When I first started taking yoga classes, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what to wear, or whether I’d be good at it. But I’d heard good things about yoga. I’d heard that I could take the lessons of mindfulness and apply them to other areas of my life. My friends told me that it made them feel more comfortable in their skin.
I’d been practicing yoga for a few years when I realized that some of my lessons from yoga also held true in dating. Once I started noticing, it was hard to stop.
As with yoga, I was nervous as I embarked on my dating journey. Each new date was like attending a class I’d never been to before, with a different teacher. What would the other students be like? Would the class be too hard? Do you ever stop worrying about what you’re wearing, in yoga or on a date?
One of the first things I learned in class was the importance of breathing. “We simulate stress in this class so that you can learn to breathe through it,” says my teacher. In those moments before I walk into a restaurant or coffee shop, I’ll catch myself taking shallow gulps of air, just as I do in a particularly taxing pose. In both cases, I’ll stop and fill my stomach with air, allowing the oxygen to flood my body and brain. You’re going to get through this, the air seems to say.
A lot can change from one class to the next. One week I might be very flexible, another I might barely be able to touch my toes. Every little thing in my life affects my yoga practice, just as it does my dating practice. Some days I’m lonely, worried, or stressed, making decisions out of those feelings. On other days, I feel balanced and hopeful. In the hard days, I try to meet myself where I am, both on the mat, and in dating. Some days (and dates) go better than others. Maybe, instead of scrolling through countless online matches, I might be better off with a bubble bath and a book. In paying attention to my mental and emotional states, as well as my physical body, I’m choosing to act in my best interests.
Sometimes I just need a break. All of my teachers tell us that when we get tired, we can sink into child’s pose. I fought this for a long time, wanting to prove that I was strong, able to handle anything, but lately I’ve been more open to letting myself rest when I need to. Those few moments can refresh my muscles so that I have more to give to the rest of the practice. In the same way, knowing when to take a break from dating washes away some of my cynicism, lets me brush off feelings of rejection, and allows me to reconnect with who I am and what I’m looking for in a dating relationship.
While there are many different kinds of yoga poses, some of the most challenging for me are those that require balance. I’m supposed to choose a spot in the room that isn’t moving and concentrate my focus there. If I start looking around, my supporting leg starts to wobble, and sometimes I topple. When I lose sight of my values and purpose in dating, the same sort of thing happens. I don’t spend as much time with family and friends, or I neglect my work. Maybe my housework doesn’t get done. When I approach dating from a grounded place, focused on what is important to me, I’m less likely to falter in the excitement of a new relationship.
Yoga and dating are both intended to be a gift. One allows you to check in with your body and mind, addressing places of tension and pressure. The other is an invitation to sit with another person, getting to know how they tick, enjoying the opportunity to connect one-on-one with someone else. Often, I forget this. I feel guilty when I miss a yoga class, or I come to the mat, but don’t leave behind the to-do list minutiae of my day. Sometimes, I’m so nervous about a date that I forget to stop for a moment to taste the coffee, to recognize that we have both chosen to be here, to connect as people. When my mind is in the right place, I accept both my yoga and dating practices as a gift. I don’t need to do them perfectly, in fact, that’s not the point. My role is simply to show all the way up, to bring myself to the table and do my best to be present to whatever happens.
At the end of class, my teacher places her hands at heart center and bows. Namaste, she says. There are many translations for this Hindi word, a greeting that can be used when coming together as well as parting, but the one I repeat in my head as I bow in response to my teacher and the other members of my class is this: the light in me sees and honors the light in you. I carry this with me into my dating life, paying attention to the light sparkling behind my coffee date’s eyes, but I hope I carry it far beyond, into relationships of all kinds, and interactions with strangers, even, perhaps most challenging of all, into my relationship with myself.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook or at www.carastrickland.com.