Holding the Yoga Posture of Relationship

Kate Feldman MSW, LCSW

When I’m doing a yoga posture I focus on my breath, I deeply relax into the stretch of the moment, I track the micro-movements of my muscles, my nerve endings, and, if I’m really aware, I notice how my mind constantly flits away to some other reality. I can even sometimes translate this inner relaxation and awareness to parts of my daily life.

Learning yoga postures and pranayama (breathing exercises) was easy for me. I listened to my instructor, I studied the text, and I looked at photographs and watched some DVDs. Then I went home and got out my mat and started a practice. This healed my body, soothed my mind, and indeed, granted me a whole new experience of my life. I had found a spiritual path.

Then I got married. WOW. I thought doing yoga everyday had led me to self-mastery. Now I began to learn about what some people call “yoga off the mat”.

What is the Yoga of Relationship?
Many of the couples I work with complain, “If it were true love, why do we have to work so hard at this?” This is like saying, “Why do I have to work so hard at mastering asanas, or pranayama? Can’t I just sit down on my yoga mat every morning, and it will all just happen?”

What would occur 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.

The yoga of relationship is the practice of paying mindful attention to every step of the relational dance between two partners. Relationships ask us to live with awareness, 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 the yamas and niyamas, the ancient ethical prescriptions said to govern human growth and spiritual unfoldment.

What are the practices of the Yoga of Relationship?
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 out your own individual self-reflection and growth, and getting to a point where you can be a whole, separate person while being simultaneously 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.

Learn to hold the posture of conflict. Most couples fear conflict. They believe it is abnormal and should be over come. There is no relationship without conflict. Why? Because each partner is different and unique. We bring our complementary differences to one another, and at the beginning, we are so happy to share them. But after awhile, our differences rub each other the wrong way. This is supposed to happen. This is “yoga off the mat”. We are supposed to grow and transform through our partnership, we are supposed to have our rough edges polished. This is the miracle of an intimate partnership: the growth and the love! One of the most important practices of the Yoga of Relationship is the art of sitting in the fire of conflict, learning how to repair the hurt, make amends, apologize, forgive, and allow the conflict to draw you closer.

Another practice is to 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 creating rituals, celebrations, and traditions that you and your partner share together.

Spiritual Intimacy
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 spiritual intimacy, because it includes the experience of transcendence and oneness through the experience of deep authentic connection with your loved one.

I have seen over and over again, 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 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.

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