Why do we drink alcohol? Sometimes we drink for the taste. Occasionally we enjoy a glass of wine for the palate cleansing quality during a meal, ideally expertly paired with what we are eating. Often we drink for fun, to enjoy the euphoria and intoxication. Sometimes we drink out of habit, and more often than we would like to admit, we drink to distract or to numb.
I have worked in restaurants for almost 15 years, and during this time I have served alcohol to countless people, though I rarely ever questioned their desire for that extra glass or that last nightcap. In fact, I have been drinking alcohol for just about as many years, and it is only recently that I have started to examine my own desire to drink. I developed some bad habits around drinking that I did not want to admit at the time. Gradually, the hangovers lasted longer, my energy lowered, and my body ached. My body demanded that I pay attention to it. My initial reaction was to drink more; I wanted to distract from that pain, even though the alcohol would eventually only worsen the symptoms.
Our bodies are constantly providing us with information that we mostly choose to ignore. We can choose to ignore these messages until they become too painful or too strong to shut out, or we can choose to listen.
The best time to start listening is when we are eating or drinking. When we eat or drink, we have the opportunity to engage all of our senses. The body provides a lot of feedback during the process, ranging from the pleasure experienced when we eat to the fullness we feel when we are satisfied. The challenge is that eating and drinking has become so routine and habitual, that we often neglect what we are ingesting, focusing instead on our phone, our computer, the TV, or even just the noise in our mind. When we tune out of the process of tasting and savoring our food and drink, we are more likely to ignore the feedback our body provides and eat or drink too much.
The more that I get curious about how my body responds while consuming, the more I catch myself before I eat or drink too much, preventing the uncomfortable fullness or the hangover. This requires attention and practice, but the practice pays off.
Let's try a little mindfulness exercise. Though mindfulness is often associated with yoga or meditation, the concept can be applied to anything. This exercise applies mindfulness to drinking a glass of wine (or any other beverage). Below is a series of prompts. Feel free to record yourself reading these aloud so you can play them back, or perhaps have a friend guide you through them.
Pour yourself a small glass of wine.
Place the glass in front of you on a table.
Close your eyes and begin to take a series of 6 deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
Feel the connection of your feet with the floor. Place your attention there and feel how grounded you are. Feel the weight of your body resting in the chair. Feel the weight of your hands on your lap or on the arms of the chair.
Feel your presence in the room. Feel the space around you. Fill the space with your attention. Enjoy the sense of calm in your body.
Open your eyes slowly and focus on the glass of wine. Ask yourself some questions. How does the wine look? How does it look as it sits in the glass? Does the glass reflect any light? Take in the appearance and notice the color.
Grab the glass with your hand. Hold it and feel the weight in your hand. How does the glass feel against your skin? Be curious about the contents of the glass. Move the wine around in the glass and notice how it reacts to your movement.
Bring the glass to your nose. Breathe in. Was there a moment when you noticed the change from the ambient air to that of the glass? Was there an explosion of aroma, or a gentle shift? What do you smell? Is there anything familiar? Do any memories come up?
Bring the glass to your lips, but do not drink. Pause here for a moment and feel your body. Do you feel anything? Is there tension building as you get closer to the first sip?
Take a sip and hold it into your mouth without swallowing. Stay present with the liquid. How does it feel in your mouth? What temperature is it? How does your body feel?
Swallow the wine with intention. Focus on it as it flows down your throat and into your stomach. This is a gateway into your body. Let the wine in; let it become part of you. What do you feel? How does your body feel? What sensations arise? How does your mouth feel? What flavors do you experience? Does your mouth tingle, salivate, or pucker?
Return to the glass and smell it again. Do you notice a difference?
Take another sip, swish it, swallow it, and close your eyes. Feel your body without judgment.
Take a moment to journal on your experience or share your thoughts with a friend.
There is a great power to shaking up our routines and challenging ourselves to act with more mindfulness. This type of exercise can be done with many other activities: eating a meal, listening to a song, viewing a sunrise or sunset, looking upon your lover. We become so accustomed to our lives that we often forget to live in the moment and appreciate the true beauty of the experience. When we tap into the body and into our senses we allow ourselves the opportunity to connect with the experience on a deeper level.
So grab a glass, breathe deep, and enjoy.
This meditation was adapted from an article published by Mindful.org