Divorce and yoga. At first blush they seem so different. Yoga and divorce. One is so Zen. The other is about as “un-Zen” as you could possibly get. Yet, as I was trying to balance in Eagle pose yesterday, standing on one leg with my arms and legs wrapped around each other like pretzels and the sweat pouring off of me in the 105 ̊ heat (I do Bikram yoga. Yes. I know. It’s hot.) it occurred to me: yoga can teach you a lot about divorce.
Here are 10 surprising insights I discovered about divorce in yoga class.
1. If you want to survive, you’ve got to breathe. In yoga, nothing happens without breath. Even when you are straining to stay 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.
Divorce is a marathon, not a sprint. It always takes longer than you think. If you are going to make it through, you have to breathe. If you don’t want to develop panic attacks, you’ve got to learn to relax. You won’t know how things are going to turn out in the end … until you get to the end. Then you will know. In the meantime, you have to breathe.
2. Perfection is impossible. No matter how well you do a 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 while you were bent over at the waist, grabbing both legs from behind. But now you have to do the same thing without bending your knees, and get your hands underneath your heels too.
When you are going through a divorce, “perfect” becomes a thing of the past. Your life will no longer seem perfect. You will feel shattered and broken. But slowly you will figure out that imperfection is okay. It’s actually more than okay. Once you no longer need to be perfect, you can start to just “be.” Ultimately, “being” is far better than “perfect.”
3. It’s the little things that get you. Just when you think you are totally rocking a pose, the instructor comes by and “gently” reminds you that you need to keep your back straight, suck your belly in, and tighten all the muscles in your legs. The second you try to do all that, the rest of the pose falls apart. You want to cry.
Sure, the “big things” in divorce matter. But what surprises you most is when you find yourself fighting to the death over who gets the china that you never liked and have never used. You rage at the fact that your spouse wants you to pay an extra $100 a month for something that clearly should not be your responsibility. Your heart breaks when you tuck your child into bed at night and he asks, “When is mommy (or daddy) coming home?” Are those really little things?
4. Every day is different. My yoga instructor says that you have a new body every day. Some days you are more flexible. Other days, not so much. So, even though you are going through the same poses you have 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 are functioning well. Then you see an old family photo and turn into a blubbering pile of mush. One minute you are having an adult conversation with your lawyer, then your spouse walks into the conference room and you turn into a screaming maniac. You don’t even recognize yourself anymore! You are that different.
5. You can’t force yourself to do more than you are capable of doing. It doesn’t matter how much you want to stand on one leg and get your head to drop below your other knee (which is theoretically stretched out straight in front of you.) If your hamstrings are tight, it’s just not going to happen.
Before your divorce, you were busy working, taking care of your kids, and doing a thousand other things. Then your divorce starts and you have to keep doing all of that, plus gather documents, deal with the court system, figure out your finances, work extra hard to make sure your kids are ok, etc. etc.! Going through a divorce is like having a second full time job. You just can’t do it all. Don’t try. Just do what you can.
6. There is no progress without some discontent and discomfort. Yes, yoga is excellent for strengthening and stretching your body. But, if you are doing it right, and pushing yourself, it hurts! The problem is that if you cop out and just go through the motions without pushing yourself, you stay as inflexible as an oak tree. If you want to improve, you have to move.
You don’t realize it when it is happening, but divorce is really an undercover agent for progress in your life. It forces you to change, to stretch, to grow. But it is not pleasant. (Okay. It is gut-wrenching, horrible, and way beyond unpleasant.) After you go through it, you are not the same. That’s the point. Yes, in some ways you will feel damaged. But in many other ways, you will grow. You will become more than you ever were before. Honest.
7. When you go too far, you’ve got to back off and breathe. You can’t muscle your way through a pose that demands flexibility. Even if you are a hard-driving, type A person who is used to getting his/her way, yoga forces you to relax and go with the flow. Otherwise, you hurt yourself.
Divorce is the same. Sometimes you push yourself too hard. Then you collapse and get sick, or stop functioning. Sometimes you push your spouse too hard. Then s/he shuts down and/or starts pushing back – hard. Sometimes you try to push too fast to be finished. That always makes everything take longer. You have to let your divorce process unfold naturally.
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. The same thing is true in divorce.
“Showing up” in divorce means engaging in the process. You can bury your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, but eventually reality will come along and smack you upside the head. Denial is not your friend. It is also not a good idea to just hand everything over to your lawyer and let her/him handle it. It’s your life. It’s your divorce. If you want it to go well, you have to show up.
9. In the end, you’ve got to get rid of what is toxic. Every Bikram class ends with a breathing exercise called Blowing in Firm. The idea is that you use your abdominal muscles to forcefully expel the air from your lungs. In doing so, you are forcing the old stale air that is full of toxins out of your lungs, so you have more room for breath that is clean and fresh and new.
Many marriages are broken. Staying together in a broken marriage starts to be toxic. 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.” Divorce teaches you that when something is old, stale and toxic, you have to let it go.
10. You reap the benefits when you least expect it. Everyone thinks that your body becomes more flexible as you suffer through the various yoga poses. But the pose that gives you the most benefit is the very last pose you do: 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. It is in this final pose, which seems so easy, that all of the benefits of the hard work that you have done up to that point sink in.
Divorce, as horrible and ugly as it can be, brings you benefits. I have yet to meet a single divorced person who hasn’t learned something from their divorce. Of course they wish they could have learned whatever they learned without going through a divorce. But that’s not the way life works. The caterpillar thinks it is fine until it goes through the pain of changing its entire body to become a butterfly. Then it is beautiful. So are you.