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You Can Thank Men for Yoga. And Women for Beer.

I start every Brew You Yoga class sharing some of the similarities I see between yoga and beer. At first I get some chuckles and a few raised eyebrows, but as I start talking about these two ancient traditions, the questionable looks generally turn to appreciative smiles and the head nods. Not going to lie, it’s pretty fascinating watching people’s face change from, “this chick is cray” to “huh, that’s pretty interesting”.

One of the more interesting similarities I share is around gender. The gender most closely associated with beer and yoga today is the opposite gender that created and dominated each for centuries.

Today the perception of yoga is lanky toned women in expensive yoga clothing twisting their bodies into pretzel shapes. However, Yoga was created BY men, FOR men, and predominately practiced by men for centuries.

For thousands of years yoga was mostly a meditative and awareness practice. The practice of poses as we know them today is only about 100 years old.

Patanjli was the first to bring the philosophies of yoga together. His Sutras, as they are called, make no mention of poses, or asanas, that we’re familiar with today. The Sutras focuses primarily on the workings of the mind and bringing stillness to it — the true essence of yoga practiced for centuries. When basic poses first appeared in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika they were mostly seated or laying down. Still no downward dogs or warrior poses or any of the others which form the foundation of many modern classes.

It was Krishnamacharya, often called the father of modern yoga, who developed the foundation of the practice we know today. As his students were mainly active male teens and young men, he developed elements of indian wrestling and gymnastics into a physical sequence for physical fitness but also to calm the exuberancy of his young male students.

It wasn’t until a woman, named Indra Devi, introduced yoga to the Western world that it became, not only acceptable, but common for women to practice. She herself had fought through repeated denials by Krishnamacharya to be his student (because she was female) and finally was granted permission to work with him. After years of practice with him and pitstops around the globe, she brought yoga the to US, to Hollywood of all places. There she began teaching actresses, including the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo popularizing it with women and setting it on the path we see today.

On the flip side, while men dominate the beer world today, both in the business and in consumption, beer used to be woman’s domain. The earliest recorded recipe of beer is found in the Hymm to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer and the head brewer to the gods themselves.

The earliest brewers were females, or brewsters as female brewers were called, as it was part of their responsibilities to preserve the grains that were so plentiful in ancient Mesopotamia and Sumeria. They fermented grains to make bread and beer. They then became the village brewers creating a place for people to come together over a beer — to create community — the earliest versions of tavern keepers.

In addition to being valued for its nutritional richness, Sumerian women brewed low-alcohol beer used for religious ceremonies. These women were granted deep respect for their part in brewing as well as for serving as priestesses of Ninkasi. It was believed she’d gifted beer to humans to preserve peace and promote good health.

The perception of the priestesses, once so revered, would eventually turn negative and symbols of their trade would be used as anti-witch propaganda — broomsticks (hung above the door to indicate the beer was ready), cats (to chase away mice from the mash as it fermented), and pointy hats (to be seen above the crowd in the marketplace).

As industrialization took hold, brewing left the intimacy of the home and became a commercial factory operation run predominately by men — as women weren’t able to own property. This trend held true in the early days of America. Thomas Jefferson is credited as the first American microbrewer, but it was actually his wife Martha who originally did the brewing.

So what does all this mean? Frankly I just think its fascinating and I thought you might too.

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