Adjusting to a new routine

Me (right) biking with my pals on the Sakatah Trail!

How has summer been treating you?

If prior to the pandemic you had a fitness/wellness routine, how have you adapted? For the most part, from what I hear and read, creating a new routine has been a challenge. It certainly has been for me. But remember, be kind to yourself. With all the stressors of this year, you don’t need to add negative self-talk to the mix.

Since March, I have been able for the most part to get outside and enjoy activities that I’ve always done, like cycling and running. In April, I did the 30-day cycling challenge (where you bike at least 2 miles every day). I’ve always wanted to do that but my work schedule usually made it difficult. Since I was home all day sheltering-in-place, it was not hard to bike every day (even though some days brought brutal wind/rain/snow).

I also created a routine of going to my favorite park at least once a week to hit the trails. I go there one morning during the week and if I’m around on the weekend, I go for a longer run.

At first, doing these things felt like a struggle. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. Being at home so much created a type of inertia — a body at rest wants to stay at rest. But I know, after years of practice, that if I get outside and exercise, I will feel 100 percent better. It always works.

At different times in the past six months, eating well and not overindulging in alcohol has also been a struggle. Early on, like in April, I’d say I was definitely eating comfort foods. I had a drink or two most evenings to momentarily deal with the stress. But I’d just end up feeling like crap, and as some pounds got added I knew I wasn’t being the best version of myself that I could be. I struggled off and on with that all summer. I’d be good for a week or two, then slip back into bad habits. Only in the past couple of weeks have I felt a shift, a real desire to eat better and drink less.

I started to go back to the gym, just once a week for only about 30 minutes. This helps my motivation to be healthier in general. I generally don’t go to the gym in the summer anyway, since it’s easy to exercise outside. But the week that school started, especially since I’m on sabbatical and not at school, I was craving a routine. I’ve been doing some weight machines, ab work, and a short cardio workout when I go. The gym opened in June and there have been no reports of COVID outbreaks there. I figured the staff and everyone who has been going has been taking the right precautions.

One aspect of my routine that I’ve struggled with has been my morning yoga practice. Prior to COVID I’d say I was getting to my mat 5 days a week — a couple of shorter practices and 1-2 full primary series. In the first couple of months at home, I didn’t even want to go to my mat. I couldn’t figure it out — this was a time, more than ever, to engage with meditative practices. Getting out of bed was a struggle and seemed to eat up so much energy.

But I’m happy to say that my desire to practice is coming back, too. A teacher that I’ve worked with in Minneapolis has been having a virtual “self-practice” once a week via Zoom. It’s kind of like Mysore in that we all show up, but we do our own practice. It sounds kind of weird, like what’s the point of being online if no one is leading or no one is talking to each other? But just to see physical proof that others are out there doing their own practices is motivating and comforting. I’m able to do a full series this way — I probably wouldn’t do it on my own. I try to do a YouTube video another day of the week for another full series practice. But still, my home Ashtanga practice is down to about 3 days a week. I always got a little extra motivation from going to classes at OneYoga or various workshops. I did commit to a few sessions of one-on-one instruction with my teacher, Ellie, coming up this month and into October, and already that has inspired me even though we haven’t started yet.

I taught Ashtanga all summer virtually, which was fun. Our Ashtanga community hung on by a threat, but it was there! I’m looking forward to teaching two Ashtanga classes this fall — one virtual, one in-person.

How have you adapted to a new routine? Are you settling in, or still struggle?

What I wish I had known when I started my yoga journey: Part I

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The many benefits of yoga can be represented by a chart like this. The physical benefits are only a small slice.

This is the first in a series of blog posts in which I will explain what I wish I had known about yoga — specifically, Ashtanga yoga — when I started my journey nearly 20 years ago.

I will start with what I wished I had known about the benefits of yoga.

I entered yoga for the purely physical benefits. I was a runner when I started going to yoga classes, and I wanted the deep stretching that yoga provided. I went to class when I felt like I needed it, physically. This meant that sometimes I would go each week, but there were times when it was more like every other week, or at times I’d even take a long break from it, like over summer.

I was always glad I went because I felt better after each class. I was less injury-prone when I went to yoga class regularly.

