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Divorce and Yoga: 10 Surprising Insights For a More Zen Divorce

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Divorce and yoga. At first blush they seem so different.

Yoga is so Zen. Divorce is as “un-Zen” as you could possibly get.

Yet, as I was trying to balance in Eagle pose, standing on one leg with my arms and legs wrapped around each other like pretzels, I got a flash of insight. Yoga can teach you a lot about divorce.

Here are 10 surprising insights I discovered about divorce in yoga class.

10 Principles of Divorce and Yoga

"Just breathe" written in clouds on a blue sky.

1. If you want to survive, you’ve got to breathe.

You can survive for weeks without food. You can live for days without water. But if you stop breathing for more than a few minutes … you’re dead.

Yoga is all about breathing.

Even when you’re bent over like a rabbit with the top of your head on the floor and your belly compressing your lungs like a flat tire under a truck, you have to breathe. You have to learn to breathe even when you’re uncomfortable.

Divorce requires the same thing.

To say that divorce is uncomfortable is an understatement. Divorce is world-rocking and gut-wrenching. Yet, if you want to get through it and survive, you MUST learn to breathe – especially when you’re uncomfortable.

Divorce is a marathon, not a sprint. It always takes longer and costs more than you think. If you don’t find a healthy way to de-stress as you’re going through your divorce, you can end up developing anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders, and a whole host of other physical ailments.

Coping with those physical problems on top of trying to cope with your divorce makes the whole divorce experience 1000 times worse.

Learning to breathe, and to relax, even amidst the uncertainty and stress of divorce, will go a long way towards easing your journey.

2. Perfection is impossible.

No matter how well you do a yoga pose, you can always do it better.

You may think you’re amazing because you just got the top of your head to touch the floor during your standing separate leg stretch. But then you have to do the same pose without bending your knees and get your hands underneath your heels too!

In yoga, there’s always another level ahead of you.  No one – not even the most accomplished yogi – is ever “perfect.”

The same thing is true in divorce.

Divorce shatters your illusions about having (or needing to have!) the “perfect” life or the “perfect” marriage.  It makes you feel beaten down and broken. No matter how you try to rationalize what you’re going through, one thing is clear. It’s NOT perfect!

While losing the illusion of perfection can be miserable, it can also be liberating.

When you don’t have to stress out about being perfect all the time (or APPEARING to be perfect all the time!) life becomes much easier. You can finally let go of the unrealistic expectations you had for yourself and just start living your life.

Instead of being “perfect,” you learn that it’s enough just to “be.”

There’s true beauty in that.

Frazzled woman pulling on her hair with words like: Stress, Fear, and Worry surrounding her.

3. It’s the little things that get you.

As any true yogi will tell you, yoga is about the process, not the end result. Balancing and twisting your body into crazy poses is great. But if you don't pay attention to the details, you'll never get there.

Just when you think you are totally rocking a yoga pose, the instructor comes by and gently reminds you that you need to keep your back straight, suck your belly in, and tighten your leg muscles … too! The second you try to do all that, the rest of the pose falls apart.

You want to cry.

In divorce, you want to cry a lot.

Sure, the “big things” in divorce matter. But the little things are what will really drive you nuts.

When your soon-to-be-ex takes the kids on a lavish vacation (that YOU can’t afford!) but refuses to take them to their soccer practice or doctor visits, you just want to scream!

When s/he charges thousands of dollars on your credit card when you’re already paying him/her thousands of dollars every month in support you feel like the whole divorce system is so unfair!

And it’s not just the things that your spouse does that make you crazy. What you do to yourself is often even more frustrating!

You spend thousands of dollars in attorney's fees fighting to get the sofa that you never even liked. You spend hours going back and forth typing angry text messages with your spouse about making some small change to your kids' parenting schedule.

The bottom line is that paying attention to the big stuff in divorce is important. But getting control over the little things will make living through your divorce way more manageable.

4. Every day is different.

Yoga instructors often say that you have a new body every day.

Some days you are more flexible. Other days, not so much.

So, even though you’re going through the same poses you’ve gone through dozens of times before, you do them differently in every class.

When you are going through a divorce, you will be amazed at how different you can be, not only from day to day, but from minute to moment.

One minute you’re functioning well. The next minute you see an old family photo and turn into a blubbering pile of mush.

