Yesterday, I had a very interesting night out with "The Boys." (My version of "The Boys" is two dear yoga friends: one is a college dean and the other is a landscape architect for Disney. Both are intelligent, awesome, cultured gay men.)
On this beautiful night, we went to a great new restaurant in the Silverlake neighborhood of LA. We had oysters on the half shell, branzino, and I had a gluten-free beer.
I'm not a big drinker but do enjoy a beer or glass of wine occasionally. Usually after drinking "regular" beer though, I feel puffy, bloated, hot and disproportionately intoxicated. It’s not a great feeling, and the memory typically precludes me from partaking. Tonight, I decided to try something different. After drinking two "gluten-free" beers, I felt something different...
I mean, I did feel relaxed (slightly "buzzed" is another way to characterize it), but otherwise, I felt great.
I've long suspected that the sensations I came to associate with imbibing alcohol (puffy, bloating, dizzy, sick) were attributable to a moderate allergic reaction to gluten. Tonight was a very big “Aha” moment. In old Chinese medical tomes, I would often see that alcohol was prescribed medicinally to help move blood and qi. As a student, I could never reconcile my own experiences with distilled beverages with the assertion that this was something healthy and beneficial. It dawned on me tonight that the alcohol being prescribed was obviously rice derived. My second “Aha” moment.
At this point, you might be wondering, "Why is a so-called, progressive doctor/yogi talking about beer?"
Well, I wanted to make it clear that even the greatest yogis and healers (a position from which I'm decades short of) are still basically human beings. That I live in this world and enjoy all things in life. I am, by no means, a saint, or some sort of ascetic.
I have gone on long fasts, lived as a raw foodist and a vegan (for many years), and have even subscribed to a regular routine of, ahem, "cleansing." I have personally explored the extremes of alternative health and, at the time, found them very, very helpful. But, these days I find myself back "in the middle," not particularly subscribing to any overarching dietary philosophies.
I learned that in the journey for growth, balance, and particularly health, choices needn't be so polar. Certain lifestyles (or eating styles) give you a template and boundaries in which to make choices. These templates make choices easy in a wholesale fashion but can ultimately lack freedom and discernment (aka being present).
One of greatest skills I've cultivated from practicing yoga is sensitivity. Not just the ability to feel and connect to my musculature but also my environment. This definitely includes my internal environment and the food I eat. Being committed to dietary lifestyles was a great way to produce change, but looking back, I realized that there was no one philosophic paradigm that fit me 100 percent. This was and is true for all aspects of life.
If we are armed with awareness and sensitivity alone, we can start today customizing little adjustments that can lead to profound transformations in our overall experience. It no longer becomes an issue of controlling our lives through a rigid “one size fits all” ideology, but an invitation to tailor our own approach by being present in every moment.
Tonight, I learned I can enjoy beer without being destroyed by it. I took a routine experience (drinking) and, by being present, came to a very helpful realization (wheat-based booze is bad for me). A vague impression transformed into a specific insight that will help me live better.
Maybe for you it'll be using a block in Trikonasana to create more room, or foregoing a large palliative cup of morning coffee to ease stress. Whatever the case, be aware that these opportunities for change occur in every moment, and over time they’ll accumulate. Whether the overall sum is positive or negative will never be determined by any abstract philosophy. The quality of our days, and overall life, is only dependent on our level of engagement in every moment and with every choice.
Even with a simple beer.