The Yoga of Relationships
Joel Feldman PCC and Kate Feldman MSW LCSW
Whether young, old, or at the mid-stage of life, loving relationships form the center stage around which our lives are played out. Ultimately, money, career, or achievements matter little compared to the love we able to invite into and unfold throughout our lives. We all yearn to have love in our life and enjoy the magic, pleasures, and growth of loving another person. And it’s not just in our minds: studies show that people in long term satisfying relationships have stronger immune systems, get sick less, and are better able to tackle life’s ups and downs.
Yet, the path to relational oneness seems strewn with land mines. The initial stages of love can be so effortless, overpowering, and magical, we cannot imagine it will ever come to an end. But no matter how deep and intense the love, all relationships—whether they are romantic, family, or friendship relations—sooner or later face the same reality. As the newness wanes and the free ride comes to an end, the day-to-day realities of co-existing together dawn. And this, inevitably, is where the real work begins.
We all feel that our relationship issues are unique, but in reality the challenges we face are remarkably similar. They tend to center around disagreements about money, kids, sex, housework, in-laws, or leisure time. Couples who stay together happily for the long haul don’t disagree about these issues any less than couples that split up. The difference is in how they handle their differences and how they use skills to build long-term happiness and satisfaction. Many couples avoid conflict because they are afraid it will cause divorce, but paradoxically, the number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict. Successful couples understand that conflict is natural and learn to build mutual trust, which enables them to work through disagreements.
Many of the couples we work with complain, “If it were true love, why do we have to work so hard at this?” This is kind of like saying, “Why do I have to work so hard at mastering asanas, or pranayama? Can’t I just sit on my yoga mat every morning?”
What would happen if we did not dedicate time, attention, and effort to our yoga practice? Nothing. Relationships are no different. In the same way as yoga requires knowledge and skills for the perfection of the practice, relationships require relational skills in order for them to grow and unfold over time.
Successful partnerships are those in which both people care as much about the world of the other as they do about their own. This means working with your own individual self-reflection and growth, and getting to a point where you can be a whole, separate person while simultaneously being deeply connected to those you love. It means learning and using relational skills which you intentionally build into your daily interactions: taking time to listen to, and learn about who your partner is; learning how to make agreements; learning how to set boundaries; learning how to use skillful language when you are speaking; and being able to identify your feelings and speak them out without losing your temper or perspective. And it means consciously caring for and cultivating your relationship, i.e. creating rituals, celebrations, and traditions that you and your partner share together. Attend to your relationship as if it were another being in your life, intentionally taking time to create pleasure, fun, and appreciation as well as clarify values, and vision the future.
Relationships ask us to live mindfully, to practice steadfastness, humility, truthfulness, contentment, and non-violence, i.e. to never hurt anyone in word or deed. If you are familiar with the philosophy of yoga, you will recognize these as very similar to the yamas and niyamas, the ancient ethical prescriptions said to govern human growth and spiritual unfoldment.
When we learn to treat others with relational skillfulness, we are practicing yoga. The ultimate goal of Yoga is union—union with the divine essence in ourselves and in the world around us. Like a wave in the great ocean of existence, human beings have the capacity to melt our sense of separateness and experience oneness with everything and everyone. This is the true essence of yoga. Learning to see the divine essence in another human being, even when our human reactions, idiosyncrasies, and differences are staring us hard in the face, is the practice of The Yoga Of Relationships. It will gift you with the deepest experience of loving: that of connecting with another person at the level of soul. We call this state spiritual intimacy, because it includes the experience of transcendence and oneness through the experience of deep authentic connection with your loved one.
We have seen over and over again that when two people want to love and be loved, and when they are willing to grow and change, something mighty emerges. Both individuals grow and become more of who they uniquely are. The partnership provides support, comfort, intimacy, teamwork and abundance. By developing the Yoga of Relationships, that is, approaching the challenges of our relationships as an invitation to personal and spiritual and personal growth and by developing the capacity to skillfully and consciously love each other and our children, we can end the age-old cycle of generational wounding and contribute our share to create greater harmony in our families, communities, nations, and our global family.
How To Nourish Your Relationship
Couples, who regularly nourish and “feed” their relationship as if it were a living being, create more aliveness and energy between them and find themselves more satisfied in their life together in the long term And all it takes is a little attention. Here are some specific suggestions for how to nourish your relationships, romantic or otherwise:
1. Quality time. Create regular, scheduled time for connection, dialogue, fun, intimacy, or even working through conflicts.
2. Intentional fun and pleasure. Find ways to create pleasure—from belly laughs to sex—and build them into your daily routine. Studies show that couples that have five times more pleasure than pain (or comfort vs. discomfort) in their everyday interactions feel deeply fulfilled by their relationship.
3. Appreciation, gratitude and acknowledgement – Find ways to express these to your partner daily. Look for the good stuff. It’s always there.
4. Rituals of attunement, giving and receiving – Find out what says, “I love you” to your partner and give it to them. Create acts of loving for at least one separation or reunion time during the day.
5. Shared sexual/sensual/romantic expression – Your relationship needs and wants physical & emotional intimacy. Discover mutually pleasurable ways of nourishing your senses, bodies and hearts. If this is difficult, find ways to ease into it beginning with dialogue. Get some help if you need it.
6. Celebration of life passages – Birthdays, anniversaries, life cycle changes are wonderful times to create “out of the box” celebrations for yourselves as a couple. Your relationship deserves to be acknowledged. Make up your own form of celebration or use tried and true formats from your culture and family traditions.
7. Values Clarification, Visioning and Goal Setting – Set aside time every year to step back and look at your life and relationship. Think about what you want, where you want to go, what’s important to you. Review where you’ve come. Set some future goals based on your shared vision. Write them down and post it so you can refer to it for inspiration and guidance.
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