Recently I was reminded how important friendships can be in our lives. Often times our friends become a family of our own choosing. Their triumphs and failures become ours, we laugh and we cry right alongside them. This connection seems even more pronounced when it comes to female relationships. A male friend of mine said to me recently that his friendships were deeper because they contained less drama. I of course disagreed on several levels. One being that male friendship is at its core a human relationship and all human interaction involves a form of drama. But more importantly I disagreed because of the beautiful, innate connection we women have with one another. Our connections are more intimate, more passionate and more soulful.
Female friendship can lower our stress levels, help produce the ‘happy’ hormone oxytocin and reduce our risk of health issues such as being overweight or becoming a smoker, according to a study conducted by the UCLA School of Medicine. Our girlfriends can also raise our self-esteem, according to a study conducted by Dove, 70% of women felt prettier because of their relationships with women. And the most convincing evidence that female friendships increase our quality of life is how we feel during and after a female bonding experience. Whether its a gab fest, a shoulder to cry on, a night on the town, a sounding board or a venting vessel, the elation we feel is not imagined. After a visit with a friend we feel like we have done something good for ourselves.
Taking a yoga class with a friend can also be a special experience. I have one friend who I probably wouldn’t see more than a few times a year if it weren’t for a weekly or bi-weekly yoga class. We get the chance to catch up before and after class and giggle silently at one another during the difficult poses and smile knowingly after in a similar bliss-ed out state. It’s helped to cement our friendship and at the same time further our own individual practices. Because as Pema Chodron states the ultimate goal should be to cultivate an unconditional friendship with ourselves.
Friendship and its cultivation should be a central part of anyone’s practice. But like many things in life, its quality not quantity. Positive friendships are the ones that will nourish your soul, the negative ones will steal your light and deplete your energy. In the Mitta Sutta, Buddha tell his monks to seek friends with seven qualities. “He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”
Over the years I have come to look at yoga as a female friend. In the words of yoga instructor Cora Wen, “Yoga is like a friend–and you want to keep friends for a long time. Sometimes you might get mad at your friend and not talk to her for a while. But if you’re good friends, you will usually come around. That’s how it is with yoga, you might drift away for a while, but yogis almost always come back.” This quote mirrors many of my close relationships, including my relationship with yoga. I feel guilty for neglecting her, avoid her at times and yet she always welcomes me back with no judgment, picking up where we left off.