Shall we have a drink?
The drink in question isn’t, of course, filtered water, spring water, coconut water, a green smoothie, or Perrier, even though I like all of these beverages. It isn’t soda or orange juice or kombucha or green tea, drinks I have tried but haven’t much taste for. So, too, it’s not whiskey or gin and it’s not likely to be wine, beer, or Kahlua. The drink in question will be a vodka martini, a designer martini without vermouth, but with Cointreau, maybe, or ginger liquor or a splash of brandy and a little fruit juice, just a drop to lend sweetness and make it smooth. The vodka in question is flavored Hangar or sometimes another premium brand. The drink in question is shaken, hard, for at least a minute, over ice and strained into a chilled glass. There’s a good chance that I’ve made it myself, blending the flavors until they’re just right at home or at a friend’s house where I’m in charge of the bar, or I’m on a bar stool on a Saturday night next to a drinking buddy, often,like me, another yoga teacher.
I am a yoga teacher. Like most of my colleagues, I trend toward healthy eating, boost my teaching and personal practice with cardiovascular fitness, am concerned about getting enough sleep, and I meditate. I do body work to keep my muscles and joints from aching and take hot baths laced with Epsom salts. I teach purity and non-harming. I have a taste for drinking hard liquor.
And yeah, I get that there’s a bit of a conflict there.
I’m struck, for a moment, by the irony: I am a writer. If you knew me only as a writer, my penchant for martinis would be entirely within character. My father, a writer, drank. He drank a lot. He drank so much that for a long time I rarely drank. That was in my twenties. I was scared that he had passed along some sort of drunken gene to me. I was terrified that to drink would be to activate that gene and lose whatever tenuous control I had in my life.
From thirty-two to thirty-nine, I was either pregnant or nursing or dieting. I didn’t drink much then, either.
I was forty-two the year I did my two-hundred hour yoga teacher training. One night we were walking out to dinner, confessing, along the way, various bad habits. One of my fellow trainees tripped up the group when she allowed that she was having a tough time giving up social smoking. Our teacher, a woman as lithe and smooth as a Vinyasa flow, didn’t miss a step. Instead, she told us a story:
A new yogi goes to his guru. He’s in love with his yoga practice and he wants to take it deeper. But he has a worry. With his lashes lowered toward the floor, he asks his guru, “Will my smoking get in the way of my yoga?” The guru doesn’t scold him for smoking, nor does he admonish him to quit immediately. Instead, he rests his hands comfortably on his knees and looks thoughtfully at his student, “No,” he says softly, “but your yoga might get in the way of your smoking.”
The story is completely accurate. My practice gets in the way of a lot of behaviors I used to take for granted. I find it hard, for example, to think condemning thoughts about the actions of people I don’t know. I resort, often, to believing that everyone has a story and that the person whose behavior I don’t understand simply has a story I don’t know. I take non-harming further by scooping up bugs that come into the house or studio with a cup and a stiff piece of cardboard. I put them outside, even the ones that sting and bite (although I’ll swat a mosquito). I do not eat land animals because I do not want to be a part of that cycle of life and death.
My yoga practice has also gotten in the way of drinking beer and wine. After teacher training, the more I practiced and taught, the more I found a single beer or a glass of wine the night before left me fuzzy, with poor balance, and uncomfortable turning upside down. Drinking became more and more rare—something saved for special occasions when there was no yoga scheduled for the morning.
A couple of years ago I remembered something a friend of mine told me while she was a professional dancer—athletes who drink enjoy vodka because it has no muscle memory. It isn’t, actually, a very accurate statement. Muscle memory is something we cultivate in yoga, the memory in the body for how a pose feels when it’s performed with ease, grace, and freedom. A yogi moves into, holds, and releases the pose with flair and familiarity and the gifts of the practice flow from there. Muscle memory allows the practice to be at once familiar and to grow as we take the pose to a new level or add a new challenge to the practice we already know. Muscle memory is, in part, what keeps the yoga in the body even when the practitioner is off the mat; the result of yoga muscle memory sponsors the way the practice interferes with the bad habits we enjoy when we’re not in class.
Nonetheless, vodka is less likely to cause headaches and hangovers than many other liquors. The way it is processed creates fewer fermentation-related chemicals than other adult beverages. Vodka moves into and through the body—the high is clean and rapid. If you’re careful and don’t overdo, the effects do not last or leave you undone after.
My friend’s words in mind, I bought a pricy bottle and shook lemon-cosmopolitans for my birthday celebration. This wasn’t the cheap vodka and orange juice or the vodka added to sticky-sweet punch that was around in college. This was premium vodka, recommended by a yoga student who owns a restaurant. This was vodka mixed and mastered, enjoyed in a beautiful glass sipped slowly with conversation and delicious snacks. And this, I soon found if I stopped at one (or two), was a drink I could enjoy the evening before.
Recently we were visiting in Decorah, IA. Our hostess invited me to mix a drink with her question, “Shall we have a drink?” She told me then, when we were settled with drinks and snacks, a Sufi saying: I drink to be beside you. A flood of welcome settled over me with the first, heady sip. I was present, beside this woman I admire, and simultaneously connected to so many I love with whom I have grown up and with whom I now look forward to sharing a drink. I sipped, slowly, knowing that night I would enjoy only one martini—there were both a car to drive safely and children to tend—but I knew I would enjoy it with delight. And that night, comfortably, neither practice, not my yoga not my drinking, got in the way of the other.
It’s the last day of spring, the night of the new moon and the eve before mid-summer night’s eve. What delights and lessons will this new season bring? Wishing you a glorious solstice. Thank you, as always, for reading, Rxo.