Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Exploring Relationships - Interpersonal Yoga (Page 1)
Relationships can be one of the greatest sources of tension in your life. Yoga, which explores and releases physical and mental tightness, can be both a powerful tool and a useful framework when its principles are applied to relationships. One may wonder what relevance yoga (which is generally thought of as a self-absorbing inner search) could possibly have for intimate relationships. Yoga focuses on exploring conditioning patterns in the mind and body. Interpersonal relationships are systems just as the mind/body unit is a system. Even for those who are not involved in yoga, this analogy provides a new perspective that offers valuable insights on such basic issues as freedom, control, dependency, communication, conflict, and the very nature of relationship itself.
For years I had been pursuing what seemed to be two separate interests: psychology and spirituality. Through psychology I was hoping to find an approach to the problems of intimate relationships that could be used on one's own, without resorting to therapy or outside authorities. At the same time, wanting answers to such questions as the meaning of life, the nature of the universe, and my place in it, led me to an interest in spirituality and Eastern thought. All the while, I was looking for a common thread, a way of bringing these two realms together.
Searching for a synthesis, I was introduced to a unique approach to yoga that integrates the concerns of daily life with the spiritual dimension. As I began to practice this combination of physical (Hatha) and mental (Jnana) yoga, I found that there was actually no way for the emotional and relational aspects of daily life not to affect and be affected by doing yoga. By applying this internal yogic exploration to my interactions, a way of approaching interpersonal issues evolved that offers tools for dealing with problems without having to go outside the relationship for help. Relationships can get so clouded by confusion, lack of communication, resentment and mistrust that people, feeling overwhelmed and helpless, assume they have no alternative but to seek outside help. External aid and information can be very useful and sometimes even necessary; however, whether you are using outside aid to help solve the problems yourself, or relying upon it to solve them for you, makes a world of difference, for one builds strength while the other fosters dependency.
At a certain point in the maturation process, it is necessary to become the final authority concerning the movement of your life. Even conflicts that you feel hopelessly stuck in can be dealt with independently if they are looked upon as challenges to grow from. If you have a way of approaching the binds in your relationships as they come up, instead of seeking help mainly during crises, this will allow you to handle future problems as well as current ones more quickly and easily. You may actually be able to prevent crises from developing. A real freedom and relaxation come when you know you can count on yourself to clarify and deal with your own problems. Doing this develops the confidence necessary to bring to the surface underlying relational conflicts that you were resigned to. Even little on-going tensions affect the whole quality of your daily life. Turning your problem's into opportunities for learning and growth makes you stronger, for the more you rely on your own resources, the more you develop them.
Although much of yoga traditionally does involve reliance on outside authorities, the approach that I am describing does not. It teaches you instead how to use the limits of your mind and body to transform yourself. The problems stemming from subjectivity that make people look for objective help (or at least an impartial referee) can never be totally eliminated. What follows is rather a way of starting from where you are and using your problems (anger, jealousy, confusion, or whatever) as your teachers, to reveal the binds at their source. This can not only eventually resolve many seemingly inherent conflicts, but the process itself, as in yoga, transforms and deepens your relationships.
Yoga and Relationship
This combination of Hatha and Jnana Yoga is concerned with discovering how the body and mind function and what it is to be a human being. Here yoga is viewed as an exploration that moves you beyond the habits (networks of conditioning) of mind and body which define your mental and physical limits. The very act of exploring opens you and puts you in touch with yourself as a living process. Finding out the nature of your binds can be a way of opening and releasing them. Opening up physically opens you mentally and vice versa, for how you feel influences your thoughts and how you think affects how you feel. Also, the more you open internally, the more you can potentially open emotionally and in relationships.
An individual is an interrelational energy system in which each part of the body itself is a system in relation to the other parts. The person as a whole is a system in relation to his or her environment. Each part of the body has its own intelligence that can be tuned into and learned from.
One aspect of the exploration involves becoming sensitive to your own feedback the relationship between your internal processes and states, and reactions to externals such as diet, environment, and people. Tension, pain and illness can be looked upon as messages indicating blockage in the flow of energy and communication between systems. By using yoga postures as highly refined tools, you can learn how to open up these closed areas. This approach to yoga can transform your attitude toward so-called problems; instead of being your enemies, they become your teachers. Mental yoga sharpens the mind's awareness of its own nature. Normally we take thought's contents and movements for granted. Paying attention to how thought works allows one to see how the mind affects emotions.
Mental yoga is concerned with seeing the whole context of a process or issue, instead of seeing from the point of view of the individual. Viewing a situation with oneself as part of the total picture, rather than the center of it, opens the possibility for objectivity, even in seemingly subjective realms. Since many interpersonal conflicts come from not seeing the total picture, which includes the other's point of view, this objective viewpoint is often enough to break through the binds.
There are many aspects of life and conditioning that tighten you, but nothing can put you "up tight" quite like relationships. This tensing affects your life, your yoga, you from the way you think to the way you move and react. In a very basic way, who you are cannot be separated from your relationships; so awareness of how they affect you physically and emotionally on a day-to-day basis is vital.
If you begin to look for connections, you will see how enormously yoga and relationships affect each other. Discovering how and why you tighten yourself is at least equally as important as trying to loosen up. For instance, if your mate feels threatened by your yoga because it's changing you too much, he or she may express fear or resentment in a variety of ways, including subtly pressuring you to do less. This conflict can't help but affect your yoga: the amount and quality of your practice, the tightness you bring to it, where your attention is while doing it. By making you more sensitive, yoga can also affect how you move in the world. You may find your food preferences change and it could be more difficult to tolerate smoke and air pollution. Since friendships involve sharing common pleasures and interests, friends may urge you to join in familiar pastimes that may no longer seem right for you. To whatever extent you get into yoga, it can potentially rearrange your life habits. As you loosen physically, you may also open up more with others, adding depth and richness to your relationships.