When people find out I practice yoga, they often ask, “Does your wife do yoga, too?” In fact, that’s usually the first question. (They also often ask me, “Is your wife a writer?” as though they somehow expect me to be married to an exact duplicate of myself, which, admittedly, is a tempting prospect.) But no, I’m legally married to a separate, autonomous human being who has her own profession, her own tastes, and her own ideas about spirituality.
To answer: My wife doesn’t practice yoga. She once did. In fact, she got me into the practice about eight years ago. I’d fallen into a period of despair and self-hatred after The New York Times, in a review of one of my books, referred to me as “doughy.” Our neighborhood 24 Hour Fitness, where we had a membership, offered yoga classes. My wife thought a little yoga might be the key to help me get over myself.
We took an easy beginner’s class and both felt great afterward. From there, our practices evolved together. We went once a week, then twice a week. When we later moved to Los Angeles to chase career rainbows, we both started going to classes with the same teacher at the same neighborhood studio. Yoga started taking over my life, as it can do. Around the same time, money got tight. We couldn’t both afford to take classes anymore. I was more into it than Regina was, so she dropped away. Once in a while she went to a restorative class, but eventually she stopped altogether. “Yoga is your thing,” she started saying.
Five years later, she’s still saying that. Though I’m constantly inviting her, I get her to class maybe once a year. Yoga remains my property. It’s a shame that won’t come; though she’s far from a mess, she could, like everyone, benefit from a little yoga. She feels stressed out and sad sometimes, and her neck muscles get tight. But something holds her back and keeps her off the mat.
But here lies the relationship lesson. You can’t force your partner to do something that doesn’t interest them, that they’re not ready for, or that, for one inscrutable reason or another, just isn’t their thing at the moment. Lay it on too thick, and you’ll inevitably get blowback. No matter your legal relationship status, you need to give your loved ones space to find and develop their own path, even if you see them making obvious mistakes, even if you don’t understand exactly what they’re doing or what they’re feeling, even if they leave a waist-high pile of clean clothes on their side of bed for weeks or months at a time and won’t put those clothes away no matter how much you nag them. As the swamis say, you must view all things, including obdurate sloppiness, with acceptance and non-judgment.
Yoga helps in so many ways, but it’s certainly not the only path to human health and happiness. My wife could never do another Downward Dog again and might very well outlive me. But the day she says she’s ready, if that ever comes, I’ll be there practicing with her. Eight years ago, she gave me a wonderful gift by introducing me to yoga, which has given my life ballast, depth, and meaning. It’s a favor that I’d love to return. Someday, maybe, it can be her thing again.