November 28, 2012

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga Is Like Being Married. ~ Debbie Kadagian

As I step onto my mat this morning, 13 years into my disciplined practice of Ashtanga yoga, it dawns on me how similar to marriage this practice is.

This morning is one of those glorious days where my body feels open, my mind is clear and there is a very limited amount of pain. Back bending is exhilarating, forward bending is resistance-free and I feel strong.

But how many times have I stepped onto my mat and felt pain, felt some apathy and, if I’m being honest, felt like I really didn’t want to be here?

After 22 years of marriage, I see the ebbs and flows of that experience so similarly to the way I see my yoga practice. I’m sailing along in this thing called “a relationship,” and at times I feel like I have the best thing going in the world. How did I get so lucky? This person is perfect for me in every way. I love him more than life itself.

Yet, sailing along on the very same ship, I can look next to me some time later and wonder what on earth I’m doing in this relationship. It is so hard. It’s not going the way I want it to go. I don’t even like him.

How does this happen? Same person, same relationship. Same mat, same practice.

Sometimes it’s silly little things, like, why oh why does someone fling open their mat next to me and create a strong cold wind just as I am heating up in my Mysore practice? Why does my wrist always hurt when I begin my practice? Why do I have to do Nakrasana when I don’t feel like it? Can’t I just skip it?

Why does my husband leave his work stuff all over the kitchen? Why does he have to be so stubborn on certain issues? Why do I have to deal with the disagreement we had this morning about raising our kids when I just don’t want to right now?

But then there’s the thrilling excitement (and non-attachment!) of landing in Bakasana B from a handstand for the first time and just pretending to quietly go along with my practice when I want to scream “hallelujah” out loud. Or there’s when my husband and I are driving along in the car on a beautiful day and I look over at him and think to myself that this is “the unbearable lightness of being.”

These little moments make up the much bigger moments that define my life.

The only thing that gets me through difficulties is knowing for sure that “this too shall pass” and having faith that I am exactly where I need to be. There are no mistakes.

I found Ashtanga yoga one quiet morning when I walked into a class and just felt like I had been there before. The day of my wedding, I had a moment of panic, and then I felt God’s hand on my back, gently pushing me down the aisle. How can I jump off the ship when that happens?

Samskaras are deep impressions from the past that make up who we are and can determine how we react in any given situation. We react to past hurts and actions, even though the present situation may be completely different.

As I look back now at both my practice and my marriage (which, of course, is a practice itself), these grooves, these deep impressions, feel just a little lighter, and somehow, I find that my wrist doesn’t hurt as much anymore, and little things my husband does that used to bother me don’t matter so much anymore.

As Antonio Machado says in the beautiful poem “Last Night As I Was Sleeping”:

“And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.”


My old failures defined how I was formerly choosing to react to little injuries in my practice and perceived hurts in my marriage. How different life appears when my old failures become sweet honey.

So when I feel like jumping ship, somehow I just keep staying on board, and sure enough, clear skies are always ahead.


Debbie Kadagian is an Ayurvedic health counselor and an avid Ashtanga yoga practitioner who has been married for 22 years. She has a son (at Naropa University) and a daughter (at NYU). She is currently at work on a documentary titled “Healing the Mind: The Synthesis of Ayurveda and Western Psychiatry.” She can be reached at [email protected] or www.naliniayurveda.com.



Editor: Jayleigh Lewis

Photo: Annie Au

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