My Lenten No-Alcohol Experiment

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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?

 

The key to sustaining a movement

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My faraway picture of Ericka Huggins at Minnesota State University, Mankato, on March 1, 2019.

“How do you keep a movement going?” a young woman in the audience asked.

The venue was Minnesota State University, Mankato. The event, the 43rd annual Michael T. Fagin Pan African Conference. The keynote speaker, Ericka Huggins, member of the Black Panther Party and political prisoner.

Huggins took a moment before responding.

“Take care of yourself to sustain a movement,” she answered.

It reminds me of the talk they give on airplanes before takeoff. In case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before you assist others.

People who are working to enact change in their communities, state, nation and world often do so tirelessly. They rarely rest and devote themselves to a cause. But that’s a recipe for burnout. I’m glad Huggins chose to tell the young woman that self-care is so important if you hope to care for others.

Huggins said that she meditates daily, something she picked up in prison nearly 50 years ago. In prison, the meditation kept her from losing her mind. She has the calm and thoughtful demeanor one would expect from someone who meditates regularly. In her talk, she often referenced love, how it’s love that has the power to transform the world.

I was so honored to hear her talk. If you get a chance, watch The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. I found it fascinating and eye-opening.

Toe meets wall. Wall wins.

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I fractured the proximinal phalanx of my big toe nice and good. 

The doctor comes back into the room, holding a couple of foot boots. I’ve seen people wearing those boots. I haven’t envied them.

He’s a resident doctor, young and chipper and smiley. “You want to see your X-rays?”

“Sure.” I grimace. “Did I break my toe?”

Without skipping a beat, he says, “Oh yeah!” and chuckles.

That’s what I thought.

All day I’ve been thinking, do I tell people how I broke my big toe? I mean, my whole goal is to get people to try yoga. Yoga is supposed to be healing. Breaking a bone while DOING yoga is the opposite of that!

But hey, even the things we love to do aren’t always sunshine and unicorns.

I was up in headstand this morning. My headstands have been strong and steady. For many weeks, I haven’t even put my mat near a wall. I’ve been going up rather easily and if I ever feel off-balance, it’s only for a split second.

Today I went up, held it for eight breaths, came down into half-pike for a couple of breaths, and then went back up. Maybe I went up too fast. Maybe my mind wandered. As soon as I went up for the second round of breaths, that’s when I went straight over.

This was actually the first time I’ve fallen in headstand. I’ve feared this day. My first thought was, “My neck! Gotta protect my neck!” Honestly, I was surprised at how easily my body rolled over, how instinctually I took care of my neck and shoulders.

But my toe…

It smacked right into the wall. I’ve been practicing in a small space in our very cluttered basement, only because it’s warm and in the depths of a Minnesota winter my yoga room/porch is out of the question. I feel a little “off” in that basement space anyway, but until today I’d been making it work.

The next 4-6 weeks will be about adjustment. I will not be able to do a traditional Ashtanga practice. I will only be able to do asanas that allow for a flat foot. No down dogs, no jumping forward (and I was just starting to get the hang of that!). But there are a lot of asanas in the sequence that I will be able to do, so I will have to map that out.

I won’t be able to run or walk on the treadmill. But I should still be able to bike or do the elliptical. I was given the option of wearing the boot or wearing shoes with a sturdy sole, so at least I can still wear my normal shoes and tennis shoes.

This is a setback, but it could be so much worse. I could have hurt my neck. I could have cracked my ankle. I could be training for a running event and have to cancel it. I will miss not be able to snowshoe or go for a nice snowy run or walk at my favorite park, especially now when we have tons of snow.

What kind of setbacks have you encountered? How did you work through the setback?

Giving up what you know and trying something new

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That’s definitely a grimace on my face around Mile 22 during the marathon last October. 

I’m a little more than three months into my experiment of not running regularly. After the marathon in October, I wanted some time away from a strict running schedule.

This is a first for me.

Even when I wasn’t training for a running event, my mindset always was, I should really get out there and run. I saw running as the most efficient workout — even 15 or 20 minutes was enough to get my heart pumping, clear my head and receive a boost in metabolism.

My goal post-marathon was to get away from running but move at least 30 minutes most days of the week. This has included a treadmill or outdoor run, as well as equipment at the gym — the elliptical, the HIITmill, and the stationary bike. If I’m at the gym I also add 10-15 minutes of strength/core work with weights and machines.

