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…
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).
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?