Survival: How Yoga Works

When I was in yoga teacher training, one of the speakers for the day was giving us a bit of her personal background which included a very recent tragedy.  It had most of the class in tears, but she remained graceful and strong through the telling.  She shared that it was her yoga practice, both on and off the mat, that gave her the strength and grace to get through this awful experience.   I remember thinking, “Bullshit. There’s no way that’s due to yoga.  She’s just an amazingly strong woman.”

How little I knew.

In early January I called off my wedding and split from the Husband-Elect.  This is not the place to detail the reasons.  Needless to say, they are private and don’t belong on a public blog.  What does belong here, though, since this has become primarily a yoga blog,  is that my yoga helped me survive.  Like the speaker from teacher training, my yoga practice gave the space and courage to get through a very difficult time.

From my yoga, I have learned clarity.  Learning to be the silent observer of myself and others (watching and listening without engaging in drama or judgment) has made a lot of feelings, emotions and behaviors clear.  I am starting to see the motivation and reasons behind why I do what I do.  Knowing this about myself, I can choose to change the things I do not like.  I can communicate clearly and effectively because I know what I feel.  I’m not perfect at any of these, but I am much more aware of my strengths and shortcomings.

Yoga has taught me how to listen to myself, to my body and to others.  Not just to hear with my ears, but to hear with my heart and gut.  Listening and hearing others has always been pretty easy for me, but learning to listen to myself and acknowledge my needs has been a big lesson.

Yoga has taught me how to be responsible. Not in the sense of accountability, but more in the sense of being able to respond, which is the next step in listening to your body.  It’s one thing to listen and ignore, it’s a whole other to listen and respond.

Yoga has taught me about compassion.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as “recognizing that in you which exists in another person.”  I have learned that true compassion starts with seeing ourselves clearly and without judgment, even the parts we like least.  Once we can see ourselves with compassion, we can see others with equal, if not greater, compassion.

Yoga has taught me how to be strong.  Beyond the physical strength I’ve gained, I feel a strength of spirit I’ve never had before.  I know who I am.  I know what I want.  I know what I need.  I know that I can face painful times and crippling emotions with courage.  And perhaps most importantly, I know that when I don’t know, when I feel groundless and lost and totally without hope, that it’s ok.  It too shall pass.  This is, after all, what I’ve been practicing on my yoga mat for years.  That’s what the challenging poses teach you — in the middle of the most intense poses, the worst emotional pain, I can step back, observe what I’m feeling, allow myself to really feel it, and know that nothing lasts for ever.  (And that an extended hold in utkatasana will always hurt more than a broken heart.)

Yoga has taught me that it’s ok to fly solo.  Learning to meditate, spend time with myself, and be in poses like half pigeon and just surrender to being with myself and my thoughts have taught me that I am ok by myself.  I have all the tools I need to cope with whatever comes along.

Daily Practice
The lesson of daily practice has also been hammered home.  It was my daily practice that got me through these past few weeks.  Sometimes it was a full 90 minute class in studio, other times it was 5 minutes on my mat in child’s pose in my bedroom.  No matter what, though, I had a place to go and breath and just be.

There were so many people who called, emailed and just plain showed up at my apartment in the past months.  So many people had similar stories to share, wisdom gained through marriages of 40+ years,  or provided a shoulder to lean on.  There are many great yoga teachers whose classes I’ve gone to in the past few weeks who have made the studio a safe space to be; a place where I can go and be healed.  I don’t shed any tears over my decision to call off the wedding, but I am frequently moved to tears by the love and support of my family, friends and yogis.  I am so lucky and so grateful.

It’s funny how we often don’t even realize we have these skills or this support until we are tested.  I have learned so much in recent weeks about compassion, strength, clarity, grace, responsibility and community.

Sometimes I wish these lessons didn’t have to be learned under such painful circumstances.  However, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn these lessons.  Every time I step on my mat, I learn something new.  Every interaction I have with another person, I learn something new.  The “Beginner’s Mind” is such a powerful concept and one I try to tap into every time I step on my mat and out my door.

I have learned so much and there is still so much more to learn.


10 responses to “Survival: How Yoga Works

  1. Thank you for sharing! Such a great testament to the power of yoga.

  2. Breathe….
    The learning never stops.

  3. See, it works! Much love. NAMASTE, Jacqui : )

  4. After a relationship transition about 1.5 years ago, I resumed a yoga practice that had been dormant for a while (i.e. years). It was a great source of strength, stability and discipline as I was adjusting to a new neighborhood and a new lifestyle. Not to mention the positive effects on the abs and arms. 🙂

    There were times early on when I felt a lot of emotional polarization in the transitions between more active asanas (e.g. dolphin) and rest (e.g. child’s pose). The physical release of tension apparently ignited a release of emotional tension and I often found myself laughing and / or crying face down on the mat, sometimes going from one extreme to the other within a couple of minutes…

    • That’s awesome, Jack. Thank you so much for sharing that! There’s a lot to be said for the really intense poses like Dolphin or veen just holding in plank or utkatasana for a really long time and then releasing into child’s pose or forward fold. They strengthen and wring out the muscles just the same as our stuck emotions.

      (Also glad to know I’m not the only person who can get teary in child’s pose 😉 )

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