I know, you practice yoga, you’re not supposed to drink, and you’re definitely not supposed to drink to excess.
But it happens.
And when it does, best you know how to handle it.
Fact is, we live in a culture that drinks heavily, (especially here in New Zealand) and it can be hard to break out of that mindset. Yoga most definitely helps, and so does being kind to yourself as you transition away from regular heavy drinking to mindful samplings of delicious beverages.
What can help even more is applying your favorite spiritual practice to your drinking.
Here’s how to deal with a hangover, drawing on mindfulness, the loving-kindness compassion of Metta practice and the “everything is sacred” mantra of Tantra.
1. Early intervention works best
As soon as you know that you’re imbibing enough alcohol to make you feel hungover, start taking counter measures. This is mindfulness. It’s being honest about what’s going on, and dealing with it.
Either stop drinking entirely, slow down the amount you’re drinking and/or start drinking more water. It’s a simple step, and it can make a huge difference to your well-being the next day. This is metta practice, being loving, kind and compassionate to yourself, and your well-being.
In fact, it can help to front-load the water intake before you hit an alcohol-heavy night—like a friend’s wedding, or a catch-up at the rugby club. It’s about being honest with yourself as to what is likely to happen, and nurturing yourself the best you can while still drinking.
“Okay, I’m likely to have a few drinks tonight, best drink a liter of water now, and remind myself to drink water during the night.”
2. Food is your friend
Always think about food. I know, I know, eating’s cheating… because it slows down the rate of alcohol absorption and means you can drink more before you get drunk, but common—we’re adults now right?
Eat well before drinking anything, and think about eating something at the end of a big night too—preferably something nourishing, warm and grounding. Ideally, brown rice porridge with agave sweetener, banana and spices is your best bet, but you’ll probably be in no shape for cooking when you get home, and two a.m. takeaways don’t sell brown rice porridge.
However, in the morning, when you wake up and feel nauseous, but hungry? That’s when cooking up something warm, sweet, nourishing and spicy can work well. If you’re too ill to cook, beg a flatmate, friend or loved one to make you breakfast in exchange for breakfast the next day. Whatever you do, make sure you eat something easy to digest in the morning, regardless of how ill you feel, because food will make you feel better.
Nourishing your body well is kindness. Practice it.
3. Accept where you’re at and focus on what you need
This is when your spiritual practice starts to come into it’s own. Yes, you’ll be in some kind of pain if you’re experiencing a hangover, but you don’t need to suffer as well.
Accept the state of being you’re in, take ownership for what it is that you need to do to look after yourself, and make bringing yourself back into balance your number one focus for the day. That’s mindfulness, loving-kindness and working with what is all wrapped up in one.
When you wake up, assess your commitments for the day and be honest about whether or not you can meet them and still be at your best. If not, see what you can shift around.
Don’t make your assessment based on what you feel like doing, but on how you’ll feel after you keep the commitment. You might not feel like the hour-long walk you promised a girlfriend, but you know you’ll feel better after you do it. So do it. That’s a commitment to honor.
However, if you were taking your nephew to the zoo, it might not be good for your nephew to be hanging with a hungover uncle or auntie. Negotiate a change of day on that one. (And in future, don’t drink too much when you’ve got important commitments the next day. If you know you’re going to drink keep the following day empty. That’s just smart).
Once you’ve got your day organized, assess your other needs. Liquids is likely the most important and immediate. Water first, but some people also find juice and/or chocolate milk good for hangover recovery. Coffee can also help with headaches. Know what works for you, and keep drinking water regardless.
During this whole process, monitor your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness. How’s the internal self-talk today? In what tone of voice are you speaking to yourself? Are you judging yourself? What does this internal dialogue reveal about you?
And then then look after yourself in the way you would look after a dearly beloved loved one, because you are a dearly beloved loved one.
Usually when we have a big night, we’ve stayed up late and used a lot of energy. Now you need to recuperate and build up that energy again. Baths can be great for helping with the detoxing process. Naps are also vital to catch up on the sleep you missed. Don’t think you can just wait until the next night and sleep longer. You’ll throw your whole week out of whack. Better to nap.
Another key way to rebuild energy is to practice yoga.
The last thing you probably feel like doing is a Bikram Class, but guaranteed you’ll feel better after you practice. If an intense asana class is too much to contemplate, consider doing some pranayama, meditation or yoga nidra at home. In particular, yoga nidra is easy for anyone to do—just lie down and listen.
Pranayama like Alternate Nostril Breathing can help get rid of that woolly feeling in the brain, and meditation can also help with any feelings of anxiety or jaggedness that can arise after we drink too much.
Plus, there’s something self-healing or nourishing about doing our practice even though we’re hungover. It seems to acknowledge that we may have done something bad for us, but we’re also doing lots that is good for us. If however, you skip your practice because you’re hungover, you’ll feel even worse.
4. Self-inquiry is key
Okay, so you drank too much and you feel like shit. It’s done, no point in feeling guilty or beating yourself up about it. But there is a point into inquiring as to why you drank too much.
Self-knowledge is a fundamental keystone of our yoga practice. When we become aware of why we do what we do, and we can see our patterns of behavior, or samskaras in action, we can make better choices next time around. Or we can start to confront the demons driving our behavior. In this way, being hungover can be useful because it helps us to see our shadow. But only if we take the time to look.
So why? Why did you drink too much?
Take a look at your drinking for the night in question and assess your triggers. How were you feeling at the beginning of the night? Who were you drinking with? Did you feel pressure to drink? Why did you keep drinking even when you’d had enough?
The last time I drank too much, it was because a deep-seated fear was being triggered and it was creating a lot of mind-chatter that was making it hard for me to relax. I drank an extra drink or two hoping it would relax me. It didn’t. Of course. Inquiring into this, I was able to identify the fear that had been triggered, and work with it in my meditation the next day.
This is Tantra. Taking what’s going on in our lives right here right now and working with it. When we’re able to do this, our night on the booze can turn into something that helps us see our shadows, identify our samskaras and release old fears. And when that happens, we’re far less likely to have another boozy night next weekend because we’ve addressed the underlying triggers.
Don’t take my word for it though. Like any practice, this is something that has to be done.
So next time you find yourself in the middle of drinking too much, think mindfulness, think loving-kindness, think self-inquiry. Be with your experience, as it’s unfolding, and love yourself through the process. Dare to look at your shadow, your triggers and your samskaras.
You may never be hungover again.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta