Zach and I are celebrating 12 years of marriage this month.
In many ways, we’re an unlikely match. I’m an extrovert, while he’s an expert at finding the quietest room at a big party. He’s got an innate sense of direction, whereas I famously got lost trying to navigate my way home from high school. He’s practical and efficient and knows how to keep to a schedule, whereas I get excited by big ideas and have more flexible boundaries (read: I’m often late).
Our differences are many, but we share a love of music and the arts, we laugh together freely and often, and we’re both fiercely competitive by nature and always up for a game of any kind.
The first few years we were together, I only wanted to see our similarities. Being so in love and so new to each other, I wanted to believe we could be the same person. But as we lived together day after day, our differences became more apparent. And it worried me.
Early in our marriage we had lots of arguments over small silly things like losing in a mixed doubles tennis match against friends. After endless analysis over each point, the two of us lobbing blame back and forth in an effort to decide which one of us was the cause of the blown lead, our unrelenting stubbornness turned something inconsequential into a day of silence.
As I stomped around and pouted in our wordless apartment, I wondered how two people could live in harmony for an extended period of time without compromising their individuality. I was unsure how to fit my big personality and his big personality in the same home without explosive results.
After following the same argumentative pattern over and over again during the first year of our marriage, we eventually decided to try a different approach. When we argued – once the initial anger subsided – we began to dissect the disagreement and each of our perspectives on it. Gradually we came to better understand our different ways of looking at the world, processing information, communicating.
We’d talk through an argument wherever it happened, even if we were with friends. They’d laugh uncomfortably and tell us to lighten up, to brush off what seemed to them a small deal. But we knew better. It wasn’t just about losing a tennis match. That time spent talking through our communication breakdowns was a process of refinement, both of ourselves as individuals and as a marital unit.
At the beginning, we were more wedded to our individualism than to each other. We clung to personality quirks as if our self-identities depended on it. But over the past 12 years, I’ve come to think of marriage as a dulling of our individual sharp edges – in the best possible way – so that our unique personalities don’t snag the fabric of our union. Now rather than clinging exclusively to my unique personality traits, I love observing in myself things that are very ‘Zach-like’ because they reveal the ways that we have allowed ourselves to bleed together, to balance.
Just as in relationships, the balance of opposites is constantly at play on the yoga mat. When I first started practicing yoga 16 years ago, I was very flexible from my years as a dancer. It was exciting to be ‘good’ at yoga, to be able to touch my feet to my head in a backbend, to be able to twist myself into any crazy position my teacher suggested.
What I didn’t realize was that my strengths on the mat were simultaneously masking and amplifying my weaknesses.
When I exploited my flexibility to get into a deep backbend and ended up getting hurt, I felt betrayed. I didn’t understand why I shouldn’t just go towards my natural inclinations, I was shocked that it could be harmful to do what came happily and easily.
Sharp edges still intact, I continued practicing yoga like this for the first year or so until I happened into a class where a teacher suggested engaging the quads in triangle pose, and I realized I had no idea how to access those muscles! Yoga had come so easily for me when I was pushing towards my natural bias of flexibility, so the challenge of working towards something I couldn’t do piqued my interest.
I was enticed to consider that perhaps there was more to the practice than I’d initially thought, even though it was slightly scary because it completely threatened my self-identity as a ‘good’ yogi. But I dug deeper, tried and tried to lift my quads, and investigated the shadowy areas of my practice.
Over the next few years, I pulled back from my bias of flexibility and emphasized building strength and stability on my mat instead. I worked through shakiness to hold Warrior II longer. In Side Angle I disciplined myself to balance shoulder hyper-mobility by building strength and stability in the shoulder girdle. I realized that by working towards something that didn’t initially come naturally or easily, I could become a more balanced and humble yoga practitioner.
My yoga practice better equipped me to apply these principles in my marriage. I’d already experienced the benefits of dulling my edges on the mat, of refusing to let my strengths continually get stronger and my weaknesses linger. So it was that much easier to accept the ache of evolution in my relationship with my husband.
Sometimes, despite an innate desire to have your own views reflected back, despite an intense need for consensus and agreement, it’s important to have your worldview challenged. I can always count on Zach for that, and though I tease him for it, it’s one of the things I love most about him. Yoga practice also provides continual opportunities to explore that which is difficult, to question your motives and self-identity, and to improve areas of weakness. When approached this way, yoga is less about being able to touch your feet to your head than it is about seeking a union of opposites. And like the union of marriage, yoga’s greatest potential is in the dulling of sharp edges in pursuit of harmony and balance.