Transformation Along the Wellness Path
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Rachel Hyman’s story of transformation
ESME’s Allison Gould sits down with yoga instructor, real-estate broker, and Solo Mom Rachel Hyman to talk about personal transformation and how yoga, coaching, community, and motherhood helped her through the most difficult time of her life.
Q: A few years ago, your life was changing in a pretty big way. You’ve described it as a transformative time. What was happening?
A: In 2012, I realized that it was time for me to get out of my marriage. I was doing some coaching, and it became pretty obvious that, in terms of the key parts of my life that I wasn’t satisfied with, the core of the issues pointed back to my marriage.
I knew the marriage wasn’t working, and I had to get out. We had worked on it for a long time. At that time, my daughter was about three. I had two dogs; two cats; a big house with nine acres of land, 30 apple trees in front, and a pool [requiring] lots of maintenance and upkeep; a rental property, and a husband, obviously.
I think we get these images in our head of what life should look like: the house, the kids, the pets. When I got married, I was at a point in my life where I was ready. I had had a big career, and I wanted a family and all that I imagined came with that. So I think I’d spent a lot of that time period setting up this picture that I’d had in my head, and because of that, I ignored a lot of signs that I shouldn’t have.
I found myself exhausted. There was nothing I could do to make the relationship or the situation better. As women, I think we often over-caretake, and I definitely took that role to the extreme. So, I had to get out, but once you set that stuff up, it’s hard to envision what’s on the other side—the unwinding of it and the mental, emotional, physical letting go of what you’ve created over the course of so many years.
Over the next few years, I sold both houses. Two of our pets had died, and one was placed in foster care. I was also in the midst of a career change. In 2013 I really began the divorce process—my husband and I separated in the beginning of that year. And the divorce was tough, even traumatic at times. I had to tear my life apart. Everything. I took my life down to the bone and had to rebuild it.
Q: It sounds like when you realized that this was a change that you had to make, you were very clear and you knew what you had to do. But for many women, there’s a lot of stigma that comes with a decision like this. There’s that sense of, Oh my God, what have I done? How am I going to get out of this? What are people going to think? Did you go through any of that?
A: For me, once I made up my mind, there was no going back. There was a very clear moment where I was like, That’s it, and that was it. I never went back. And probably from the day I got married, to be honest, there were signs that it wasn’t going to work, but I just ignored them. I believed for a long time that I could make it work, but there were some very clear things that happened that shifted it, and once I went to the other side, it was over. I wasn’t back and forth at all.
These are the very fabrics of your life, everything you grew up your whole life to create: your home, your money, your children, your marriage, your family—it’s everything that we are. It’s our definition of ourselves. So it’s hard to remake that. But I will say as somebody who’s on the other side, it’s worth it. If you’re not happy, if you’re not in a happy marriage, if you’re not supported or not in a relationship that works for you, you don’t have to be there. There is another side.
Ultimately, for me, it really came back to this: What do I want to model for my daughter? What kind of relationship do I want her to see? and What kind of choices do I want to make? Kids pick up on everything, and I didn’t want her to pick up on an unhappy, unfulfilling marriage.
So somewhere in there, there was inner work that I needed to do, that I’ve done and that I continue to do; but, for some reason, it was easier to make that shift doing it for her.
Q: You are a yoga teacher and have been practicing yoga since 2001. Did yoga help you make this transition?
A: If the reason I had to address my marriage and get out of it was modeling for my daughter, I can 100% say I’m a better person and a better mom for having undertaken that process and done it in a healthy way. And yoga’s a big, big part of that healthy process. It’s been a savior for me in a lot of ways.
I started taking yoga in 2001 in New York City. I did Jivamukti-style vinyasa yoga, which is a really active, flow-based form of yoga. So for me it was the physical process of connecting through movement, through the body, that really resonated and continues to.
Q: Connecting to what?
A: Connecting to your inner self, really moving energy. We all have issues that come up in life, and how we process and deal with them varies from one person to the next. You can drink, do drugs, or work out like a maniac. You can do all kinds of things that are completely self-destructive, and sometimes we don’t feel at all. But yoga for me has been a very effective way to manage stresses and challenges that come up in life in a healthy, productive, transformative way.
