NAVIGATING YOGA > Heartbreak. It’s a feeling we all know—that pain in your chest brought on by the disappointment of another; when the one we love does not reciprocate in one way or another. This could be from the break-up of a long-term love or a short-term love you thought had the potential for more or the loss of a friendship. Even a disappointing first date or brief encounter can bring about forms of heartbreak. I believe that our heartbreak is often deeper when we experience the loss of what could be rather than what is. In this lies one of the better lessons in yoga: the idea that our expectations of what should and could be cloud our present and keep us from enjoying the moment. We’ve talked about how yoga can help bring us back to the present, how it can free us from the expectations that hold us back from being the happiest version of ourselves. We’ve talked about meditation—how meditation can clear the external and internal distractions that keep you being from present. Yoga can aid in mending a broken heart through these same practices.
Sounds easier said than done, doesn’t it? Let’s explore these practices a little bit further by exploring consciousness and the human condition in relation to the yoga philosophy. For me, the yoga philosophy has always resonated more than the asana practice. The asana practice, the flowing movements, and the breath are all an extension of what I so profoundly believe to be true about yoga. If you’re a practicing yogi, or thinking about practicing yoga, understanding the yoga philosophy while practicing on the mat can be the best step for healing yourself from heartbreak, whether big or small.
I recently took a yoga workshop with a local, renowned yoga teacher, Rolf Gates. His down-to-Earth approach was refreshing and exactly what my own heartbroken ears needed to hear that day. The theme of his initial lecture was common mistakes. His theory was that people make the same mistakes over and over again based on three very human and habitual factors. The first was thinking things are permanent when they’re not, the notion that things will always be what they seem regardless of external interference. Another was thinking things are reliable when they’re not, the idea that people or things will never, ever let you down, and associating everything with the self. This last one really resonated with me. I realized that culturally, we are very much a “planning” species. And not only do we plan and daydream, we build expectations. And through those expectations, whether realistic or unrealistic, when things don’t turn out exactly as we hoped, we’re disappointed. I applied this to my heartbreak. I realized that rather than letting the relationship be, I began to live my life in the relationship I thought it should be. Yamas and Niyamas represent ethical rules to live by within Hinduism and yoga thereof. After taking that workshop, I realized my best way to heal was to go back to my study books and remind myself until I remember these words to live by through the very core of yogic philosophy.
Understanding these yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) and applying them to your life can help you better understand the source of your heartbreak. Is it from the loss of this person’s presence in your life alone? Is it the loss of personal identity? Or is it the loss of the potential? Use these guidelines as steps to managing and healing your heartbreak:
Ahimsa (non-violence): Don’t be so hard on yourself. These guidelines are circumstantial, so think about this one less literally and more as an ode to you, and give yourself some self-love. Try not to abuse yourself emotionally by thinking of your lost love with another. Try not to think about the past and grieve over all the good times you shared. Consider instead looking forward to something in your life, whether it be an outing with friends or creating a new hobby for yourself to enjoy. Looking ahead towards something positive in your life can really strengthen your positive outlook on your heartbreak. I always tell my students to avoid the temptation to hold their breath, and instead let their breath be joyous and loud. Avoid the temptation to doubt yourself or judge who you are.
Satya (truthfulness): Be honest with yourself about the reality of your heartbreak. When we can take a step back and look at the situation with clarity, our grief becomes much more manageable. Are you mourning the loss of this person for real? Or is the rejection what is so unbearable? Meditate on that. Our egos are very much connected to our feelings for others, and because it is within our nature as living, breathing human beings to seek affirmation from others, when we feel un-loved or un-wanted the result is understandably devastation. But try to recognize the role your ego plays in heartbreak, and try to recognize that you have control over how someone makes you feel about yourself. Love yourself, the other alternative is so much less appealing.
Aprigraha (detachment, absence of greed): I find that one of the most common mistakes people make in relationships is becoming a unit with that person. We become lost in our attachment to others. It’s a beautiful two–become-one ideal, really. However, I think it’s very common for us to lose our own identity through the attachment of others. It’s important to remember that genuine happiness from within is really only something you can grant yourself. You can feel happy with someone else, but to rely on being with that person as the sole source of happiness is a lot of pressure on you, and on your partner. Recognize that happiness is an emotion, not a destination. It can come and go like so much else. Heartbreak is not a stop on he happiness train, rather a lesson in becoming the happiest version of you.
Santosha (contentment): Practice a little gratitude for the people you have in your life, rather then focusing on the people you don’t. At the end of class, I will often instruct my students to give thanks for everything wonderful that is already present in their lives. When we can practice this daily act of thanksgiving, when we can be grateful amidst the hurt, the heartbreak diminishes slowly, and I believe we begin to open our up our hearts to love again.
Ishvarapujana (devotion): I like to think about this one in terms of trusting in the universe. When we know how to ask the right questions, the universe can offer the right answers. If that is just too new age-y and metaphysical for you, consider prayer or seeking guidance from others in any capacity. When you know what you’re looking for, the solution can be clear.
If you doubt this spoonful of yoga philosophy, I don’t blame you—it’s a lot to take in. At your next yoga class, focus in on your breath. Consider looking within to find your intention. What does yoga mean to you? Perhaps you can make your next intention in yoga about healing yourself; seeking healing and forgiveness for yourself and for others. When we can open our hearts to forgiveness, we can open up the doors to new possibilities, ready to love, ready to receive, and ready to give.
Shandara Gill, or Shanie, is a yoga teacher in the greater Santa Cruz area. She teaches more than 10 classes a week at the Westside, downtown, and Cabrillo Toadal Fitness locations. For more information about Shanie and her classes, you can visit toadalfitness.com or email her at [email protected]