I’m enjoying the variety and not being tied to running. As a result, I’m working out more frequently. I usually can fit in 30 minutes five or six days a week. When I was training, I generally only ran four days a week. I feel like 30 minutes a day is pretty low-commitment. When I’m training for a run, I can only get in three miles in 30 minutes so my workouts usually had to be much longer than that, which became a stress when trying to find the time amid everything else.

On top of this, I have my near-daily yoga practice. So with the combination of everything, I’m feeling strong and healthy. The experiment is going well so far!

Have you changed up your routine? Is there something you thought you’d always have to do and were reluctant to give it up?

Repost: Turmeric Smoothie?

I really enjoyed reading this short blog post about smoothies, in particular about adding turmeric to smoothies.

I learned about smoothies in general (are they actually good for you?) as well as how and when to add spices to your food.

I appreciated the last bits of wisdom:

Whatever food goes inside, becomes YOU!

When will we wake up to what are we eating, how much are we eating, how are we eating, when are we eating and why are we eating?

The blog was written by Indu Arora, who shares a lot of excellent information about Ayurveda and yoga.

Rules are made to be broken

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Eat your vegetables! How often have you heard this “rule”?

Photo Credit: verchmarco Flickr via Compfight cc 

How well do you do with rules?

Eat this, and don’t eat that.

Do this much exercise each day, and these types of exercises.

Drink 8 glasses of water a day. No, 12. No, make that 16, or 24. Do it, and don’t fail or else!

This time of year we’re given a lot of rules, especially if our goal is to eat better or get more exercise or just try to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

I think rules work for some people. They want a clear set of guidelines and succeed when they can check off boxes. But others chafe when given a set of rules. That would be me.

If someone says I can’t do something, or can’t eat a certain type of food, or need to give up caffeine, I instantly want to do the exact opposite.

So my goal is to find a plan and adapt it to my lifestyle and schedule at the moment.

Ashtanga is a good example. The “rules” of Ashtanga say that you do the series for 90 minutes a day first thing in the morning, six days a week. That just doesn’t work for me right now. So instead, I aim for the six days, but my practice is anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. I trust that my body and mind will adapt to where I will be devoting more time to my practice.

I’m also experimenting with Ayurveda, both in terms of food and also lifestyle. Today I went to a workshop with Julianne Englander at Yoga Barre in Shakopee and learned some great details about Ayurveda. Julianne talked about the morning routine, which if you did everything would probably take about an hour. I know that’s not anything I’m going to do right now. I’m going to start small, like getting up and scraping my tongue and washing my face — getting “clean” before heading to my mat. Julianne also said this is like a yoga practice — it develops over years.

Regarding my diet, there are just some things I’m not ready to give up yet. These include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • An occasional social alcoholic drink with friends

If you want to succeed in a diet or exercise routine or other lifestyle change, you have to make it  work for YOU. Find something that sounds doable and that you’ll enjoy, but ADAPT from there. Remember, a small change is better than nothing. See how that small change goes and if you feel good, add more changes. Because the second you dislike something you for sure will stop doing it.

How have you adapted a diet or exercise program or lifestyle change to make it work for YOU?

Blossoming into the new year

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My journal, and Melanie’s center table and oracle cards at the Mindful Intentions workshop on New Year’s Eve.

“Take a look at each deck. Choose from the one that speaks to you,” Melanie says.

I kneel down, inspect a few cards, finding myself drawn to the ones that are colorful. A couple of the decks feature whimsical illustrations, which are cute, but for me maybe a little too cute. I spot the deck from which I drew last year, but want something different. When I see “Goddess Guidance,” I know that’s the deck for me.

I shuffle once, twice. I almost pick the top card right then, but something inside said to shuffle one more time — something about the number three felt important. I shuffle again, then I take the top card:

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My heart sings. This card, this notion of blossoming, feels exactly right.

We might think of people blossoming in terms of adolescence. How often are girls said to “blossom” into womanhood? But just because we hit middle age, or even older, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep blossoming into new things.

For 2019, my plan is to delve deeper into Ashtanga. I want to continue to build a home practice that I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I want to attend more workshops and trainings. I’m excited to be teaching Ashtanga at SunMoon Yoga Studios starting in a couple of weeks.

I also have learned more about Ayurveda in the last three weeks or so. I’ve been trying out recipes and am loving the plant-based diet. I want to learn even more about this practice.

As always, I’ll be reading and writing, learning new things that way, both about other people and events and also about myself.

This seems like a good year to focus on “blossoming.” I’ve made an effort to put negativity behind me in the last year, and by doing so I feel ready to grow.

What’s your word for 2019?