasana, or taking a gentle yoga class. If you do one of those things, you will probably not be craving the alcohol. Or you might enjoy just a little wine with your meal to help you digest the day! When we have a rough day, what we need is to be nurtured…not heated and dried out even more.
Situation #2: Dinner with Friends
When enjoying a meal out with friends and the group wants to enjoy wine or spirits consider these guidelines:
- Make sure you are feeling joyful and in good health. Otherwise ayurveda’s rule of “what can heal can harm” will make you feel unhappy all around.
- The Golden Rule: all in moderation even in celebration. This allows us to enjoy a ritual, without a personal sacrifice!
- Pittas: Red wine is not going to be as smart a choice. Generally, white wine is more astringent and dry so it will be more cooling and is better taken in the summer months.
- Vata: Get sweet! Many beers are sweeter in nature. These lower alcohol beverages are more sedating and calming and a better choice for the air and ether types who tend to get over stimulated with dry, heating wines and spirits.
- Kapha: Red wine it is! Hotter and dryer in qualities with more tannins, this beverage will offer some digestive support for the often slow-moving kaphic fires…
- Always end the evening with a rasayana to support your liver and build ojas…after all, alcohol is depleting in any form to our natural vitality!
In summary, pay attention to the gunas (qualities) within yourself: dry, hot, cold, etc. Then look at the food you are about to consume through that same lens. Just remember that like increases like. Let your wine be part of the meal’s chemistry to nourish you, not an unwelcome poison that spins you into an imbalance. There is nothing wrong with a little wine. Remember the phrase “it depends”, and you will know when to wine.