We all know that feeling.

I remember it all too well.

You decided that you were not going to drink that day, definitely not drinking today.

And you totally meant it.

Then something happened. Maybe you had a horrible day in work.  Perhaps you got stuck in traffic and were late collecting the kids from the childminder… the kids have been like banshees all evening… you’ve been snarky with the other half all evening… the mountain of post dinner dishes gets left for you to do again… any of these things and more could happen and do test the resolve.

And that voice pops up into your head

“A nice glass of wine will take the edge off.  Just the one glass, go on, it will be fine”

You KNOW that that voice is lying, you KNOW that it won’t just be the one glass, but you are convincing yourself that it will be ok.  Those craving aren’t going to go away unless you deal with them, are they?  So what are you going to do?

What are cravings?

Neuroscientists tell us that cravings are powerful memories which are created by the effect of the subject of the addiction on our brain.  They create powerful associations which make us think that we need to behave in a certain way in a particular situation.  These associations are so strong, we can feel powerless to resist.  The triggers that prompt these cravings vary from person to person, although there are some that are common, such as a bad day in work, smoking when drinking, being in the company of certain people.

These cravings can be incredibly powerful, all consuming and can make us feel that we have no control over our behaviour.

The good news is though, we can take control and be the master of the cravings.

I think therefore….

Cravings are memories.  Memories are thoughts.  And thoughts are a creation of our mind.

Yoga teaches us that we can control our thoughts, and as a result, our behaviour.

There are a number of techniques that can help to take control of our mind and beat the cravings that can lay waste to our good intentions and goals.

The first is to know that the craving IS just a thought.  We have millions of thoughts each day, our brain filters out the ones it has been trained to ignore, that we don’t want to focus on, and shows us the thoughts that are relevant to what we appear to want.

When the craving comes, one way to approach it is to acknowledge it, greet it even, and recognise it for what it is, a thought.  You can choose how to deal with it.  Imagine it as a friend you don’t really like very much but have never had the heart to tell them.  They come to your house, you can invite them in, or tell them that you are too busy and can’t see them today.  Then shut the door.

1. Awareness

In order to be able to change our thoughts, we must first notice that we are having them.  How many times have you found that you have done something, and the first you consciously knew of it was when you realised you had done it.  Smokers will recognise this I know – I don’t know how many times I would suddenly realise that I had a cigarette in my mouth and had no recollection of putting it there!

Most of the time we are operating on ‘autopilot’, acting in ways that we have been programmed to act.  This programming comes from a variety of sources, including childhood, media messages, family, peer group etc.  We cannot begin to change anything until we are aware of it, so it is important that we begin to notice our thoughts, to bring awareness to the things that trigger our cravings, and to start to notice our responses to events.

Awareness is a practice that needs to be developed.  Yoga helps us develop this awareness, this is the main goal of Yoga in fact, to make us aware of ourselves.

2. Breathe

I tend to advocate deep breathing as the antidote to most things, particularly stress related problems.  The old wives’ tale ‘Take a deep breath and count to 10’ has stood the test of time because, like all ‘old wives’ tales’, there is a great deal of truth in it.

When you are feeling that urge to indulge the craving, try taking several deep breaths, focusing completely on the breath, for a couple of minutes.  This will give you time to allow the craving to pass while you are ignoring it (cravings to go away if they are successfully ignored), and you will have the added benefits of the deep breathing, which should calm you down so that you are better able to deal with whatever is stressing you out.

Deep breathing is also a valuable tool to help us develop that awareness that we so need.

This video takes you through a simple breathing practice

3. Sitting quietly

When we are rushing from here to there, busily getting on with our day, immersed in constant stimulation, it can be almost impossible to find any peace inside or out.  Spending a few minutes each day in stillness, sitting quietly and simply focusing on the breath, can be a transformational practice.  Most people will refer to this as meditation, but in the tradition I was trained in, we call it ‘quiet sitting’.

In the short term, this practice brings an immediate sense of stillness and calm to our minds and bodies.  In the longer term, the effects are quite dramatic.  As well as being a path to finding ourselves, scientists have identified numerous physical and mental benefits to this practice, including

  • Reducing stress
  • Increasing happiness
  • Making us feel more connected
  • Increases serotonin
  • Reduces headaches
  • Improves sleep
  • …and much much more

This video will talk you through a session of quiet sitting

4. Throwing out

This is a wonderful practice that is fantastic for immediate release of tension.  It is not one that can necessarily be done anywhere, anytime, but if you can take yourself off to the toilets, or to another room, away from the source of tension, it is amazingly theraputic!

5. Gratitude

I am a big fan of practising gratitude on a regular basis.  Regularly looking for, and appreciating the things that are good in our life, instead of allowing ourselves to focus on the negative, has numerous benefits including

  • reduces stress
  • improves mood
  • increases positivity
  • improves relationships
  • increases resilience

These and more make sobriety far easier and much more enjoyable!

When you are in that moment of craving, stop and think of all the things you are grateful for, rather than keeping your focus on the thing you want.

6. Replace the negative with the positive

The yogic concept of Pratipaksha Bhavanam teaches us to flip any negative thoughts or behaviour on its head and creating a positive one instead.  This works very well in combination with gratitude.  So instead of focusing on how much your child is driving you to distraction with his stubbornness, you might look at how strong and sure of himself he is (I need to practice this one more, haha!).

This is a great practice for the times when we allow our inner critic out to play, as the thoughts that aspect of ourself creates can be truly devastating, My inner critic used to have great fun at my expense, but now I flip any negative thought I notice and focus on something good about myself instead.

7. Remember your why

You made a decision that you weren’t going to drink.  Why did you make that decision?  If, like me, you choose not to drink because alcohol was a destructive force in your life, hold onto that thought.  Imagine what will happen if you indulge the craving.  How will you feel physically and mentally?  Imagine waking up tomorrow morning, hungover, groggy, foggy memory. How will you feel then?  Make that image really huge in your mind, then imagine not drinking.  Picture yourself waking up tomorrow after not drinking.  How will you feel physically and mentally?  Make that picture really huge in your mind, and see which one you prefer.

8. What do you really need?

Your craving will be telling you something that you need.  It might be sleep, food, relaxation, support, or to process a painful emotion.  Take a step back and think about what it is that you really need in the moment of craving,and see if you can give your body or mind what it needs.

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Esther Nagle
Teacher, writer, speaker at Balance and Breathe
Esther is a former alcoholic, smoker and all round stressed out mess. She found the path to health, happiness, freedom and joy through Yoga. She is a passionate advocate for the power of Yoga, and time in Nature, in bringing balance to life, and giving you control over your health, happiness and wellbeing.

Esther is a powerful public speaker, writer and author. Her first book, Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga, has gained many 5 star reviews and has helped many people along their recovery journey.

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