But by focusing just on the physical, I was missing out on the other benefits. What yoga brings to your physical body is only a small slice of the pie. It’s only the shell, a skeleton without muscles, skin, or clothes, or a building that only has the foundation.

I was experiencing the other benefits, but my mind was closed to what was happening. I could feel something. I came home from Ashtanga with renewed energy. I knew I only wanted to put good things in my body after practice and would eat a small, healthy meal. Since class was in the evening, the energy affected my sleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, not exhausted or tired, but with that good energy flowing through my body. I described it as “zingy.” I could feel these things, but I didn’t know what it was. I knew yoga was the reason for the experiences, but I didn’t know why or how.

I also could not articulate the benefits of community, though the community was a reason why I enjoyed going to Ashtanga class. The class had a steady cast of characters — some were there almost every week, but others would rotate in and out. To this day, I can remember the group that I first started with back in 2002 or 2003. Many of the people whom I practiced with in the last 10 or 15 years are ones who now come to my class. These are lovely, lovely people, to a one. In this world, any time you can be around lovely people you need to cherish that and realize what a gift that is. I took it for granted when I first started my practice; I don’t take it for granted anymore.

It took my 200-hour yoga teacher training to help me realize that my yoga practice was far more than just physical. I learned about chakras and energy and how to live a life that’s consistent with your yoga practice. I’m not saying that everyone has to go through yoga teacher training to learn these things; just be open to what is happening to you beyond the physical when you practice yoga. 

Next: Creating a regular routine

 

 

Letting go is all good, until you miss out

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about my experiment this year — cutting way back on running mileage in favor of cultivating a daily Ashtanga practice and dedicating time to Ashtanga study and teacher training.

I will have a year-end report! But I recently opted out of a regular running event and it felt rather weird.

Since the Mankato Marathon and related races started in 2010, I’ve always done either the marathon or half-marathon (with the exception of 2012 when my niece got married that weekend). This year, knowing that I was running less, I thought I’d run the 10K to still do something and be involved.

I didn’t pre-register, knowing that it would be easy to register the day before. Or, as it turns out, easy to NOT register.

The week before the 10K was shaping up to be one of my busiest weeks of the semester. A lot of early mornings — rolling out of bed and immediately getting in the car to go to various destinations. A lot of late nights — writing, music, yoga. The thought of getting up early, once more, on a day where I really DIDN’T have to get up early — well, I wasn’t liking that thought.

So I decided to not run that day and guess what — I slept in until 8 a.m., something I haven’t done fore months. My body and mind needed it. I had a lovely morning and overall, just a lovely, relaxing day.

But I did have feelings of missing out, especially when I saw all the social media posts. I felt a little like a wuss — really, I couldn’t get up one more morning of the week? I couldn’t dig deep and get it done?

I could have, but I didn’t want to. As I get older, I know my limits. I know when I’m bleeding out energy all week in terms of teaching, I need to find ways to get it back. After an intense week of being with people, I couldn’t stomach the thought of race-day crowds.

Learning to “let go” is a relatively new concept for me. In our Western culture we are not encouraged to “let go” and take care of ourselves, lest it be seen as a weakness. I know people who view the world as a competition for who is busiest and who can get the least amount of sleep. I will let them duke it out — I’m not going to play that game.

Do you “let go”? Is it something you continue to work on? What choices have you made?

How zero minutes turned into 51

The Light Head. Power of mind concept.

Photo Credit: atercorv Flickr via Compfight cc

Our minds are funny things.

I did the full primary series today — that felt awesome as always. Since that took over an hour, and I had several things to finish today, that was going to be my sole activity.

But I thought, well, I’ll at least take the dogs out. It was a nice day, and I usually like some type of outdoor break around lunch when I’m working at home.

When we got to the trail, I thought, well, I’ll take them on a slow jog —  it’ll be good for them! I hadn’t run for a few days so it would be good for me, too. I figured we’d go 20 minutes, and my Apple Watch will count 20 minutes which is good, since earlier in the day I had planned for zero minutes.

But I do like to close that exercise ring, so after I took the dogs out I thought about doing another 10 minutes of jogging on my own. Actually, I’ve been trying to get 40-45 minutes of exercise at a time this summer. So I thought, well, I’ll hop on my bike and go 20 minutes.