Teaching through some of the divorce process, it wasn’t even the yoga itself, it was the community that helped me the most. There were people who were there for me and supported me through it, and that’s the blessing. There’s a real kind of strength in having that kind of practice and that kind of community. I have distinct memories of someone coming in and saying something that helped keep me going. And I have some friends and relationships that came out of the yoga community that were there for me consistently in ways that really helped.
It’s hard to practice yoga without having some sense of self-inquiry and without having some insights into your life, and that’s the beauty and the power of it.
Q: During the toughest moments of this whole experience, did you find yourself working them out on the yoga mat, or coming to the yoga mat as refuge?
A: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think that yoga is a great way to relieve stress in the body. It’s almost like a requirement for me in my life. If I don’t practice yoga, I feel my body tightening up, and I don’t feel as good physically or emotionally. And I also find that yoga flows with the patterns of my life. You know, when I’m not dealing with stuff or if it gets too stressful, then suddenly I’m not showing up at the mat—there’s a correlation there. And when I’m healthy and things are working well and there’s a flow in my life, there is a consistency to my practice that’s really strong.
Q: So when it comes to raising your daughter, how do you think that the strength that you derive from your practice translates to parenting?
A: I have a regular, consistent yoga practice that keeps me physically healthy, emotionally healthier and happier, and that helps my parenting in spades. I think that’s one of the reasons I have a great relationship with my daughter and why parenting isn’t difficult. I’m in a good mood most of the time. I don’t feel this overbearing stress of life that I felt before.
There’s a mom going through teacher training right now, and we’ve talked about it. She says it’s changed her life in terms of the amount of patience she has with her kids. If yoga keeps me healthy and sane, keeps me clear, and keeps my emotions calm and under control, then I show up as a better parent 100% of the time.
My daughter’s at an age now where if I’m teaching a class, she can come, and she’s comfortable in the studio, and I like that. She’s included, and she likes the energy there. There are people who recognize her and have seen her grow up in the studio, and it’s really nice.
Q: What would you say to women who are fearful about making such a tremendous change?
A: The pressures of divorce and [the way they tear] your life apart are tremendous. When you’re in it, it’s terrible, and you can’t see out. But I’m happy to say that there is another side, and you’ll get there. Somebody told me after a yoga class one day, in terms of marriage and divorce: one day it just goes poof, like a dandelion; it goes poof, and it’s gone. And all the little seeds that you’ve planted will really grow, that new life will take place. That’s what happened to me: one day it was done.
One thing we say in yoga all the time is the more you run from your fears, the more they are going to chase you. So my advice to a woman who is afraid is address those fears, and take care of yourself.
If you want to be there for your kids, you have to be there for yourself. So do what you need to do to make yourself feel healthy and strong and feel good and happy and be loved, and everything else will flow from that. But you have to go there first.
Q: Yoga is definitely a powerful tool for transformation. How has your own experience helped you to support your students when it is clear that they are coming to yoga during a particularly challenging or intense time in their lives?
A: At Satya Yoga in Rhinebeck, New York, where I teach, everyone views the studio as “sacred space.” We hold movement classes, but what really draws people is the sense that there is something more than that. Each of us as teachers brings our lives, our experiences, our struggles and vulnerabilities to create a space for others to come and learn and grow and maybe even transform as they move through their unique human experience. And that’s what it’s about: holding that space and leading someone through a class where they can leave their life behind, focus on themselves, do something that really serves their highest self, and come away feeling better. And generally, it’s true—everything does feel better after a yoga class.
Q: Yoga isn’t for everyone. But for someone going through a time of personal transformation, do you think it’s important to find something—whether it’s yoga or running or another outlet—to help guide the process?
A: Yes. What’s the alternative? Drink? Do drugs? Suppress your emotions in some equally unhealthy way? Life is bound to deal up challenges to all of us; how we handle them is a choice each of us has to answer on our own. Yoga and meditation have tremendous health and wellness benefits, including reducing stress, which anyone who has ever practiced these disciplines intuitively understands. The scientific community is just beginning to wake up to this phenomenon. But don’t wait for the studies; just try it for yourself.
Allison Gould, ESME’s Caregiving Resource Guide, is a licensed clinical social worker. For many years, her work focused on adolescents and their families. She currently provides outpatient counseling services to people aged 65 and older, as well as to their caregivers, at the Center for Healthy Aging at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, New York.
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