I’ve been really focused on learning more about the connection between my body and mind and how to be healthier from head to toe. This isn’t just a new year’s resolution, it’s something i think about all the time. Most of us know what healthy means and most of us do unhealthy things even though we probably know we shouldn’t. But even when we try really hard to focus on being healthy, sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes you need an outside perspective and counsel on how to actually become healthier. The other part of this equation is actually defining what healthy means, and that usually means a conversation with your doctor about what you, specifically, need to do in order to be healthier.
One of the authors I used to read often talks a great deal about self experimentation. The power of “N=1” scientific experimentation is not about applying your findings as eternal truth, but discovering more about your own “self.” Who am I? What am I made of? What works for me? These are all powerful questions and apply directly to our own self image and understanding of who we are as well as what we are. In thinking about that, I was recently exposed to the idea that if you want to know how something affects you, eliminate whatever that thing is from your life for a month, then go back to your former way of doing that thing and see how you feel.
Now I must say as a side note, that you have to practice actually focusing in on our feelings and allowing your mind to grasp and look at your feelings. The more you do this with emotions and physical presence, the better you’ll be able to discover the truth about what your body and your mind are going through and dealing with.
In order to truly get the most of out of self experimentation, it helps to know how to pay attention to subtle differences in perception, feeling, changes in heart rate, breathing, thinking and just general greater awareness of self. If you want help in this area, I suggest checking out the Zen Habits blog. I’ve followed Leo’s thoughts for a while and think we can all learn more by listening more more to our selves. Zen can help with that.
So since I’ve been actively trying new things in the areas of self experimentation, self discipline and overall better general health, I decided to stop drinking beer for the month of a while back. The gym I used to go to announced that they were going to do a month of juice cleansing in order to see how juicing affects physical performance. I didn’t want to do the juice challenge (they were selling really expensive juice), so instead I decided to stop drinking beer at home for the month.
This was supposed to be a real challenge and believe me, it was. I love beer. I love craft beer. I like cheap beer. I love expensive beer. Mmmm, beer. As much as I love beer though, I know it’s not the healthiest thing to drink and certainly not in large quantities. After all, alcohol is a toxin, pollutes the body and inhibits normal functioning (which for some, and myself included at times, is the entire point of drinking it).
After reflecting on this month off of beer and then going back to imbibing every now and then it was interesting to see how I felt, both body and mind. My body felt cleaner, if that makes sense. It seemed like I just felt looser and more free in moving and just more regular. Not in a digestive sense, but more in just how I generally felt when i was awake. I don’t have a chemical dependency to alcohol, so I didn’t go through withdrawals or anything, but I definitely felt like my body worked better without beer. Furthermore, I did drop a couple pounds off the number on the scale, so I suppose that was a nice physical perk as well.
The real surprise came with the changes in thinking, mood, feelings and general mental awareness. It was most interesting to me how I would come home from work and want to go straight to the fridge for a cold one. This was probably my way of coping after a long day as an attempt to relax. When I found myself going that way, I’d stop myself, take a deep breath and go get a glass of ice water instead. I typically don’t drink ice water at home, just when i go out to restaurants, but I found it quite refreshing to have ice in my water at home instead of just straight tap water or room temp water.
I also found beer to be a crutch I used to ignore or dull various feelings I have – work, family, relationships, the weather, depending on the day you name it. For years I had done everything I could to ignore those feelings, put off any weird thoughts because they weren’t just thoughts, but sometimes would manifest in raised heartrate, sweaty palms and a sense of anxiety and nervousness. This was probably the best part for my self growth during this month off from beer – the new awareness I had about covering up my feelings with beer. This is also where the Zen habits helped out the most – in remembering the tools of breathing and closing my eyes to just let the feelings exist in that moment, exist as something not a part of me but rather something moving through me.
After a short moment, the feelings would pass and I’d find myself feeling refreshed, calm, and better able to think about whatever it was that was just passing through. The clarity of mind after letting my feelings pass through me and not allowing the feelings to control me gave me a real sense of satisfaction – like i had just conquered a demon or something by just using my mind to control my body and thoughts. Hard to explain, but a very pleasant feeling of calm and relaxation.
The first time i had a beer after this period of abstinence i took my time in sipping from the glass. I savored the flavor, gently swished the sip to coat my entire mouth, noticed the bubbles of carbonation popping and swallowed the beer over my entire tongue to make sure i tasted the flavor over all my taste receptors. It was delicious. I also cleared my mind to make sure i could notice the physical effects of the beer.
I really enjoyed the relaxing effects of the beer that first time drinking again. I could feel the blood moving through the alcohol throughout my body and could feel my muscles relaxing as i finished the glass. This was a fun experience to try something for the first time, again. I remember taking a much greater sense of appreciation for the time it took to brew it (I brew my own beer), for the farmers that grew the grain and hops, the scientists that cultivated the specific yeast for this style, the truckers that delivered those products to my local homebrew store and nature for providing fresh clean water used to make my beer.
Call it Zen or whatever you want, but this idea of slowing down, cutting off supply for a while, then reintroducing the thing you cut off is a great way to regain consciousness. The practice for that month i quit beer gave me a greater awareness of pretty much everything i eat, drink, clothing i wear and things i think about. I think this practice also gave me a better ability to accept other people with wherever they are in their existence. It gave me a better understanding of empathy for what others might be feeling and a better ability to allow other people the space to feel whatever it is that is going on in their life.
I enjoyed this month, as hard as it was at the time, because i feel much more at peace with my body and mind. My self work isn’t done, but I’ve started a journey to greater self understanding. Give it a try yourself if you think you’re up to it.