So I put on my bike shorts and headed out. When I got out 10 minutes, I thought I could turn around, but also, I could keep going and just do this 7-mile loop I had been doing all summer as a little time trial. The wind would be at my back going toward home, so that was a plus.

A day that started out with a plan to exercise for zero minutes ended up as a 51-minute day. Perhaps this makes up for all the days where I plan to exercise and end up doing nothing…

Must you run to stay in shape?

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Do you like my grimace, lol! This is about Mile 21 of the 2018 Mankato Marathon.

I like data — I don’t think I’m alone!

If you obsessively track anything related to your fitness, raise your hand!

I’ve tracked my running miles over the years, but most consistently since 2016. No real reason — I guess to simply see how the miles add up. I like to compare month to month, and year to year.

So this year, well really at the end of last year, I decided upon a little experiment: I was going to run less and focus more on my yoga practice.

The dedicated yogis I got to know in the past few years, specifically the dedicated Ashtangis, seemed to do quite well doing only yoga. Because I was averaging about 80 miles a month, I was experiencing tight hamstrings and tight hips, which made it a challenge to achieve certain asanas.

But I’ve been a runner since about 1995, and I had grown accustomed to view running as my primary workout and the “only” way to stay in shape. In the past 8 years I also added cycling and swimming to the mix as I incorporated triathlons into my schedule.

I really do enjoy running. So far I have not experienced anything that delivers such a “quick hit” of endorphins. I can go for a 30-minute run and feel energized and “high.” The dopamine effect is real. After a bad day, a run is a beautiful antidote.

In 2018, I committed to a marathon. I had done five marathons previously and felt done with that, lol. But I was asked to do a charity run for a nonprofit, and I couldn’t say no. Running for something beyond myself gave me extra motivation. But I told myself in 2018 that after the marathon, I’d be done.

I vowed to still work out. My goal was 30 minutes a day for most days, but that consisted of primarily the elliptical and “HIITmill” at the gym. I did very little running throughout the winter. And I added an Ashtanga practice most mornings (though a truncated practice–at least it was something).

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OMG, I love the HIITmill! I told a woman today at the gym to try it out, and she did! 

Now that we’re halfway done with the year, I decided to check on my running stats.

Holy crap, my running mileage is down 70 percent from last year!

The thing I was most nervous about — gaining weight — did not happen. In fact, I’m down one pound over this time last year. I always thought I needed a heart-pumping cardio workout like running to maintain my weight. But lo and behold, this yoga thing seems to be working!!!!

Now yes, I’m still running, but it’s about twice a week. I also am biking more than I did last summer, but anywhere between 7-15 miles at a time, 2-3 times a week. I’ve gone swimming once so far this year, lol.

I do notice a decline in my cardio capacity. My heart rate seems to go higher more quickly than it did when I was running a lot. So I can tell that my heart muscle probably isn’t in as good of shape as it used to be.

I do like a good cardio workout once in a while. I like to get my sweat on. But this experiment tells me that perhaps some day I will transition almost completely to yoga as the way to stay in shape.

 

Being forced to slow down

It’s frustrating to have an injury, isn’t it?

But it’s a humbling experience. We may have plans for our bodies, but our bodies often have different plans.

I was doing well, gaining strength and mobility in my Ashtanga practice. I had been working on jump backs and jump throughs, trying to build strength in my arms to lift my off the mat so my legs could shoot back. I also had been working on stage 1 of handstand that I learned in my Bheemashakti training.

Then this:

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That is from a tiny, tiny mole removal, lol! The doctor needed to go long in order to seam it up, since she had to take out a circle of skin and you can’t really stitch up a circle.

Doctor’s orders were no exercise for a week, no lifting over 10 pounds, and certainly no yoga.

After a couple of days I practiced asanas that didn’t require weight on my arms or arm extensions. But even in trikonasana I could feel the skin of my arm stretch, so I didn’t want to do much of that.

Later in the week I did some modifications. One week after the excision, I was back to a fairly normal Ashtanga practice, though with knees down during chaturanga. I also was back to practicing jump backs and jump throughs, so I was glad to only have a week off from that.

My goal asana for this summer, bhujapidasana, is going to have to wait a while longer! My arm is not going to like my leg resting on it!

