Yoga as a practice is a way to strengthen, stretch, balance and relax in our bodies. But there are many benefits of a yoga practice that can apply off the mat as well. One of the areas where yoga can be helpful is in relationships. Not just the romantic kind, but all relationships: those we have at work, with friends, with family and of course, with our romantic partners. What are some of these lessons and how do you relate each to yoga?
Build a strong foundation. Every yoga pose starts with the foundation. If the foundation is unsteady, the whole pose falls apart. “Foundation” also refers to what is at the floor, so it speaks to things like “feet” in standing postures and the chest, or the shoulders, perhaps, in a pose on the floor.
In relationships, the foundation needs to be strong in order for it to withstand changes in career, finances, age and health. Without a strong foundation, these things can knock things off center and the relationship made fade.
Listen to your intuition. Yoga practice is a blend of information and intuition. We receive information as presented to us by the teacher but it needs to be balanced with the information our body is giving us. Many times, people ignore feedback from the body because they assume the teacher is right. In practice, you must always listen to your body for messaging around when to back off and when to push, how to modify and how to amplify so the pose works for you.
In relationships, we can also ignore messages our body is sending us because of many things: fear, doubt or insecurity. Once you start listening to your body, both on and off the mat and taking action, your intuition will start to grow and you will develop a trust in yourself that will build your confidence as well.
When things get challenging, breathe more. For people new to yoga, the tendency can often be to push through a pose where you’re feeling challenged. In fact, the best way to handle challenge in a pose is to breathe more. It will feel different than in other physical activities, where one is rewarded for pushing through pain but it is absolutely a more sustainable, healthy technique to use.
In relationships, certainly ones of a romantic nature, sometimes our buttons are pushed and there are situations that lead to anger and hurt feelings. Rather than react, take a few deep breaths. You’ll hear the other person more clearly and most of all, will be able to listen to your own body for the messages it is sending you.
Balance comes from both strength and surrender. In all yoga poses, there are elements of both strength and surrender. If we didn’t approach the poses this way and did them with total emphasis on one versus the other, we’d either fall asleep or quickly become exhausted. While you’re in a pose, find the parts of the body you can relax and put your energy into the parts that have to work. This will allow you to preserve your energy so you can practice with more ease.
In your relationships, this can express itself as knowing when to give up being “right” and instead look for a solution. When we push to be right, we can often not hear what the other person is saying, can create frustration for both parties and communication can break down.
Practice makes practice. It’s tempting to approach yoga poses with a “perfection” attitude (“Practice makes Perfect”) but the reality is there is no such thing as a perfect pose. Instead, learn to appreciate the process of practicing yoga and notice the fluctuations from session to session, which can sometimes involve feeling strong and connected, but sometimes might involve feeling tired and stressed. Appreciating these differences and noticing how things appear from day to day gives us a sense of the “change-ability” of life.
The same holds for relationships. If we are hoping for a perfect relationship, it’s a losing game. We will hold our friend or loved one up to a standard that they will never meet and set such high expectations, it’s sure to fail. Instead, look to relationships as changing entities as well. Some days, when things are tough, use the “This too shall pass,” motto as well as deep breathing to help pass the time until the storm passes.
Lead with your heart. Just as a yoga practice depends on listening to our intuition, it also encourages us to lead with our heart. The idea of lifting “halfway up,” or Upward Dog Pose, for instance, are heart-openers. These actions helps us protect our neck, opens up the upper and middle back and connects us to our emotions.
In relationships, while your personal preference may be to lead with your head, be sure to have a balance. Intellectualizing only, in relationships just as in practice, removes creativity, flow, personal expression and love and is a sure way to stifle effective communication.
Embrace your uniqueness. In yoga, it’s tempting to try to mimic those around you or to practice with an idea in your head as to how the pose should look. Once you can free yourself from that kind of thinking, your practice will take off!
In relationships, it’s tempting to be jealous of the other person when they succeed or to try emulate those we admire. Instead, think of what you bring to the relationship and acknowledge yourself for those characteristics. Any relationship is an expression of two people both as individuals and together; not “against” but “with.”