Yoga means union. Yoga philosophy tells us that when male and female polarities come into balance, we merge into oneness. In that oneness, we experience divinity. We experience a sense of wholeness, peace and contentment far beyond the confines of the thinking mind. We expand beyond the small, conflicted self and recognize the complete Self that is our true nature. All separateness dissolves. In that experience our divinity is revealed.
That same experience is reflected in the worldly experience of love. As we become united in love, we experience a sense of dissolving. The boundaries within which we normally live fall away and we experience an expanded connection; not only with our partner, but with all of life. Through opening ourselves to the other, we become one.
Most of us have experienced union in love. But many of us do not know how to return to that experience independent of another person. This is why many of us become dependent on the people in our lives—to create the experience of love for ourselves. We become attached, fearful or insecure because it appears that the other person holds the keys to our happiness. What we fail to recognize is that love is not present because of how or even who the other person is, but rather it is because of who we are in the presence of the other.
When we understand that love is an internal experience based on our ability to be unconditional with life, we can create that experience of love, union, anywhere, at any time. Then relationship becomes a place where we can practice yoga—the art of experiencing our wholeness—integration, in the midst of all life circumstances.
We Hold the Key to Our Own Heart
Our partner, children, parents or colleagues have certain things that they do or say. At times, the way in which they behave is an annoyance annoys us. And sometimes, we find the very same thing sweet and endearing. What is the difference? We are. The other is no different, but the way we are interacting with them is different. In one situation, we have no need for the other to be different than they are. We are not resisting how they are or expecting that they be different. There is no resistance, our heart is open. It is unconditional.
On yet another day, the very same words or actions will irritate us. Because we are resisting how they are, or expecting them to be different, our heart is closed to them. As a result, we are separated from the experience of love we so desire. It is not how the other is behaving that is causing this disconnect, but rather, that we have chosen to close our hearts.
This is the essence of practicing yoga in relationships. Most of us try to keep our heart open by managing others in such a way that our hearts will not be forced to close—to shut out the other. We do this by getting the other person to behave in such a way that they will always do what we like, say what we want to hear, and never hurt our feelings. Even though we know that this is not really possible, we secretly try to “train” our loved ones in this way. When they don’t behave the way we like, we employ our “training methods” to let them know we are displeased. But we cannot control the uncontrollable. Our partners, children and colleagues are just as changeable as we are. We cannot control them any more than we can control the weather.
Yoga is about recognizing that love is less about what the other person does, and more about our capacity to stay open to them. The more we can develop our capacity to keep our heart open to the totality of the other person, the more love we will experience in our lives. Yoga in relationships is an empowering practice. It enables us to take back the power that we often unwittingly give to our loved ones. But in order to practice, it is important to understand a few basic points.
Skillful Yoga in Relationship
Many people think that the practice of unconditional love means they cannot make requests, or ask the other person to make changes. They feel that a “spiritual” relationship is one in which they cannot set boundaries or even end a non-functional, unhealthy relationship. Instead, they suppress their own needs and desires and end up tolerating a relationship that should have ended long before.
Practicing unconditional love begins with you. It means accepting who you are and what your needs are—with the recognition that these play into the equation as much as the needs of your loved one. Can you accept that these needs are true for you? Now look at your partner or family member—what is valid for that person? Begin with ALL of this in the picture.
Ask for what you need but let go of your expectations or conditions of how the other person will respond. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, “you have the right to action, not the results of action”. Take the steps you need to take, say what you need to say. But release any expectation of how your loved one will respond—that which you cannot control.
What you can control is the skill and timing with which your communication and requests are delivered. This is where sensitivity to the other and your ability to ask for what you need in a non-judgmental way will play an important role.
Recognize that you can establish clear boundaries. As a parent, you may not have control over how your children ultimately behave, but that does not mean that there will be no consequences for those behaviors. When taking such steps, make sure that the consequences are not coming from your personal conditions. You are simply making an appropriate response to actions that do not work within the context and responsibilities of the relationship.
The action you are taking is simply the outcome of the behavior that created it. You are not adding anything to it with your judgment, reaction or story about it. That is what will close your heart. It is also what will tend to close the heart of your loved one.
With this practice, you will find that your lack of attachment to a certain outcome will often yield a more open and positive response than you ever hoped for. But do not count on it. As a yoga practice, your job is to be relaxed with whatever comes as a result of your actions and words.
How do I know when the relationship no longer serves me?
When we stop trying to prod a relationship into submission, stop struggling with how it is versus how we hope it to be, we start to see it for what it is. With this clarity and insight, we can begin to weigh its strengths and weaknesses. In an intimate relationship, we’ll be able to ask, “Does this relationship serve me?” “Is it the best environment in which to practice unconditional love?” “Or is the reality of this relationship that I simply cannot keep my heart open under these circumstances?”
On the yoga mat, we practice at the edge. The edge is the place where the pose is intense enough that we have to use all our awareness to stay relaxed and open in the pose. Similarly, we want to be practicing at our edge in relationship. We want to be challenged to stay relaxed and open, but we don’t want to consistently find ourselves in such an intense “pose” that we are simply going into survival mode--tolerating it until it is over.
Consistently working beyond our edge robs us of the transformational potential in a relationship. We end up practicing survival rather than expanding our capacity to love. That is why it is important to be able to practice within a structure that is do-able. If we are in a relationship where we are more often than not beyond our edge, adjustments to reduce the intensity may be in order. Becoming aware of and experimenting with the timing and circumstances that trigger intensity are helpful. In some relationships, adjustments will be easily made. In others, fewer options will be available.
Some people find that even after working on themselves and making the adjustments that can realistically be made within the relationship, they are still over their edge most of the time. That is when it may be more helpful to change the form of that relationship. This is not a failure. Rather, it is an opportunity to create a life structure that benefits not only our worldly life, but our inner life.
Relationship is a powerful forum within which to practice unconditional love. That is the purpose for which it was created. In its ultimate form, it serves the same purpose as yoga—recognition of the essential and infinite love that is always present if we choose to experience it.
Published in Creations Magazine
By Kamini Desai