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And starting next week I’ll be doing a Mysore practice once a week at OneYoga in Minneapolis, so I anticipate being a little weaker for that than I had hoped.

At times we need to take a step back and rest. Our bodies are good at telling us when to do that. Are we so good at listening, though?

 

 

Take 10 minutes and read this article

If you are a woman, when you last went out with girlfriends, did you talk about your weight? Your bodies? Your diets?

Do men get together and criticize their physical appearance?

It’s time to start loving ourselves. Your body is amazing. Look at everything it allows you to do each day. Your body isn’t the reason why people love you. People love your intellect, your humor, your compassion.

Be kind to yourselves.

 

 

Ideas for a morning practice: Part I

For years, my morning ritual involved nothing more than making coffee and jumping right into my day. This was when I had an 8-to-5 telecommuting job. I preferred to start the work day early and take a longer break mid-day, so I often was logged onto my computer around 6:30 a.m. I guess it worked because I didn’t know any better.

After I left that job for a faculty job in higher education, I had a more flexible work schedule. I still enjoyed getting up early and making coffee, but instead of working I’d write. That felt like a better morning ritual. I enjoyed creating in the stillness of a quiet house.

I’ve learned a lot about morning practice and its importance over the past year. For me, a morning practice has set a tone for each day and has made the busy and chaotic days so much easier to handle.

If you’re thinking of starting a morning practice, I have some ideas for you — some of these things I do. Others I don’t incorporate but they make sense for the morning. If you already have a morning practice, perhaps you can share ideas of what works for you. I have about 10 ideas, but I will blog just one at a time.

To start, I thought I’d begin with the very first thing I do in the morning: I wash away the night.

I don’t know about you, but generally my first stop upon waking is the bathroom. While you’re there, spend some time at the sink clearing away the grit and toxins that have accumulated while you’ve slept. This can be quick, or take as long as you’d like. Some things you can do:

  • scrape your tongue
  • brush your teeth
  • wash your face
  • blow your nose
  • take a shower 

Do one or more of these things before you do anything else. I’m often thirsty upon waking, but I don’t drink any water until after I’ve scraped my tongue and brushed my teeth. I don’t want to ingest that gross stuff on my tongue!

I’ve been consistent in this morning routine since the first of the year, five full months now (I wait until later in the day to shower, but I do everything else listed–it takes only a couple of minutes). For the first time in a long time, I didn’t get sick all winter — no cold, no flu, no sniffles or sore throat. Coincidence?

What’s the very first thing you do in the morning?

Reflections upon leading Ashtanga primary series classes

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Bhujapidasana. #Goals

On Thursday, I wrapped up my second multi-week session guiding students through the Ashtanga led primary series at Sun Moon Yoga Studios in Mankato. I thought this would be a good time to reflect. So many thoughts!

* The Ashtanga community in Mankato is fabulous. I think I had 14 registered for winter session and 10 for spring session. Others would drop in here and there. Ashtanga is such a specialty practice that the people who actually commit are much fewer in number than people who attend other yoga classes. Plus, Ashtanga really is a home-based practice — it’s great to come together with fellow Ashtangis on a weekly basis, but it’s not necessary. So I am beyond thrilled with those numbers as well as the mix of faces. Some people have practiced Ashtanga for years in Mankato and I practiced with them back when Mel W. was teaching. But others are relatively new. Over the summer I’d like to convince 2-3 more people to commit to the fall session.

* My own practice has grown. Since January, I’ve committed to a near-daily practice in the mornings. In my day job I teach writing, and there’s no way to teach that without writing myself. There’s no way to teach Ashtanga without doing Ashtanga myself and taking additional training. I have some more fun and exciting training on the horizon for the summer and fall!

* Some crazy things are happening because of my daily practice and basking in the energy a room full of Ashtangis emits. I can’t quite find the words at the moment to articulate this, but it has to do with the cultivation of energy, the arcs of energy that run between me and others, and the ability to seemingly harness that energy to gain results.

* I’m so much more comfortable with assists. Back in March, I took an assist workshop with Lynn Thomasberg. I love the way a body “gives” under my hands — I can feel the person finding that “sweet” spot.