One minute you’re having an adult conversation in a settlement negotiation. The next minute your spouse sets you off and before you can stop yourself, you’re locked into an unproductive screaming match.

No matter how mature you try to be, or how much self-control you try to exercise, you will have days when you just lose it.

The key to managing those days is to get your expectations in line.

Accept the fact that some days will be better than others. Expect that you won’t be perfect. (See Rule #2!) Then cut yourself some slack.

China teacup overflowing as too much tea is poured into it.

5. You have to respect your own (and your spouse’s!) “capacity.”

Capacity” is the ability to hold onto or contain something. It’s also the ability to do or perform certain tasks.

When someone lacks the capacity to understand something, no amount of explaining is going to make the subject clear to them. If they lack the capacity to perform certain actions, it’s not that they WON’T do those things. They CAN’T do those things.

In yoga, it doesn’t matter how much you want to stand on one leg, stretch the other one out straight in front of you and drop your head below your knee. If your hamstrings are tight, it’s not going to happen.

In time, and with practice, you may be able to loosen up your hamstrings. Once you do, THEN you’ll be able to do the poses that require you to touch your nose to your knee. But until then, you won’t be able to achieve those poses because you’re physically incapable of doing so.

In divorce, the concept of capacity applies not only to your physical body, but to your emotions and psychology as well.

For example, before your divorce you may have held a job, taken care of your kids, managed your household, exercised regularly, and done a thousand other things as well. After your divorce is underway, you may find that you can barely make it to work and get your kids fed and clothed. Doing anything more seems impossible.

That’s normal.

Going through a divorce puts a tremendous strain on you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and financially. It also adds a laundry list of divorce-related tasks to your plate. 

Doing all of those things WHILE you’re emotionally stressed out, PLUS doing everything else you were doing before your divorce is unrealistic.

Do what’s most important. Do something small every day. Let the rest go.

6. There is no progress without some discontent and discomfort.

We make progress when we push our limits.

That’s true in yoga, in sports, at work, and during a divorce.

The problem is, pushing your limits doesn’t feel good.

Stretching muscles you’ve never stretched before is uncomfortable. Trying to build strength in muscles that you haven’t worked in years is painful.

But there is no other way to grow.

If you just go through the motions in yoga class without ever pushing yourself, you will stay as inflexible as an oak tree. If you want to improve, you have to move.

The same thing is true in divorce.

Divorce will force you to push limits you never even knew you had. It will force you to change, re-think, re-organize, and grow.

None of that feels good.

What’s more, unlike yoga, when you’re going through a divorce you may feel like you didn’t sign up for all this growth! You were just trying to make your life – and your marriage - work.  You didn’t WANT to push your limits or break your life apart.

While all of that may be true, the unfortunate part of divorce is that it doesn’t matter what you wanted. (Sorry!) Your life right now is what it is. You can choose to deal with it and grow or ignore it and get bowled over.

Either way, once your divorce is over, you WILL be different. Whether that difference is more positive or negative is up to you.

Business man carrying a white box with "stress" words floating above it.

7. When you go too far too fast, you’ve got to back off and breathe.

Growing is great. But when you try to grow too fast, or you try to do too much too soon, you start to break down.

No matter how much you want to make progress in yoga, you can’t muscle your way through a pose that demands flexibility. Flexibility builds slowly over time.

Pushing harder or trying to go faster makes your muscles seize up.  You tear something or you hurt yourself. Then you’re out of commission for weeks. So instead of going forward, you go backward.

You’ve got to relax and slow down if you want to speed up.

It’s counterintuitive, but divorce is the same way.

If you’re the one who wanted the divorce, you were probably ready to have your divorce over the day that it started. Your spouse, on the other hand, probably felt differently – especially if s/he had no idea that divorce was coming.

If you push your spouse to move through the divorce process too quickly, before s/he is ready, s/he will either shut down and/or start pushing back – hard. Either way, your divorce will take longer.

The same thing is true if you try to push yourself too hard just so you can finish. When you do that, you get overwhelmed. You get sick. You break down.

Interestingly, no matter how hard you push yourself or your spouse, it usually doesn’t change much. Divorce proceeds on it’s own divorce timeline. It will take as long as it will take.

The more prepared you are, and the quicker you attend to the things YOU need to do in your divorce, the more you will ease the way for a quicker divorce. But if you think that you can force your divorce, or your spouse, to move along at breakneck speed, you’re fooling yourself.

