I have always believed that the final frontier of yoga practice is to integrate all we have learnt into our relationships. I have spent many years practicing with wonderful teachers, they have a deep knowledge of yoga & meditation and share their experiences through teaching with love, compassion and wisdom. In many ways they are realised beings and their connection to breath and spiritual life runs very deep. Yet they struggle in relationship. They argue, communicate poorly and spend significant amounts of time in conflict with their partner. For all their wisdom and teaching, co existing with a life partner is very difficult. For some the biggest hurdles in spiritual life are those that are found in relationships.
Whether it is with parents, friends, siblings or partners relationships are often the blind spot of our practice. In order to grow in our practice and as a person it is essential we find a passage between our spiritual life and our relationality. All of our relationships are an invitation to look more deeply at ourselves, at our own desires and aversions. It can be easy at first to compartmentalise. It is tricky to see how we might integrate what we learn on the mat into our relationships. For some of us yoga itself becomes a tool for avoidance, a way we escape the discomfort we experience in our interpersonal relationships. Yoga & meditation practice can become about avoidance wherein we seek deeper and deeper states of bliss or absorption to escape the right HERE right NOW quality that our relationships sometimes can bring to our life.
We are all human and we generally long for connection, to share this wonderful adventure called life with someone. Yet we need to transform our expectations and understanding of relationships in order to flourish and allow our spiritual practice to spill off the mat and into our life.For some the task may be so daunting they keep themselves at a distance from everyone. This can be a protective mechanism if we arecusing spiritual practice to assist in the healing of past hurt. For others maintaining distance can become a convenient position to hold as it may protect us from future hurt. But as I have seen in my students, practice long enough, and that will all come crumbling down. We can’t deny our basic human need to connect indefinitely.
This doesn’t however mean we can’t be happy without a significant other in our lives. There are many relationships in which we can explore the depths of integration of our practice. Yet often, this inner light and freedom we have been cultivating through practice leaves us open and vulnerable to making a connection with another. Then we have the opportunity to practice yoga in the midst of a different type of partnership, one which might involve living together, sharing space, money and a family.For those of us in relationship we may see already how our practice is translating into our life. Hopefully our practice becomes a mirror to reveal our own patterns and habituated ways of being. Similarly, our primary relationship with our partner can also serve a similar purpose to our formal practice. Shining a light on the places we would rather not go, showing us parts of ourselves we would rather not see!
However for relationship to become our practice, trust must be established. Or if trust has been lost time and energy must be put into renewing this trust and commitment.We all know well the romance and attraction of falling in love. For some it is easy to get stuck at this point, unwilling or unable to allow the evolution of a relationship to move beyond this stage. But once the whirlwind of the romance is over we have the opportunity to get to know ourselves and this person we share our life with a bit better. For our relationship to become our practice we open to the fact that herein lies an opportunity for growth, nourishment and deep sharing beyond fleeting romance or lust.
Your partner does not need to be a ‘yogi’, or even interested in yoga for this to be possible. But to approach our relationships as our practice, first the ground work needs to be done, and we need to discuss the practicalities. This can include questions such as: What are the boundaries of your relationship? What does each person want from the other? How do you negotiate the daily tasks and duties that come with sharing a life together? What do you value in life? How do you want to spend your days? What is important? Are you both committed to working on this partnership?
Essentially having a life partner is work. It means working on yourself.
If both people are committed to doing this work, great growth can come from the relationship, it can allow our practice on and off the mat to flourish.Once this ground work is done (and continues to be done over time as life changes) there is space to then invest ourselves more deeply in our formal spiritual practice, knowing that off the mat we have someone to support us on this journey of self awakening. We don’t know what we might find on this journey. Certainly the person I am now is radically different to the person I was when I was 22. Also my partner is radically different now to all of those years ago. What has remained constant however, is the openness, the attitude of curiosity and the practice of bearing witness to the others awakening with love and compassion (well mostly!). We spend significantly less time together than ever before during this period of family life, yet the connection and commitment to each other’s path is stronger than it has ever been in the 16 years we have been together.
If your desire is to grow together, to respect and bear witness to each other’s process of change you have begun integrate your yoga into your life. So what does this mean or look like in practical terms? Well essentially it means giving the other person freedom and space to forge their own path and trusting enough in them enough to walk it together. Our sense of self expands to encompass the other, so their needs become our needs. We let go of being so ‘I’ centric and seeing the truth of this other person in front of us, we willingly take action for their benefit.
Sometimes this will look like sacrifice or compromise, however this is a practice, and hopefully it is a mutual practice which both you and your partner engage in. Obviously we need to be practical, and that is where the groundwork comes in and the continual revisiting of where you are both at and reorientating your life so the practicalities align with the potentialities you wish to explore.
In giving your beloved that space and freedom it is also essential to communicate what you want if you want something in particular. In the duality that we spend most our waking life in, if we are honest, we want certain things. Communicate what you want. It is not unyogic to ask someone to spend the evening talking with you, to make you a cup of tea or to help you with something. Spiritual practice doesn’t mean we become completely devoid of desire, it is human to have wants and ok within reason to ask those in your life to help meet those desires. But see them as what they are – fleeting desires which change over time. As you change and grow the way you might want your partner to demonstrate their care may change. Don’t try tie them down with a theory of what you think romantic love is or what marriage looks like. If you want something from the person you spend your life with ASK. They are not mind readers.
Realise that just as our relationship to our formal yoga or meditation practice changes over our lifetime, so too will our interpersonal relationships. They are not static. Be open to and embrace these changes. Allow your partner to grow and to change. Be ok with your friends and family changing. Let go of being in control, practice relating with awareness. Know that you have been given a wonderful opportunity to get to know yourself better.