Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
I lost my mind the other day. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. One second, I was me—and the next I was time-warped into my childhood. My perception of the present moment was confused by old emotions and past hurts. I all but blacked out, unable to remember things that were said. And then I went catatonic. I felt trapped in a prison of anxious thoughts, yet I was unable to put anything to words. And all of it seemed to happen in an instant.
The catalyst for this temporary insanity? A spat with my husband about household chores.
We laughed about it once we were brought back to the present moment. But in the moment of the fight, we were anywhere but in the moment. If we could have listened above the noise of the thoughts to the omnipresent hum of our hearts, maybe we could have seen how silly this whole thing was much earlier. If we could have met on the heart-level instead of the head-level, maybe we could have had that extra hour to do what most fights in relationships are really about: connection.
According to the cardinal yogic text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as citta vritti nirodhah, or quieting the movements of the mind. In other words: Get out of your head. What happens when we do that? We get into our hearts, where we are connected to everyone and everything all the time. Yogis work on differentiating between the mind and the heart every time we come to our mats.
But, can we get real for a minute? When it comes to miscommunications with our partners, quieting the mind is particularly challenging. Put a yogi in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) for three minutes and most won’t bat an eye. Yet even the most grounded people I know can find themselves turned inside out and upside down by a fight with their partner.
On the surface, a fight may look like a squabble about a specific issue, such as your partner being on his phone during dinner or you always forgetting to close the dresser drawers. Yet what most fights are really about when we strip them down to their core is a request for connection. We are asking one another to hear above the words, “Please, can you put your phone down when we’re together, or remember to close the drawers when you are rushing to work?” What we are asking is that our partners hear our hearts’ requests, which is really asking our partners to be more present and conscientious.
The thing is, most of us get so caught up in the fears and emotions around the surface hurt that it’s hard for us to make the connection request from the heart. So instead, we attack one another from our minds and egos.
This is where our yoga practice can help and any tiff—big or small—become an opportunity for growth. Disagreements with our partners push us out of our comfort zones and ask us to take responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions. They ask us to remove the walls we have fortified around hearts and stand vulnerably before someone, even when we are both upset. If we can learn to settle our thoughts and emotions, the ego is removed, and we tap into a special place that exists inside us all.
In this place, we are pure love. This is our true nature. This is our heart.
What I was reminded of during this most recent spat with my husband is that sometimes, we must lose our mind, to find our heart. I created this five-pose yoga sequence to help all of us reconnect to our hearts—and our partners—after a miscommunication.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Starting our sequence from this safe space gives the nervous system an opportunity to calm down. Unfortunately, our bodies do not differentiate between real danger (like running from a predator) or daily stressors (like a fight with our partner). A common response to stress of any kind is to contract toward a tuck position (fetal position) in an effort to protect the vital organs. Starting off in Child’s Pose after a fight is like meeting our nervous system where it’s at. Plus, because many of us take this shape often in practice as a moment to catch our breath, we are primed to feel safe and can relax.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Coming into Down Dog starts the slow unfurling of the body, as we open back up to our partners and the world. This posture is a forward bend, which gives it the essence of turning inward; by the nature of its shape, we are bowing our heads to our hearts. After an argument, it is nice to visualize our thoughts and fears releasing from the brain onto the mat. Down Dog also cultivates feelings of safety and support, as it is a home-base for many practitioners.
Wide-legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana C)
Now that we are grounded, we begin our journey of opening our hearts back up with this chest-expanding forward bend. As a standing pose, this shape helps ground us into our feet and legs and therefore, the present moment. Often during disagreements, our perception is hijacked into past traumas or future fears. Standing poses teach us to stand strong in the now. The forward bend aspect of this shape continues to calm the brain, and adding the heart-opener element via your hands clasped behind you is a mild step in opening the heart back up after a fight.
Humble Warrior (Virabhadrasana I, variation)
Practicing backbends within forward bends teaches us how to keep the heart open despite external forces. On a physical level, in this pose we are working against gravity; on a heart-level, we are working to stay open after being hurt. All of the Warrior series are strong standing poses, reinforcing our innate strength and power. The base of Humble Warrior is the same as Warrior I, and so it is also a great release for the back-leg psoas. Our psoas muscles play a big role in the stress response, as its job is to pull us into that protective fetal position. This standing pose not only opens up the hips, but also the heart with the added shoulder opener.
Fish Pose, variation (Matsyasana, variation)
Ending with a restorative pose is a great way to ensure that the nervous system is settled before re-approaching your beloved. Having worked hard in the previous poses to release the residual toxic energy from your argument, now is the time for you to simply receive. The blocks are a wonderful way to expand the chest passively, and the shape of the body is one of openness and acceptance. Laying quietly without having to do anything is also a relief for the brain from its constant churning, so that we can get clear on what is important: Recognizing the love we have for our partner, and the fact that nothing else really matters.
About the Author
Sarah Ezrin is a yoga teacher in San Francisco. Learn more at sarahezrinyoga.com.