8. If you want to get better, you have to show up.

Yoga is an excellent way to build strength and flexibility. But it doesn’t work if you don’t go.

You have to put in the time. You have to do the work. That’s the ONLY way you’ll get the benefits yoga has to offer.

The same thing is true in divorce.

If you want your divorce to move forward as quickly, peacefully, and economically as possible, you have to do your part. You have to engage in the process, collect your financial documents, work with your lawyer, and talk to your spouse. If you don’t do any of those things, your divorce WILL take longer, cost more, and have more conflict than if you do.

Contrary to what many people believe, your divorce lawyer is NOT going to do everything that needs to be done in your divorce for you. S/he is not going to find you a new place to live, fix your finances, or help you manage your children’s behavior if they act out during your divorce.

The only one who can do those things is you.

Burying your head in the sand because you don’t want to be divorced only increases the chances that you will be significantly worse off when your divorce is over than you would have been if you weren’t in denial.

Dragging your feet because you hate dealing with paperwork, or you’re just too emotional to manage your divorce, will only make your divorce take longer and cost more. You will prolong your pain, and cause more damage to your kids.

It’s your life. It’s your divorce. If you want your divorce to go well, you have to show up.

Closeup portrait angry young woman blowing steam coming out of ears, having nervous atomic breakdown, screaming isolated grey wall background. Negative human emotion facial expression feeling attitude

9. In the end, you’ve got to get rid of what is toxic.

Every Bikram yoga class ends with a breathing exercise called Blowing in Firm. In that exercise you use your abdominal muscles to forcefully expel the air from your lungs. In doing so, you force the old stale air out so you can breath in air that is fresh and new.

In other words, you get rid of the toxins in your body.

Divorce rids your life of toxins in much the same way as yoga rids your body of toxins. It gives you a chance for a fresh start.

Whether people are willing to admit it or not, many marriages are broken beyond repair.  Not only has love left the relationship long ago, but so has honesty, respect and integrity. Staying together in that kind of a broken marriage soon becomes toxic.

Of course, not every broken marriage is “unfixable.” If you and your spouse are both willing to work on your marriage, you can often find a way back to each other. You can repair a lot of damage and turn a broken relationship into a beautiful marriage.

But that only happens if both of you want it to happen, if both of you commit to making it happen, and if neither of you has passed “the point of no return.” Unfortunately, if your marriage has progressed to the point of being toxic, pulling it back from the brink of divorce is tough.

As Lous C.K. has said, “No good marriage has ever ended in divorce. That would be sad. If two people were married and … they just had a great thing and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times.”

The bottom  line is that when something is old, stale, and toxic, it’s probably best to let it go.

Beautiful woman doing a yoga pose in front of the ocean.

10. You reap the benefits when you least expect it.

Everyone knows that yoga makes you more flexible. But they think that flexibility comes as a result of pushing and contorting your body in various yoga poses. 

That’s not exactly true.

Yes, the yoga poses are where you do your work. The poses are what push you and stretch your muscles. But the pose that gives you the most benefit, the one that locks in the flexibility you’ve tried to build, is the very last pose you do.

No matter what kind of yoga you do, your very last pose will be Savasana, or “dead body” pose. In it you lay on your back with your legs stretched out and your arms at your side. You clear your mind, and you breathe.

As you relax the benefits of all your hard work sink in. Your breathe cleanses your body. Your muscles relax and begin to repair.

Divorce doesn’t have a final pose. Yet once you’ve put it behind you, and you begin to relax, you will discover the gifts that divorce brought you.

Whether you wanted to grow or not, divorce probably forced you to do that. You learned to do things you’d never done before. You discovered parts of yourself you never knew existed – like strength, resilience and innate intelligence or intuition.

Divorce forces you to expand and to become something new. Like a caterpillar who turns into a blob of oozing mush inside of its cocoon, you too can emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

Of course, it’s not easy. It’s also something you may have wished you didn’t have to do.

But if you use your divorce as an opportunity to create a new life, rather than just mourning the old life you lost, then like the butterfly, you will become something truly beautiful.

Namaste.

___________

Updated.

This post was originally published on September 30, 2015 and updated on September 1, 2021.


Tags

dealing with divorce, divorce and your health, divorce blog, divorce stress, divorce tips


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