“I used yoga to get sober – here’s what it taught me about living happily”

Meet the woman who used her time on the yoga mat to turn her life around.

Awful stomach pain, unable to open her eyes, savage headaches, blurry memories, regret, anger, exhaustion and wishing for death – these were what Esther Nagle regularly experienced during her battle with alcohol addiction. Ultimately it led her to a breakdown.  

“I felt like my life was falling apart and nothing in it was working,” she says. Despite being in denial up until that point, she then realised something had to change for good. 

That was in 2013, and ten years on, Nagle, who is now 50 and lives in Wales, has transformed her life. She already enjoyed practising yoga, so she decided to turn it in into her career.

Yoga teacher Esther Nagle doing Warrior Two Pose at Westonbirt Arboretum.Credit: Esther Nagle
Regularly practising yoga and becoming a yoga teacher helped Nagle to get sober.

“I quit my job as a community IT consultant and started training to become a yoga teacher,” she recalls. Yoga training helped her with her breathing and to be mindful, which meant she felt less of a need to drink – and October 12 2014 was the last time she touched alcohol.  

During her recovery, she learnt a lot about herself and how to manage her emotions as well as how to enjoy life without alcohol. She has since written a book, Bent Back Into Shape (£9.99, Amazon), about how yoga helped her to get sober. She shared six of her key learnings with Saga Exceptional.


1. Being sober is not boring – there’s no reason to fear it

“The thought of going without alcohol was always very scary,” says Nagle. She used to think being sober was boring. “I couldn’t imagine how life without the fuzzy-headed booze blur could possibly be fun,” she says, adding she used to wonder: “How will I ever have fun and find people to connect with again?” 

“But by the time I stopped drinking, I’d found more meaningful ways to have fun through yoga and walking. I started enjoying going to see live music because I could remember it the next day,” she says. 

Nagle became the designated driver on nights out with friends, and began to relish the money she saved and the memories she gained. 

“I started to find things that I could enjoy without drinking. I used to be certain that sober life would be too dull to bear but after over eight years, I know without a doubt that the opposite is true. Life without booze is so much more colourful and exciting.” 

Nagle enjoyed going to live music gigs more after she stopped drinking.Credit: Esther Nagle
Nagle enjoyed going to live music gigs more after she stopped drinking.

2. Alcohol isn’t necessary to manage stress

Nagle used to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for when she was experiencing challenging emotions. “When I was contemplating not drinking, the scariest thought was wondering how I was going to cope with stress,” she recalls.  

Although she didn’t realise it at the time, she had already begun to find alternative, healthier coping strategies for her stress. Before her yoga training, she had taken up walking. “I started doing this after my brother died in 2005. On the days when my grief got too much for me, I would go for a walk, and it would make me feel better,” she says. However, she was still drinking at the time and noticed a stark contrast between the benefits of exercising more and the mental and physical harm alcohol was causing her. 

After some time, Nagle realised walking was giving her a lot that she thought she was getting from alcohol. “I’d found something that I love doing that provided joy, connection and peace. It was a great way to relieve stress. 

Walking led Nagle to yoga and they both became replacements for drinking.Credit: Esther Nagle
Walking led Nagle to yoga and they both became replacements for drinking.

“Walking led to a general increase in my enjoyment of exercise, a desire to be fitter, and enjoyment of moving my body.” In turn, this led her to yoga, which became another stress-reducing substitute for alcohol. 

“Yoga teacher training helped me to learn to use my breath to centre myself and to bring myself back to the present. Plus, the writing and self-reflection that I had to do helped me to get to know myself. 

“By walking, breathing and writing, I got sober.” 

Nagle still uses these stress management tools today. “I don’t do a lot of yoga postures, but I still meditate and will continue to do so. If I’m feeling very stressed, I always come back to my breath. I don’t see these activities changing any time soon. They are the bedrock of my wellbeing.”  

She is currently training to become a teacher of embodied meditation – the practice of connecting your mind, heart and body to the present moment – to deepen her connection with herself and the world.  

3. Self-love is healthier than self-loathing

Nagle admits her biggest challenge of overcoming alcohol addiction was her constant self-loathing. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I had a lot of self-esteem issues because of never feeling like I fitted in.”  

She has recently been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and she says the diagnosis has helped her to better understand herself and some of the issues she has been experiencing. 

These days, she says: “I like myself most of the time. If I make a mistake, I find it easier to forgive myself. 

“I’m better at self-care rather than just abusing my body and calling it self-care. I eat healthier, too.” 

Nagle has also found relief in not having to piece together her actions from when she had been drinking the night before. “I no longer wake up in the morning and think: ‘Oh no, what have I done?’” 


4. Ditching drinking equals a healthier digestive system

“When I was drinking cider, I had terrible tummy upset,” says Nagle. “I used to tell myself it was irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but I knew it was the cider. I had awful diarrhoea and stomach pain as well as really bad heartburn and indigestion.”  

She also suffered with excess gas and burping. “I switched to red wine and a lot of these problems disappeared, but I still had stomach issues.” Nagle knew the cause of her poor gut health but continued to ignore the problem.  

Since she became sober and turned vegan during her yoga teacher training, she has noticed a significant improvement in her digestion. She says: “My stomach was very glad when I stopped drinking. It now generally feels healthy, and I rarely have any problems with it.” 

Esther Nagle out on a sunny day.Credit: Esther Nagle
Being sober helps Nagle to stay present in the moment.

5. Sobriety is empowering

“I feel stronger, both mentally and physically. Even when I feel broken, I still feel stronger than I did when I was drinking,” she says. 

“My mum died last year and even though I was caught up in my grief for a long time, I was able to be fully present and there for my family. 

“I feel really empowered by my sobriety.” So much so that she now runs a recovery coaching business and helps others to overcome issues such as alcohol addiction. “I love the whole ethos of recovery coaching. It’s about empowerment. It’s about the people.”  

She says that it helps people to see that they are strong enough to combat their issues on their own and in the way that suits them best. “For example, if someone wants to recover through yoga, they can, or if they want to recover through writing, they can. There isn’t just one way; there are so many ways.” 

Nagle also likes to remind others: “We are not powerless. We have all the power within us to become sober.”

6. It’s never too late to make positive life changes

One of the most important things that Nagle has learnt is: “Whatever you want to achieve is possible.” She adds: “It’s never too late. No matter how old you are, you can always make the rest of your life better. If all you do today is take one step towards the life you want, that’s a step in the right direction. 

“And never be afraid to ask for help,” she continues. “It is a scary thing to do, but once you do that, you’ll be amazed at how much help is out there.” 

Featured product

Bent Back into Shape

RRP: £9.99

Bent Back into Shape

For more information on alcohol addiction, or if you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can turn to Nagle for support or visit Alcohol Change UK. 

Gemma Harris

Written by Gemma Harris she/her


Gemma Harris has been a journalist for over seven years and is a self-confessed health and wellbeing enthusiast, which led her to specialise in health journalism. During her career, she has worked with top editors in the industry and taken on multiple high-discipline fitness challenges for certain outlets. She is particularly passionate about nutrition; after being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 2016, she discovered her fascination for gut health and founded thegutchoice.com – a dedicated space for providing a hopeful outcome for people with gut issues. Gemma’s core aim is to help others through her writing.

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