A new health trend that is starting to emerge across the world is the practice of mindful drinking. It's the practice of being fully aware, moment by moment of why and how much alcohol you are putting into your body. It generally leads to a much healthier relationship with alcohol and significantly reduces consumption.
It's not a method for giving up drinking (though it can help you with that) and it's most certainly not a method for people with alcohol abuse issues, but more about developing a healthier relationship with alcohol. The latest research has shown that there is a rapid decline in drinking among young people.
Popularised by Club Soda, a New York-based alcohol-free social club, it avoids the all-or-nothing approach of such concepts as Dry January and takes the middle way of moderation. In the UK, Club Soda organise mindful-drinking pub crawls with its first Mindful Drinking Festival being held in 2017.
The practice itself is not new, however. It's something that lay-Buddhists have been doing for a long time according to Lodro Rinzler, author of The Buddha Walks into a Bar.
For the rest of us, there is a huge amount of pressure to simply engage with drinking in a mindless way and then suffer the consequences later. Re-framing our relationship to this hard-to-avoid activity is the key to removing our culturally dictated victim-state.
“Mindful drinking is the concept of being intentional with your decisions around alcohol. It empowers you to make an intentional decision instead of being swept along with the current... It’s all about changing the conversation with yourself. Culturally, drinking is socially acceptable and almost socially-expected,” said psychotherapist Eliza Kingsford.
The practice of mindful-drinking is easy to do, but it's a good idea to prepare yourself first. The first step is to practice any method that will allow you to centre yourself and eliminate the stresses of the day. You could do this in your car on the way to your social event, perhaps by just watching the breath for a few moments or looking at nature and really appreciating its beauty. Gaze at the sky for a few moments and get lost in it. Then consider the night ahead: who you are going to meet and how you intend to be mindfully present in conversation or listening to them. The idea is to visualise ahead of time a mindfully aware evening so that when you arrive you will be much more likely to experience a state of sustained and calm mindfulness.
When the drinks arrive, instead of knocking it back while chatting to your friends, take a moment to really feel the glass. What does it feel like in the hand? Its shape, texture, and temperature. Is there any ice in the glass? What does it sound like and look like as it floats in your drink? What does the drink itself look like? It's colour? Can you smell the drink? Does the smell evoke any memories or feelings? Then as you take a sip try to savour it. Be aware of how taking the sip feels, on the lips, in the mouth. How does it taste? Does the taste evoke any memories, feelings, or sensations? Where can you feel that sip in the body after you have swallowed it?
The big challenge comes when you are with a group of friends. During the conversation, try to be mindful of sipping your drink. When someone speaks, see if you can stop sipping and be mindful and attentive to what they are saying. If possible, try taking in the environment, (sights, sounds, smells), or focusing on what you are doing. Try to be present in the moment and really listen. Try not to use it as an opportunity to frame your reply when they stop talking, which is what most of us do when someone is talking. When you engage in a social evening in this way you are not only able to be fully present with the conversation, you are much more able to feel and experience the effects of whatever you are drinking. You can then be fully aware of your level of intoxication. It's impossible to be mindful when drunk!
When it comes to the time to have another drink, stop and ask yourself if having another drink serves you in some way. What are the benefits you will gain from it? Will your future self in looking back regret that extra drink or feel happy that you had it? Act accordingly.
Mindful drinking may never catch on as much as, say, mindful eating, but it's certainly a practice that those who wish to develop a better relationship with alcohol should consider trying.
Mindfulness isn't just about sitting on a cushion for 20 minutes and watching your breath. Although this is a great place to start, the benefits of mindfulness need to infuse every aspect of your life. Living a mindful life, through all aspects of it, is what it's all about. Including having a drink with friends.