As the division between work and life blurs and collective stress levels reach an all-time high, it’s hardly surprising that a couple of cheeky drinks are called upon to unwind, connect with colleagues and put office politics back into perspective. Plenty valuable networking is oiled with alcohol and, when the company is paying, there’s even more reason to drink up!
The morning after, though, can take on a different tone. Queasy, exhausted, fear that we might have finally told the boss what we really think (I swear he’s mad at me this morning) and a general sense of ill-being envelops us for the day, affecting mood, food choices and certainly our engagement with work.
If this sounds a little too familiar, consider these 5 reasons to schedule a night off and find your happy hour on the yoga mat instead.
1. Can’t beat the real thing
Anyone familiar with the common après-yoga bliss has inadvertently raised their GABA levels. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and low levels are linked with stress, anxiety and depression. One study compared GABA levels directly before and after an hour of yoga, and found a 27% increase¹. Alcohol mimics this effect by binding to our GABA receptors and inhibiting neuronal signalling. So, while alcohol makes us think we are relaxed by tricking the brain, yoga really does promote relaxation naturally while reducing feelings of anxiety and depression – and all without the negative after-effects of a night on the town.
2. Sleep your way to the top
Alcohol is considered by many to be a sleep-aid, and indeed it does seem to help us fall into sleep. For the 6 in 10 of us who are sleep deprived, this may sound like good news. As alcohol wears off throughout the night, though, the body has a tendency to come out of deep sleep into the lighter REM stage which is much easier to wake from. This is why we often wake up early when we have been drinking and feel exhausted². Sleep deprivation is responsible for many workplace villains: reduced attention, impulsive behaviour, lack of creative thinking, increased aggression and even depression, for starters. Conversely, yoga is an effective treatment for insomnia³ as well as helping us to control the incessant mind chatter that keeps many of us awake even when sober. Many yoga practitioners report finding it easier to fall asleep as well as finding much deeper sleep when they practice.
3. Back to Basics
80% of adults in the UK will experience back pain at some stage in their lives4 and this is certainly reflected by those signing up to beginner’s yoga classes. A huge number are turning to yoga as a means of undoing the damage of years sitting at a desk, understanding that medication is only cosmetic and often comes with unwanted side effects. When we are seated the majority of the day, the hip flexors shorten, pulling the pelvis out of natural alignment. Combine this with rounding the shoulders and jutting the neck out to look at a screen and we have all the ingredients for back pain. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders, predominantly affecting the back, are the 2nd most common reason for long term absence from work in the UK, after stress5.
4. Connecting people
The pub is a great place to get to know our colleagues beyond the role they perform in the office. Add the confidence boost some gain with a glass in hand and it’s easy to see why social connections may flourish after hours. But we don’t need to rely on alcohol to make us feel sociable or closer to our work family. Yoga practitioners regularly raise oxytocin6 levels – the ‘bonding hormone’ – promoting feelings of connectedness and trust. One student recently said:
“As well as a great feeling of weightlessness, I felt surprisingly confident when I walked out of the class; so relaxed that even my shyness had disappeared!”
5. Empathy loves company
We all have a colleague that seems to know just how to push our buttons and while it might infuriate us at times, sharing our struggle with a trusted work mate over a drink can be cathartic and build support. Yet there is evidence to suggest that gossipers are less liked and less respected in the workplace7 suggesting that it might pay, personally and professionally, to increase tolerance by raising empathy levels. In yoga we learn to slow down and observe feelings and emotions without reacting. This ongoing practice can be liberating as we acknowledge long-held patterns and open up to a more compassionate view of the world around us. This mindfulness practice has been shown to increase empathy8, a key component of emotional intelligence.
While there’s no denying the pleasure of a long summer evening in the beer garden with colleagues, swapping anecdotes from the week, consider mixing it up – bypass the bar and head to the yoga studio instead.
Let go of stress, back pain and gossip and enjoy better quality sleep, social connections and raised empathy, all without the anxiety, headache and regretful lunchtime burger the next day. Isn’t it worth a try?
1. Streeter CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, et al. Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13:419-426.