One of the aims of a practice like yoga and meditation is to be able to slow down, calm the mind and to feel whatever arises for you.
It is important to have a way to connect back in with yourself, and that may be scary for some people. For those who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, this may seem extremely difficult, as often people drink in order to numb challenging feelings and to escape whatever is happening in their mind or body. It is also very beneficial to have an outlet that allows you to be an observer of your thoughts and feelings, learning not to get so caught up in them.
Mindfulness / consciousness
Often when someone has been drinking regularly for a substantial period of time, they disconnect from their true selves and what their body is telling them. Yoga and meditation is an effective way to start unpacking this, as well as being a relaxing and calming method to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress or depression.
One of the goals of a yoga or meditation practice is to learn the skill to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings and sensations that arise when you are in a challenging yoga posture. These sensations can also come up through mediation and make it very hard to sit with. Working through these sensations and learning to cope with them through breath and staying in the present moment, allows us to have the ability to cope better with situations in our external lives. For example, when we come face-to-face with something that would usually cause us to drink, like a fight with a partner, we can have the awareness that it might be best for us to leave the situation and have some time alone. We can remove ourselves and sit with whatever feelings come up. That way we learn to work through any anger/hurt/sadness/grief and return to the person with a greater sense of calm and clarity of the situation.
Life is all about relationships; relationships with ourselves, with others, with alcohol etc. Relationships really come down to connection and understanding. There is a close relationship between the mind and the body, and yoga and mediation are a way to weave this together.
Yoga Teacher, Vytas Baskauskas, from California, spoke to Yoga Journal about finding sobriety through the 12 step program and a disciplined yoga practice.
“A lot of people come to AA to get sober, and yet they’re still riddled with physical maladies and imbalances… Yoga was challenging, and it opened my mind and my body. It enlivened places that had been dead for so long, and as I worked my body, I found a refuge, some relief from feeling like a prisoner of my own thoughts. When you’re an addict, you often have a hole in your life, and by filling it with the philosophy of yoga, God—whatever you want to call it—that’s a high too. But it’s a high that won’t kill your relationships, hurt your family, or your body.”
Knowing that you have to wake up at 6am to get to a class is a great way to have an excuse to go to bed early or leave an event early and not have too much to drink. If you are out on a Friday night with friends at a bar and there’s an amazing yoga class on tomorrow at your favourite studio – it can help you tune back into what you really need. You may find that having one more means you won’t get there.
Having an alternative way to relax, helps get you into a healthy routine, as you can take yourself to a yin yoga or meditation class to unwind, instead of meeting someone at a pub. Many people start to crave the feelings that are released after yoga or a mediation practice, and these can help to become your ‘therapy’. This is when change starts to happen if you do the work. No one is saying it will be easy, but forming habits like this gradually changes your lifestyle for the better!
In both of these mindful practices, you are taught to be kind to yourself and to remember to honour your limitations. You learn to find your edge with love and acceptance rather than judgment and discouragement. It doesn’t matter what you look like or whether you are ‘flexible enough’ or ‘strong enough’. No one judges you for being ‘bad’ at yoga or meditation, because there is no competition. It is a self-practice and each day is different and may feel different in your own body.
How do I get into mediation?
The Headspace app is a great place to start if you want to get into a regular practice. It offers free, easy and practical, 10 minute sessions to try, but there are loads of other apps and online videos!. You can also look up meditation classes in your local area if you prefer to go to a space to meditate with others.
How do I get into a yoga practice?
Setting yourself goals for a consistent weekly (if not daily) practice, is something that demonstrates a lot of self-discipline. If you have struggled with keeping at things in the past, a good idea may be to buy a membership to a yoga/meditation studio and that way you know you have paid and that might make you go! There are also thousands of apps and online videos to follow.
This yoga sequence from Yoga Journal was created for people who have or have had a dependency, and it has lovely little illustrations and affirmations for you to focus on in each posture. https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/higher-ground
Just set up the computer somewhere you have space to roll out a mat or a towel and make sure you have uninterrupted time to work on your breath and follow the guide. Namaste.
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I’d been talking about using yoga to help me with to help me to reduce my dependence on alcohol for ages – but hadn’t got around to finding something that was accessible, easy and tailored to purpose. No more excuses from me thanks to this article and the link to the yoga sequence created for people who have dependency.
Qi gong is good, too. I have found real benefits in becoming more mindful about drinking. I am working hard on stopping altogether. Wikipedia explains the activity: Qigong, qi gong, chi kung, or chi gung is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used to promote health, spirituality, and martial arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, qigong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi, translated as “life energy”.