The Warrior: Yoga, Divorce, and Coming Home to Me

“Pop” went the seam on my pencil skirt as the elevator carried me up to my first meeting with the divorce lawyer. Battling every butterfly in my tummy, I was determined to power through this divorce like I’d powered through my marriage. I struck a Warrior pose right there in the elevator. Fight mode: On.

That’s when I busted the seam on my skirt.

Pat Benatar’s “The Warrior” played in my head. And while “Shootin’ at the walls of heartache / Bang! Bang!” seemed an appropriate soundtrack at the time, I’m thinking five years falls within the statute of limitations for an apology to any ancient yogis cringing in their collective graves.

The truth is, my strong stance belied a broken heart.

In my saddest moments, yoga was an escape to strength. I could dip into Goddess pose until my thighs burned, igniting the fire of divine feminine energy, forgetting that in real life I felt as divinely feminine as a potato.

Yoga gave me a physical framework to express confidence I didn’t feel.

You know, “fake it ’til you make it.” How is that even a thing? Maybe because “fake it ’til you can no longer ignore the awareness that you’re faking it and then cut it out it and be your authentic self” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Masking pain with poses makes for a pretty empty power. Plus, it’s exhausting to avoid yourself.

The chasm between what my heart was holding in and what my body was projecting out became unsustainably wide. I crashed through it. Adrenal fatigue and severe anemia took hold. Every fiber of me was pooped. Most days I would collapse into a nap just to gather enough energy to drag myself into the car to pick up my son from school.

So I upped my dose of yoga. Energy begets energy. More stretching. More sweating. More saluting the sun.

And then came my first day of yoga teacher training. I was weak and drained and so worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my fellow trainees that I introduced myself to the teacher by apologizing to her:

“I’m really sorry, I’m going through a divorce and it’s taking a lot out of me. Can you recommend any postures for more energy?” I asked.

“I don’t think you need more energy,” she replied, with two of the kindest eyes that had ever stopped to see me. “I think you need rest.”

Oy. She’s going to kick me out.

Instead she asked a question.

“Can you be gentle with yourself?”

Come again? What kind of slouch did she take me for? I was, after all, the gal who’d skip out on Savasana — final resting pose — because I wasn’t shelling out 15 bucks to take a nap.

Now that someone was giving my body permission to rest, it sent up every wall of resistance my spirit could muster. Because when you’re gentle with yourself, you meet yourself. When you climb out of your racing mind and drop down into your heart and ask it how it really feels, that’s where you find your soul.

And your soul’s purpose is to unfold you into the fullest expression of yourself. But first, it will ask you something:

What have you been afraid to feel?

And if your brain is anything like mine, it will busily blurt out “nada,” as your to-do list grows and your heart patiently protects the answer.

Giving my mind permission to step aside so I could hear my heart felt a bit like flinging myself open-mouthed into a dark pit of spiders. Besides the fear factor, though, there was the aptitude issue. I’d been so used to thinking, and thinking about thinking, I wasn’t even sure I knew how to go about feeling.

But here’s why feeling is deceptively easy: It’s about being, rather than doing. It’s about staying fully present with what is, rather than over-thinking what wasn’t, or isn’t, or will be or won’t be.

Physically feeling your feet on the ground, or your back against the chair, or your belly deflating as you exhale, or your eyes close briefly as you blink… These physical feelings ground you in the present moment, so you can experience the stillness of the now.

Are your shoulders hunched? Feel that. And then let your shoulders fall. Nothing to carry anymore. Is there someplace in your body that feels constricted? Let it soften. From here, you can extend the invite to any emotions that have been afraid to arise. Given the safe space of awareness, and an invitation, those feelings will emerge.

What have you been afraid to feel?

In my case, it was a strong cocktail of anger, sadness, guilt, grief and shame. I fought those feelings hard. I thought they were a pity-party roadblock on my path forward.

I now know those feelings were my path forward.

Slowing down and softening into what I was physically feeling in the present moment allowed a compassionate container for those feelings to emerge. To be heard. To be healed. Because feelings are just like people, really. They want to be acknowledged and understood, but they won’t come forward unless they feel safe.

Bowing with my heart melting toward the earth in Child’s pose, I cried for the love and the years and the Self I had lost. I mourned the death of the illusion that I had hoped would somehow, someday reveal itself as the white picket fence disguised as the sagging splintered gate whose latch came hopelessly unhinged years ago. Being gentle with myself allowed me to let go of the illusions that were holding me back from Chapter Two.

Curled up in the fetal position of Womb pose, I found the perfect position to hold myself with forgiveness for being one of those moms who stayed for the sake of her child. Cradled in the safety of of my own being, I let myself face the absolute agony of those moments standing in the driveway when my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s car drove away with my son looking out at me through the window and we waved and made heart shapes with our fingers and I knew the next morning I’ll be sitting on his empty bed in tears.

Lying on my back (because you can’t skip Savasana in yoga teacher training), legs splayed out, I felt something between raw vulnerability and rock-bottom. With each exhale, my shoulders surrendered to gravity, leaving nothing left to resist. The fears I’d been deflecting with the armor of survival mode came rapid-fire: Fear of filing the papers; fear of not filing the papers; fear of loneliness; fear of finality; fear of failure; fear of having to explain; fear of not getting to explain; fear of happy families in restaurants; fear of judgment; fear of what the heck we do with the wedding album; fear of fear. That last one is key. Because here’s the thing about fear: When you welcome it in, there’s no longer anything to be afraid of.

Feeling fear makes you fearless.

Same goes for anger, sadness, shame and every other feeling we’re led to believe we should resist.

There is tremendous healing in diving head-first into the so-called negative emotions. When you swim around in the discomfort and let yourself feel everything, you discover pieces of your spirit that are ready to come alive.

Exploring my grief led me to re-connect with compassion. I held myself with the tenderness I would extend to my own child if he were hurting. And all those empty spaces that felt so dark and lonely began to fill with light.

My protective edges softened. With each gentle backbend, my heart opened. I thought my heart had broken, but in truth it had broken open, to let in an endless supply of the self-love that comes when you finally look through the peep hole and see all those suppressed feelings that have been waiting to come in, and now somehow they look like old friends. And you welcome them in. It’s been too long.

When we honor our pain, we find our power.

My Warrior pose is softer now. Softer, and stronger. Instead of imagining an iron core, I see a spark, right in the center of my being. And I know it’s the flame that was born with me and stays with me to light the way, even in – especially in – the moments of deepest darkness.

In those moments, our true nature shines brightest. It’s a spectacular light. And if we’re moving too quickly, we’re gonna miss it.

I know now that in this speed-it-up world, powering down is more important than powering through.

I still don’t know what the heck to do with the wedding album (it’s in a box in the basement), but I do know that somehow I credit this whole crazy messy beautiful journey with bringing me home to a truer version of myself. One who breathes more deeply, pauses more frequently, feels more fully, and no longer does yoga in skirts.

 

This post also appeared in SheKnows.

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