I might have been looking for a little punishment in retrospect. I entered the way too hot room, looking down and intermittently around, to see what I should be doing. You see, I am a rule follower. Give me a rule, and I will stick within the lines. It appeared I should be lying down, preparing for what was about to happen, probably not a good sign. I unfurled my mat gently with nary a noise and laid my weary body down.
50% of us have been through it, but somehow the journey through your divorce is incredibly lonely. I was in the midst of experiencing new loneliness and confusion with all that surrounded me. I was less lonely in this place where I had to follow the rules and could do nothing but focus on the sweat beads dripping down my forearms as I stretched them out ahead and behind me in Warrior One stance. In times of trouble, we all become seekers and I was seeking redemption or clarity or suffering or something when I entered that studio.
The laser focus of the teacher seemed to land on me each time, offering corrections and adjustments, not in the gentle whispering way of some teachers, but in the bark your name with a stern admonishment manner. Apparently, although I was innately, supremely flexible, I couldn’t even do half-pigeon correctly. No matter how close I thought I was getting to getting it, there was always some minute adjustment I could have, should have incorporated.
Her voice was severe as it cut through the thick, heavy air. She actually broke into a screaming rant one day, losing her cool in the steamy room. My friends were electing to leave the studio, appalled by the intensity of our ‘yogic’ sessions. They were dropping like little sweaty flies. But something in her straightforward, no BS manner appealed to me. The angry, redundant thoughts swirling in my divorce-addled head were exhausting. I needed someone to inject some clear messages.
1. ‘Don’t leave the studio!’Translation: Stay in the discomfort.
This was the dictate for us, the new-bies who were unused to the sickly, suffocating heat of the room. The rumors of judgmental teachers following you into the bathroom if you dared leave the room kept us in check. This seemed cruel at first but over time this was one of the most powerful messages for me in my journey. I just had to translate it into “stay in your discomfort.” We run from the discomfort, of relationships, of friendships, of comments, of political issues, all the time. Staying in the discomfort, learning to breathe through our anxieties, into how we want to be, is a good first step.
2. ‘Lower!’ Translation: Soften to strengthen yourself.
Chair pose, the dreaded chair pose. It strikes me in two ways every time I hear the teacher announce it’s name. I get excited that my thighs are about to be challenged and I cringe at the thought of the pain. My way throughout my first four decades was to throw up layers of steel in response to a challenge. I would make myself impenetrable, impervious to pain. In a challenging pose, with my breath jagged, my initial approach was to steel myself against the pose, muscling my way through it. A couple months in, her words directing me to soften into the pose finally broke through my preconceived notions of the best way forward. I relaxed my leg and arm muscles, unclenched my fingers and tried another way. Amazingly, the poses became easier as I stopped fighting against them.
3. ‘Eyes open!’ Translation: Be aware
40 minutes into the hour long session, she led us to the ground. The ground rose up to catch us as we unfolded our bodies, vertebrae by vertebrae until our arms and legs flopped to the floor. Bridge pose, our next endeavor. This was the exact point when we were all dying to check out, assuming the ground would be our friend. Breathing heavily, my eyelids shuttered. ‘Eyes open!’ As she rattled off various counts from 6 to 12, never letting us know when the final bridge would fall, reminders to keep our eyes open were thrown at us. Annoying at the time, now I see where she was coming from. It is so easy to check out and ignore our discomfort or dull it with various food and beverages. Keeping our eyes open is one way to stay aware, of what we are feeling and what we are learning about ourselves.
Why did she feel the need to teach through yelling?
What I could see and hear clearly in the end, once I was no longer so enmeshed in my own pain, was the pain she was walking through. Her yelling was meant to pierce through me into herself.
Sometimes our guide to the other side is different than we imagined. Sometimes she is yelling, directly, in our ear, trying to get us to finally hear what she is saying. She didn’t teach me compassion but ironically, she taught me that the path to strength is through softness and vulnerability. She opened me to the skills I would need to enter into a healthy relationship.
Allow the guides in your life to be unexpected and unorthodox. Your guide may not resonate with anyone else but they may be just the perfect person at the perfect time for you.
I still yoga regularly, although at a different studio. I enjoy the quiet and pause it brings to my life. But I can still hear the mean teacher yelling in my head at times and I continue to appreciate the messages from her.
Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child well-being and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well. Email her here.