One of the women who assisted my teacher training last year told us that her relationship with yoga was the first healthy relationship she ever had, and only through that relationship was she able to cultivate other healthy relationships.
Now, there’s no cause for alarm. I am nowhere near having these “other” healthy relationships (although my “no 3rd date rule” has morphed into a “no 5th date rule” so I think I’m making progress.)
However, I really do feel like I have finally cultivated a strong, healthy relationship with yoga. That said, my blind devotion hasn’t hindered my over-analysis, so here’s what I think are:
7 Secrets of a Healthy Relationship (with Yoga)
1. Show up when you say you’re going to show up.
Decide how many times a week you’re going to go to yoga and do yoga that many times a week, no matter what happens. When I decided to have a relationship with yoga, I committed to going every day. However, if you also want to have relationships with other people, you might want to consider setting a goal that fits in better with your life. I’d still recommend picking the days you are going to go and always going on those days.
Why? This teaches you an important core lesson about relationships. You choose whether you want to be in a relationship, but once you’re in it, you don’t get to choose whether or not you participate in it. Some days, you will really really not want to go yoga, but you must honor your responsibility to show up.
In my experience, one of two things will happen: A) Half-way through, everything will start to feel amazing and you’ll think, “oh, I do love you after all and you have totally inspired me to rise above my perceived limitations or B) You will hate it the whole time but probably feel pretty proud when you’re done. This will still dissolve perceived limitations, and make you realize that doing something you don’t really feel like doing isn’t so tortuous after all.
2. Be your own person, be on your own side; avoid co-dependence.
Making a commitment does mean the conflation of two identities. I love yoga, and it is a bigger part of my life than anything. To many people who know me, yoga is something that defines me. But yoga does not define me to me. Yoga is something I do to clarify my identity, not create it.
That means that some days, it’s me against yoga: “You go in there, and you kick that Warrior Three’s ass…” That doesn’t meant I don’t like Warrior Three, or that I don’t want to do it tomorrow. It just means today I won, I am psyched, and that’s ok.
3. Know what you need, and ask for it.
Some days I go to yoga and I am ready to re-define the meaning of “power” flow. I used to hide in the back of the room all the time, but I realized that being a wallflower when you want to be a warrior will just distract you from going all the way. When you want to be powerful, go all out.
Conversely, there are some days when the only thing motivating me to go to yoga is the knowledge that I get to spend the first five minutes of class in child’s pose. On those days, I’m near a wall (safety blanket) and during every single pose, I ask myself how I feel physically, and whether I want to try harder or lay off. Sometimes I take it easy, but at other times, just the permission to slow down makes me say, “Ok, I can do this.”
4. Align, Engage, and Then Let Go
Not every pose will be Swami’s equivalent of a home run, but that doesn’t give you free rein to be lazy or inconsiderate. Start with the correct placement of the feet every time. Engage the legs and core muscles. Magic may happen and your torso may unfold into the deepest, most expansive, heart-opening bind you’ve ever done. Or your left hip will continue to be tight, your wrists will hurt for some inexplicable reason and you will feel kind down about the whole thing. Either way, this is a good lesson.
Why? You’re safe, you’re stable and you’re being fair—you can feel good about that. Even so, sometimes you do everything right and everything goes right, and sometimes you do everything right and everything goes wrong. There’s no time like the present to get used to it, because that’s pretty much how life works.
5. Assume, a priori, that all problems have solutions; think “when,” not “if.”
I was feeling grumpy yesterday because my bound side angle is great on the right side, and kind of grueling on the left side. Then I remembered how I didn’t used to be able to do gomukhasana on my left side, and then I remembered how before that, I couldn’t do gomukhasana at all, with either arm. It was so hard I assumed that my body was genetically wired to fail at it.
I practiced this pose using a strap for many days (and many months.) Everyday I tried to crawl my hands a little closer together, inching my way up the strap. Then one day, I found myself able to do forearm stand (a major shoulder opener.) I was probably able to do this because of all the gomukhasana practice, then lo and behold one week later, I didn’t need a strap any more, probably because of the big opening I’d gotten in forearm stand.
If you ‘re confused, good. The bottom line is that your body is capable of everything, but you have to do focused work on small projects, not get impatient and not ask too many questions. Lack of faith is what makes you overstretch and get frustrated. Faith is what enables you to hang on to that strap and wait for things to unfold.
6. Don’t lie to yourself about what the problem is.
Bound high-lunge is one of the most challenging poses for me. I lose my balance and I cannot for the life of me look over my shoulder and expand my chest without toppling over.
I got obsessed with this business of looking over my shoulder. The harder I tried, the more scared and agitated I got, and of course nothing improved. Then I realized that I wasn’t actually engaging my back leg, because my hips are tight, it hurt and I didn’t want to do the work.
For a week, I focused on nothing but engaging the back leg, and it was kind of painful. Then everything started to loosen up, and today I found that the back leg went and engaged all by itself!
Not surprisingly, once I stabilized my legs, looking over the shoulder was totally possible.
7. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself, off the mat.
I’d never want to say that sometimes, yoga doesn’t work, but sometimes yoga doesn’t “work.” When you first start doing yoga, you might start emanating pure joy and love. Your skin might suddenly become flawless and you’ll feel so light at heart you’re afraid you’re going to float away!
Then you will have a week like I just had and you will feel like there’s a 50 pound brick sitting on your chest and your skin will break out like a 16-year old’s before the SATs and your people will start asking you why you’re cranky based purely on things you said over Gchat. (Yes- you are sooo toxic it shines through the text!)
When the time comes to go drinking with your co-workers on Friday, you will have an anxiety attack (icing on the cake of the 6 other anxiety attacks you already had) about how you’re going to have to miss yoga.
But you will recognize that goodbye drinks are not to be missed, that not drinking when other people are drinking is sort of downer, and that jumping up and down and skipping across the dance floor to John Mellencamp with your boss feels healthier than 10 yoga classes.
This is OK.