The Yoga Of (My) Divorce

Written by Elizabeth Rowan

As I type, my laptop sits among a small mountain of legal documents, receipts from Home Depot, a new set of keys, suitcases spilling out onto the floor, a copy of A Life Worth Breathing and the hot chocolate with rum that’s helping me sleep these days (Ayurveda for sure). I'm in my mom’s house, where I’ve been living temporarily for a few months as a reprieve.

I’m getting divorced.

There, I said it. I remember the first time I said it out loud when explaining my apartment hunting to a prospective landlord, not quite believing myself, certain that things would reverse themselves before it was final. They’re not. The landlord felt awkward, maybe sorry for me, definitely not seeing me as a stable future tenant. I didn’t get the apartment.

Now when I say it, I’m getting divorced, my stomach and heart both twitch, but I hear it as a statement of new beginnings, growth, and hope. Mostly. I try to, anyway.

That revised self-messaging isn’t happening overnight, and my head still occasionally mis-translates it when I remember something meaningful, hear from the attorneys, or throw a rockin’ pity party.

I’ve never learned, ached, cried, hoped or grown so much in such a short period of time as in the year leading up to my today. I continue to learn every day, and thankfully my round-the-clock yoga practice has manifested throughout this painful experience that is the end of a marriage.

My experience, my self and my divorce are all works in progress, but here’s how the yoga comes in for me these days:

1. Divorce makes me live in the present.

One of yoga’s hardest yet most basic principles, be here now, is becoming easier as I realized that living for a future, planning a family, preparing my home for anticipated celebrations, visitors, occasions, hopes and dreams was not only distracting me from my relationship but causing me to live tomorrow, next month, next year, instead of simply today.

Today I may be in marriage counseling, but if I concentrate on hosting a bridal shower for my cousin next year, all is good.

Not so much.

Divorcing takes the rug out from under us so much that we truly only know today. It’s overwhelming, scary, unknown, exciting, a veritable overload to plan ahead beyond the immediate needs like self-care and finding a new place to live. My slate is now wiped so clean that the future is entirely unknown. I’m veering from the path that I’d planned with such care and precision. Divorce or not, I’m reminded that there is no guarantee for any of us as to what’s beyond this moment. It is devastating and exhilarating.

2. Divorce reminds me that I am not in control.

I cannot count the unexpected twists and turns that have accompanied this process of ending a marriage: Heartbreak, shock, surprising blessings, new and deeper friendships, painful judgement, unexpected loss of friends and side-taking, unexpected opportunities, and a greater dependence on myself than ever before.

Through it all, I’ve had to ride the waves, and this from someone who loves to think she’s in control. I have no choice but to practice letting go. I can’t control legal proceedings, the housing market, misconceptions, others’ actions or words. I am along for the ride, trying trying trying to practice yoga of the heart and mind as it all unfolds in order to surrender, manage my responses and learn all the while.

This may be the hardest for me, being completely subject to what feels like whims of everyone and everything else. But today I’m grateful for the lesson, the practice, the feeling deep down that yes, we are each just a speck in the greater universe. It’s humbling. It’s also a relief: we don’t have to work so hard!

It doesn’t absolve us from responsibility, but it does soften the human inclination of a “me against the world” struggle, shaking fist at the heavens. We can be soft, vulnerable, broken, learning every moment to let go and offer it up. In times of crises and heartache, we can do nothing but.

3. My body knew what was up before my head did.

My SI joint, at home in the root chakra where our most basic survival needs such as shelter, stability and home are met, started flaring up for the first time in my life and lasted for months. On reflection, of course it had. My world was being rocked in every possible way. Suitcases packed, heart breaking, home for sale, a veritable stability vacuum. My body knew; my unconscious knew. They had to scream for my head to finally listen.

I moved out. I found an apartment. The SI pain softened. Then the heart chakra fired, tightening my chest as if I’d never done a camel pose in my life. I work on this one daily as my mind and body battle over the self-preservation of closing my heart to the world versus making it open, bare, visible, alive. This one is a work in progress as I heal, forgive, stay open, actively try to look for and see love.

My throat chakra, center of communication, started tightening up, not wanting to speak, share, talk about it for fear of creating more pain. During peak moments of pain, this normally loud, animated talker was silently staring into her dinner, not eating and being generally mute at a family dinner. My body knew. Ignoring its messages and wisdom is not an option.

My body is experiencing and responding to this overall life upheaval well before my head. Our psyches protect us, a counselor told me, by not revealing all at once. Blessedly, our bodies don’t get the same memo and are forever transmitting information to us. Divorce led mine to do so via the chakra system, perhaps the wisest counsel I could ask for. I once wrote a piece called, “First the body whispers” and will forever be taking my own advice. Our bodies and hearts hold everything we need to know, long before our heads engage.

4. Divorce makes me discover, rediscover and honor my true self every day.

In relationships, we compromise, give and take, and within a marriage often become a “married” version of ourselves. We may change our name. Become half of a couple. The spouse of so-and-so. An identity shift naturally occurs to build and merge a life with another. My divorce took me back to me in an instant, for better or worse. Now I feel no expectations, no compromises, no influence, no role within a marriage, just me. Straight up.

I got a tattoo.

“So unlike you!”

Is it really? Could be I’m acting out, but for now, it feels true to me. I like it. I picked it out and marched into Memorial Tattoo all by myself, fear of needles and all. Just me. Apparently my true self can handle tattoos without fear or regret: a discovery. I remember that I am, in fact, the teeniest bit brave every time I look at it.

I’m flying to New York on what would’ve been my seventh wedding anniversary to hold and be held by dear friends as the year ends and begins. Normally I wouldn’t get near NYC on New Year’s Eve but this year is different. I’ll be raising my tattooed wrist to toast new beginnings with a view of Times Square as both the original and the new and improving me this year. I’m beginning to see where these versions of myself begin, end and meet. Just like in my yoga practice, always discovering, learning, growing.

My divorce teaches me so many yoga lessons daily, and I draw on yoga’s wisdom to guide me on this difficult journey. The light in me is beginning to see the light in me again. I bow to the process, and am sure this reeducation is only beginning.

Thank you, yoga.

How has yoga supported you or manifested during times of great heartache or change? I’d love to hear from you.

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