Sunday, November 4, 2012

6 Lessons Yoga Taught Me About Divorce

About 10 years ago a friend invited me to a yoga class.  Just divorced, I was feeling open to new things. Yoga was really not something I'd considered before, but I didn't evaluate it, overthink it or analyze it to death. I just went. It was my first lesson. Here's what I learned about divorce from yoga.
1.       Beginner's mind. Imagine what it would be like to see a sunrise for the first time, as if you have never seen one before and you will never see one again.  This is beginner's mind. It involves letting go of your expectations for how things were yesterday, ought to be today or might be tomorrow.  It was with beginner's mind that I accepted the invitation to yoga. I had no expectations. When you experience things with beginner's mind, you forget your opinions and desires and are open to seeing things as they are right now. Forgive the pun, but I don't think it's much of a stretch to see how this applies to being divorced. Instead of stressing about what's different, what you don't have anymore and what you need to have by tomorrow, beginner's mind tells us to just see things as they are right how.
2.      Bearing discomfort. Just what it sounds like, in yoga, sometimes you hold the pose long enough to create a bit of discomfort. You learn that you can bear that discomfort. You learn that after you release the pose, you feel stronger for having tolerated that discomfort. Sometimes you even notice that you're still holding the pose, the discomfort has passed and your downward dog is so happy it's wagging its tail. The thing about divorce is that the pain is never far away, no matter which side you're on. Whether you're the abandoner or the abandonee, the righteously indignant or the pretend indignant, or just one of the parties, divorce is never a pain-free enterprise. There are too many changes, too many upsets and too many discomforts. Like your downward dog, learning to bear the discomfort, to tolerate it for just a few more minutes, days or weeks, results, finally, in one happy dog.
3.      Moderation. How many sun salutations does it take to feel your daily practice is complete? Just enough to feel energized, but not so many that you've exhausted yourself and can't do anything else. You want to be feeling the stretch, but you don't want to be twitching or shaking. You must find the moderation, the balance, the intelligent edge. So how many sun salutations is that? It's different everyday and for everyone. Whatever you start doing post-divorce, and I encourage you to start doing new things, do it with moderation. There's no need to be out every night, to make 20 new friends, to have a date every weekend or to take up 15 new hobbies. There's no need to lose those extra pounds this week or to find the perfect house tomorrow. It feels good to know that you decide how much is enough.
4.      Nonjudgment. Yoga can be demanding. There's always something new to learn, someplace new to go. You can't always be the best in the room and it's helpful not to think in those terms. Some teachers advise that you not look beyond your mat. You can be most happy with your tree when it's the only tree in sight. It's neither good nor bad. Think about your divorce. It's unlike anyone else's. Each divorce has its own peculiarities, twists and turns. There is no perfect divorce. It's very liberating to accept your situation as it is, without believing you have to grow faster or better than someone else.
5.      Patience. I've been working toward headstand for a long time. I'm not there yet. Patience is knowing deep inside yourself that things will happen in their own time. They can't be rushed. Another way to think about it is accepting where you are, instead of trying to get someplace better. I will do headstand when I'm ready, or not, and where I am in the practice right now is fine. It doesn't mean I won't keep practicing. Patience is not an excuse to give up and sit on your butt. Patience is a way to approach the changes that are happening post-divorce. It's a way of knowing deep inside yourself that you will keep moving toward the new goals you have and into the new life you are creating. Some days it will seem like you are moving forward at a good rate. Some days it will seem like you are not. Knowing that you can't rush it, that where you are today is fine, is a good place to be. After all, what's the rush?
6.      Commitment. To learn yoga, you have to get to the mat. In class teachers often remind you to praise yourself just for getting to the mat today. It's part of your commitment to the practice. Committing sincerely and wholeheartedly to practicing yoga is necessary. The more you practice, the more you want to practice and the more committed you become. There are many things you might commit to post-divorce. First there's survival: I'm gonna make it. You commit to getting up every day, getting through your day and getting it done. Then there's flourishing: I'm gonna be great. You commit to growing, thriving and become more fulfilled every day. Perhaps there's even gratitude: I'd never have gotten here without this opportunity. With commitment you will master new things, become someone different and recognize that the divorce provided you with this opportunity.
I am forever grateful to my friend for inviting me to my first yoga class, but you don't have to practice yoga to practice these six ways of being. I highly recommend them as lessons for the stressful post-divorce period, and beyond.

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