November 4, 2010

Who gets Custody of the Yoga Class?

Parting Poses

There are many stages of revelation in a romantic relationship. Some fill us with trepidation because we aren’t entirely sure how the other will react. For women, that might be the first time you let your crush see you without any makeup. For men, the admission that you cried at the end of Marley and Me, or for gay men, the confession that one of you really, really likes NASCAR.

Luckily, most of the things we share with one another only increase our intimacy and bonding. And how exciting this process is! Boyfriend introduces girlfriend to the best Thai restaurant in town. Girlfriend introduces boyfriend to the most amazing hike above Malibu. It’s like being a tourist in your hometown: you start to see it through the eyes of your lover.

This is why I love it when one person in a couple brings the significant other to my yoga class. It’s almost like I’m a kind of maternal figure whose approval is being sought. “Isn’t he cute?” one of my students will whisper. “Yes, and his urdhva dhanurasana is fantastic,” I answer. “Oh good,” the student whispers, “I’m so glad you like him.”

Sometimes the guy drops out after a few classes—impressed by what his new mate can do, but not much interested in returning to that particular brand of torture again. Or the new girlfriend will confess that she likes her yoga teacher who uses lavender oil and sings to them at the end of class better than that power stuff her new beau brought her to—it is, after all, a matter of taste.

Sometimes, though, something magical happens. Like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, the excitement of bringing the one that you love to the class that you love can be intoxicating. You are sweating towards nirvana together in a sweet, intimate, dare I say spiritual moment where the chaos of the outside world seems far far away.  What a miracle that you can share that with each other. And share it you do, the same classes, week in and week out. You both buy the longest pass available, almost as if to say “Look how much we love doing this together and look how confident we are of our relationship!”

And then…

Something less than magical happens. Like the florescent lights switched on at a bar’s closing, you see each other in a less favorable light, and the romantic soundtrack gives way to awkward silence. What happens when you break up and who gets custody of the yoga class?

As if there isn’t enough to work out. Dogs, children, real estate, large TVs….and that class that you need more than ever now to survive the split. “I would never bring someone I was dating to this class” one of my students defiantly stated. “It’s mine, and I wouldn’t let them ruin it for me”.  Well, I guess that’s one way to avoid the problem, but what about those couples who already bought the six month pass?

Just when we feel like throwing the cappuccino maker, all of their left behind clothing (especially that hideous yoga outfit that you always hated), and anything else we can find at them, our ex provides us an opportunity to take our yoga deeper than any class ever will.

I believe the answer to who gets custody lies within the five Yamas, which are basically regulations on how we should treat others and ourselves. Here is a good summary of them taken verbatim from an excellent article about the 8 limbs of yoga on abc-of-yoga.com.

Ahimsa or non-violence. This Yama does not only mean not doing harm to others in thought and in deed, but also to practice acts of kindness to other creatures and to one’s own self.

Satya or truthfulness. Satya is the Yama that is about living a truthful life without doing harm to others. To practice Satya, one must think before he speaks and consider the consequence of his action. If the truth could harm others, it might be better to keep silent.

Asteya or non-stealing. This Yama is not only concerned about the non-stealing of material objects but also the stealing of other’s ideas and other forms of possession. Using power for selfish motives or telling someone else about confidential information you had been entrusted with is against Asteya.

Bramacharya or non-lust. Bramacharya means to move toward the essential truth or to achieve self-control, abstinence or moderation especially regarding to sexual activity. It is about not giving in to our ego’s excessive desires or taking nothing in excess.

Aparigraha or non-possessiveness. This Yama is about living a life free from greed or taking only what is necessary and do not take advantage of someone or of a situation. It is about using our powers correctly and appropriately and not exploiting others.

It is easy to limit yoga to asana (poses), but it is really about a more conscious and less reactive way of living. What better time to remind ourselves of that than when we feel least likely to exhibit the grace and awareness they suggest? After all, it is easy to be considerate when everything is going well, but it is inspiring when it blossoms amidst the rubble. If we use our yoga for more than just a workout, it will educate us far beyond our muscles and bones. We may never be able to put our foot behind our head, but we just might be able one day to thank our adversaries for what they have motivated in our evolution…even if we then place ourselves as far away from them as we can in the classroom.

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Andrea Marcum  |  Contribution: 1,100