Today my husband and I celebrate 9 years of marriage. I am really proud of us. We have quite a story – the kind Disney movies are made of – but let me tell you, these past 9 years have been challenging in more ways than one. But that is the beautiful thing. I never wanted to be a Disney princess. I wanted to star in a romantic comedy full of drama, cosmic coincidences, heart-warming laughter, true love and all the messiness that comes with it! I want love that is honest, raw, authentic, vulnerable, sometimes magical, sometimes a royal pain in the you-know-what.
This year I also celebrate my 20-year yoga anniversary. Since I have spent over half of my life (literally) on a yoga mat, I began to contemplate how the two things I am most committed to (my marriage and my yoga practice) actually have a lot in common. The same principles that help us succeed in yoga also help relationships when the going gets tough…
(Here we are in Ireland last year).
Here are a few of the things that yoga can teach us about love.
1) You must show up and work hard. No one said it would be easy.
I always feel a little guilty when new yoga students come to my class and say they decided to try yoga because they “want to relax.” Um, maybe try booking a massage? Or perhaps a day at the beach? Because yoga – at least the way I teach it – is many things, but “relaxing” is not really one of them! Yoga takes hard work. (Not to be confused with too much effort). You must engage your body and your mind to be able to move, bend and coordinate parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. This is a fabulous exercise in staying present, aware, meeting your own resistance, laziness, and excuses. If you relax too much in yoga and look like a wet noodle, you could either injure yourself or miss the benefit of the pose altogether.
Marriage also takes hard work. Yes there is love and romance and excitement. There are also bills and piles of dirty laundry and conflicting opinions on how to deal with finances and vacations and whose family to spend Christmas with. Like yoga, nobody ever said marriage was easy! In both yoga and marriage, we must be willing to show up every day, confront our resistance, laziness, fears, habitual patterns and be willing to engage and work hard to shift things. Something I often teach about in my yoga classes is that through hard work and meeting your own resistance, you discover your potential. If it was never challenging, the growth and payoff wouldn’t be so sweet. Same with marriage.
2). You must be willing to hang out with discomfort.
Now obviously if you are in a relationship that is in any way jeopardizing your safety, health, or sanity – run away! Fast! And if you are in a yoga pose that is jeopardizing your safety – come out right now! But often, we tend to just run away as soon as something is uncomfortable and miss opportunities for our own growth and evolution. This is why we pop pills for every little ache or sniffle and we over-eat when we are emotional. We try to numb out because there is an aversion to discomfort. But here is the thing, if you bail on every yoga pose after only 3 breaths or if you bail on your relationship as soon as things get difficult, you might miss the sweet stuff. Moving through discomfort skillfully helps us evolve to our next edge. True growth is often just on the other side of discomfort.
Everything about yoga was uncomfortable when I started. I was 18 years old, weak and stiff as a board. I remember wanting to cry from the pain in my shoulders and back when the teacher would make us hold Downward Facing Dog. And the absolute worst torture were those damned backbends (Wheel Pose) she insisted were so good for us. Now those backbends are one of my greatest delights. (And I torture my students with them!). But I wouldn’t have discovered that if I hadn’t allowed the great discomfort in the beginning.
Everything about the first few years of my marriage was uncomfortable! First of all, I married a guy I barely knew who I met on the other side of the world in a rickshaw. True story. Then I went directly from my honeymoon in Maui to live in his city – Sao Paulo, Brazil. I grew to love Sao Paulo, but let’s just say it is a far cry from the tropical paradise most people imagine when they think of Brazil. In the beginning of my marriage I was learning not only how to live with this man and understand his culture and upbringing, I was trying to rebuild my career and navigate a complicated city where I didn’t know a single soul (other than him) or speak a word of Portuguese. Yes I wanted to bail and run back to my beautiful, comfortable life in California. I was such a nightmare to live with at times that I think he wanted me to bail too! But I stayed. He stayed. And that crazy urban jungle became my home. I learned to speak Portuguese fluently and I made many life-long friends in Brazil. I would have missed one of the most epic chapters in my life if I hadn’t stayed through the discomfort.
3) You can love something (or someone) you don’t always like.
There are days when my body feels so achy, stiff, sore, and tired that the absolute last thing I want is to go take a yoga class. Yet by some act of God I end up at the studio near my house hoping the teacher will bestow some mercy upon us and teach restoratives. But no. Those are the days she perkily teaches the hardest hand-balance postures known to mankind and I silently curse her and promise myself I will never practice yoga again because I hate it, can’t stand it, it makes me miserable and nobody should have to suffer like that! Yet the next day when the pain is a distant memory, I remember my love for the practice and I roll out my mat again.
Our love is bigger and more spacious than our like. There are plenty of days I don’t like my husband. He can get under my skin like no one else. He knows how to push my buttons and irritate me and sometimes I just don’t like him very much at all. But I love him. My love is big enough and spacious enough to allow for not always liking. Love is deeper than our mood and beyond preference and emotion. Like is more fickle and temperamental. So even if I don’t always like my man, I still love him. And I imagine there are plenty of days he doesn’t like me either! But he loves me.
Yoga and relationships are both amazing containers for our growth. But we must be willing to show up, work hard, stay through the discomfort, and allow our love to be bigger than our like. Patanjali – old school yogic sage – said that through steady commitment (abhyasa) and devotion (vairagya) success in yoga can be attained. I believe the same is true for love.
I would love to hear what yoga has taught you about relationships! You can post comments below.
Also – follow me on periscope! Haven’t heard of it? Think Twitter meets You Tube – it is the newest social media rage where you can send live broadcasts to your friends. I am sending live videos about yoga, wellness, and all the themes that motivate us both on and off the yoga mat. Check me out on Periscope for live daily inspirations! Hanging out live, online.