* I’m leading a class, not teaching. I see my role as a guide and observer. I’m there to cultivate the space — show up early, turn on the lamps, adjust the temperature, create the warmth needed for Ashtangis to settle into a practice without distraction. What I want most is to create a space in which Ashtangis can reach deep inside of themselves, go to a place both mentally and physically that will open up new channels of energy and new ways of seeing. After class, some of the practitioners will share their experiences. I loved this one from last night:

Summer we’re scaling back to one-hour Ashtanga “prep” workshops in June and July. I look forward to spending more time in asanas and regrouping for the fall full primary series. I also plan to work on a personal goal of attaining bhujapidasana.

 

My Lenten No-Alcohol Experiment

slurred-speaches

As I continue my journey to a more healthful lifestyle and one that’s more aligned with my increased attention to Ashtanga and embracing of Ayurvedic principles, I just finished a challenge I set for myself.

I gave up alcohol for the six-plus weeks of Lent.

I won’t go into great detail, but for the last three years for various reasons I allowed my alcohol consumption to increase. As I added Ashtanga back into my life, I was feeling more and more that frequent drinking was not aligning with my practice. Yet, I had a hard time cutting back, which was slightly concerning.

On Ash Wednesday I was out with some friends and blew off church. I drank more wine in one sitting than I normally do. I felt terrible by the time I got home, both for neglecting church and being so careless with the wine. The next morning, with my head fuzzy, a yoga practice was out of the question. So I sat in quiet meditation and a message was delivered so clearly to me that it was practically screaming in my ear: Give up alcohol for Lent. This decision felt right in my heart. I spent zero time questioning it; I just did it. 

From that moment I felt confident I could do this. It was beyond myself. I thought about the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, so in comparison it felt silly to not be able to give up alcohol.

I was surprised at how easy it was for me. It really never felt like a sacrifice, which makes me think next year for Lent I should give up something I really would miss, like coffee or sugar. But I learned so much about myself in this process.

  • I used to look forward to a drink as a way to relax. I was getting to the point where I thought having a drink was the ONLY way to relax. But I found myself looking forward to Friday or Saturday nights out with friends, knowing that being with friends would be enjoyable and relaxing without the alcohol.
  • When going out, before I’d be focusing on what to drink, with food being a secondary thought. But during Lent I looked forward to going out for the food, and I truly enjoyed what I was eating, rather than viewing it as something that would soak up the alcohol.
  • I LOVE club soda with a splash of cranberry juice! That’s been my go-to drink at bars. Very little sugar but delicious! I actually converted a couple of friends to this concoction. I also discovered diet ginger ale — yum!
  • Noteworthy events don’t need to be celebrated with a drink. I looked ahead to different events going on during Lent — St. Patrick’s Day, a good friend’s birthday, my husband’s birthday, social time with friends I don’t see often, etc. — and wondered if I would struggle not drinking during those occasions. But again, I didn’t miss it.
  • Going out without drinking is much more affordable! I paid myself about $20 each week, which is roughly what I would spend on having a drink or two going out a couple of nights a week. In the end I had about $140.
  • I thought I would sleep better without alcohol, but the opposite is true. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve had some insomnia in the past six weeks. However, I feel so  much better in the evening without a happy hour drink or two. And needless to say, I can get up every morning knowing that I will be able to do a yoga practice without a fuzzy head.

I do look forward to having cocktails again, but now I have more confidence in cutting back. For years I’d have a couple of drinks on the weekends and that was it. I’d like to return to that. I also want to see alcohol as a treat, not just as something to pour down my gullet to get a buzz. I want to appreciate my drinks and choose quality over quantity. I love a good mixed cocktail, like an old-fashioned or a Manhattan, and I’d like to be purposeful in seeking out the best of the best. I’ll be in Duluth in one month and I cannot wait to go to Vikre distillery! Talk about attention to detail and making a drink from quality ingredients.

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I made strawberry cream mimosas for Easter to break my alcohol fast. That’s my mom in the background! 

On a side note: the elimination of alcohol helped me shed some stubborn pounds and inches. I always knew that I could get back to my previous level of fitness if I cut out alcohol but never had the will to actually do it in the last three years. So this experiment proved my hypothesis!

If you are a yogi, what is your stance on alcohol?