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How yoga helped me cut down and quit alcohol

Sunday 21st is International Yoga day. Many people have found that yoga practice has helped them change their drinking habits, or that changing their drinking habits has helped them improve their yoga practice.

Either way, like drinking more mindfully, yoga won’t do you any harm! Here Club Soda member Raakhee Thompson talks about her high flying, stressful career in advertising, her drinking, and how embracing yoga more fully turned out to be a life changing decision.


Raakhee now

Alcohol was my friend

In my early twenties, I learned that alcohol was my friend. It gave me confidence when I felt shy, relaxation when I felt stressed, happiness when I felt sad, and elation when I felt good.

It was quickly sewn into the fabric of my existence – particularly as I worked in Advertising. Although the Don Draper days of downing a whiskey at 9am were over, after-work drinks and client events were common and I knew I drank more than I should. But then so did everybody else. So, I never questioned it, and carried on throughout my 30’s, pushing away the mental chatter and the little voice of intuition that was telling me that my hangovers were getting worse. As was my anxiety and my general ‘meh’ feeling towards the world.

Inside, I felt like something just wasn’t quite right.

I often drank for the wrong reasons which were to calm myself or console myself – I had no idea how to relax without a glass of wine in my hand.  My default emotion was anxiety, which seemed to get worse the more senior at work I became, but I put how I felt down to the stress of my job.

Raakhee then

On paper (or social media) it looked like I had it all. There I was in Cannes, or Beijing, or Cape Town, frolicking around, doing my advertising thing. I tried to convince myself that THIS was everything, this was living and that I was happy.

First yoga class

In order to sort my general feeling of ‘is this all life has to offer’ I went to my first yoga class at age 31. I didn’t get a thunderbolt of inspiration, but I did leave with a strange of natural peace, something I hadn’t felt for years. I started to go once a week – not frequently enough so the effects were fleeting – but I would feel the post-yoga zen, which would carry me through to the following day.

It was probably the only bit of real self-care I did back then. I mean, I would always ensure I looked presentable, but my self-talk was becoming nastier, I would push myself way too hard and feel guilty if I ever did anything remotely nice for myself. I would ‘treat’ myself to a glass of wine and only then did I feel like I could breathe and switch off.

You become great at ignoring signs when you drink. You probably don’t need me to tell you that alcohol numbs how you feel and quietens the chatter in the mind. My chatter was telling me stuff I didn’t want to hear like ‘leave your job and do something you love’ or ‘this is pointless’ or ‘my life sucks’ which then became more urgent and shittier as time went on.

I never hit rock bottom with booze; I wouldn’t drink every night and it would only be several glasses of wine at a time, but I used it to change how I felt and as a result I became more anxious and more down. When I was 37 and a Managing Director of two agencies, I began experiencing panic attacks and depression and I couldn’t wear a mask over it anymore. So I quit.

I was bloody petrified. I’d spent most of my adult life in the advertising world and it was all I knew. I remember thinking that I would never find anything else I was good at. That’s it. I was done for.

For the first few weeks, I kept it simple and just focused on what I knew I enjoyed which was yoga, helping others, reading, cooking, and being in nature. I massively cut down on drinking to once or twice a week, which started to help my clarity of thought and the feelings of dread/sadness/fear began to lift.

Back bends are not compulsory!

For the first few weeks, I kept it simple and just focused on what I knew I enjoyed which was yoga, helping others, reading, cooking, and being in nature.

Cut down on drinking

I massively cut down on drinking to once or twice a week, which started to help my clarity of thought and the feelings of dread/sadness/fear began to lift. I remember starting the process of slowing down, and trying to be present, doing the whole ‘mindful’ thing, and it what do you know, it actually bloody worked.

Yoga is really about calming and accepting the mind – not about doing a handstand or being bendy. It taught me compassion and true self-care, amongst a million other things.

Yoga is really about calming and accepting the mind – not about doing a handstand or being bendy. It taught me compassion and true self-care, amongst a million other things.

Within 6 months, I had set up my own coaching business and began consulting for previous clients. My yoga practice was something I did every day, even if it was just for half an hour.  Gradually, the intuition I had tried for so long to shut out came back with helpful guidance which I began to listen to. I studied yoga, mindfulness and breathwork, and began sharing this with those I coached, and three years ago, I started teaching yoga myself.

Life started to take on a whole new meaning, not something to be endured, but something to be enjoyed. Who knew!? I was chuffed to bits when I began working for triyoga, London’s wonderful destination for all things yoga (and treatments/pilates). I am currently running the corporate wellness division, helping stressed out office workers with their wellbeing, hopefully helping people who are struggling like I once was.

True wellness isn’t about sticking on a weekly yoga class –  it’s about giving your employees their own toolkit to use to promote physical and emotional health – as what works for one person may not work for another. So we’re developing a virtual platform of different tools covering lots of topics such as; sleep, everyday nutrition, managing emotions, how to meditate, managing stress and of course there’s some yoga in there as well. We’ve just finished a project for Facebook which was great fun and really rewarding.

Cut out alcohol completely

Anyway – back to the booze. As I said earlier, I hadn’t cut out alcohol completely until last October when I decided I’d finally had enough. It was becoming more obvious to me that I felt crap when I drank, and great when I didn’t. When I drank, I’d over-indulge because I felt I deserved it.

As a result, I would become lazy the following day and then would make excuses not to practice yoga or meditate, I’d eat rubbish, binge Netflix, that sort of thing. Plus, because I actually enjoyed life, I didn’t like the feeling of being numb anymore. I found it easier as time went by, and once I survived Christmas, my birthday and lockdown, I knew I didn’t need it as a crutch anymore.

I haven’t run a marathon since I quit alcohol. Or climbed Everest, or done anything truly inspiring. But I have tapped into who I am, started a daily meditation practice, and am generally a happier, more content human being. I am able to listen to the mental chatter and smile at it, and that’s enough for me.

Your inner guidance/voice/intuition always knows what is right for you – if you stop and listen, you will hear it.

Triyoga have launched their online live classes and are offering a free trial class . Click here for more information.

From the festival: Happy Hour Yoga?

In a talk recorded at The Mindful Drinking Festival, Kat Farrants founder of Movement for Modern Life talks about the power of yoga to support you through ‘trigger’ points in your day. You know the time – when you come in from work and you’re absolutely exhausted from the day and maybe your mind is still frazzled. It’s the perfect time for a brain-numbing drink, so you forget your worries.

A powerful tool we’ve found is to swap our evening glass of wine, for a yoga class or a meditation. Early evening is the perfect time to transition from work, by spending some time getting out of your head and back into your body. Find out more about Movement for Modern Life

If you’ve been inspired to start practising yoga, we can highly recommend Movement for Modern Life online classes. Triyoga have launched their live online service.

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