Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Exploring Relationships - Interpersonal Yoga (Page 2)


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Even though yoga and relationships are so intimately connected, there is no formal yoga of relationship in tradition. In fact, much of yoga involved withdrawing from the world and its distracting concerns. This withdrawal, which is not an inherent part of yoga, had philosophical as well as practical roots that were both linked to a specific cultural context. In Indian thought, the material world of daily life and the spiritual world were separate realms. Although, ideally, every aspect of life was infused with the spirituality from art and music to the caste system and daily activities the spiritual dimension was valued far more, and everyday reality was considered only a shadow existence (maya or illusion). The major focus was on transcending the self, achieving "ego loss" through merging into Oneness. Another reason for withdrawal from the world was entirely pragmatic: except for the wealthy, people had to choose between family life and spirituality because having a mate and children meant not having the economic ability or time to pursue spiritual discipline. The tradition of renunciation, celibacy, and withdrawal (sannyasa) was for most people the only way to devote themselves to spirituality. It was commonly held that householders should reserve the most intense spiritual focus for their later years when, having fulfilled familial and work responsibilities, they could remove themselves from relationships.

Moral codes and formalized rules for human interaction reduced the need for alertness to the ever-changing complexities of relationships and thus served as a means for removing attention from the worldly plane. The rigidly structured Indian society, with castes and arranged marriages, did not encourage exploring relationships in a dynamic way since this could have undermined beliefs and customs and threatened institutions.

Following rules is mechanical and therefore appropriate only if the nature of the activity is also mechanical. In any creative endeavor, rules are at best a guidepost and at worst a cage. The expression of creativity must be permitted for there to be growth and maturation in relationships. Blindly following externally imposed codes, or trying to live up to ideals, is very different from using relationships to learn about yourself and others. Forcing yourself into an ideal posture is, likewise, different from using the posture as a tool or guide to discover your limits and follow your energy. The one emphasizes conforming to an external model, while in the other, it is the internal sensitivity that aligns and moves the body. Interpersonally, sensitivity is also necessary to move relationships in a way that involves mutual care.

It is no accident that a unique synthesis between ordinary life and the spiritual is now possible in the West. Because of our technological advances and comparatively flexible social structures, people can live and work in the world, have children, and pursue growth-oriented activities at the same time. A true blending of spiritual and secular can more easily occur in a culture where people are able to blend them in their daily lives.

Relationships as Systems
Just as a person is a system with boundaries dividing the "me" from the "not-me," so, too, a relationship is a system. When two or more entities unite, a system is formed whose essence is different from that of the parts (whether it be a molecule, a solar system, an organization, or a couple). When hydrogen and oxygen unite, they form a liquid, not a gas.

A relationship is a more complex organization of "matter/energy" with its own patterns or laws, which are different from those of its components. The whole system influences the boundaries and movements of all its parts. Since the laws of the molecule permeate and affect its individual atoms, this partially determines how they move. Once they form water, hydrogen and oxygen atoms no longer move as totally separate entities. This also happens to each member of a couple.

The couple, which can be one of the deepest and most powerful human bonds, might be compared to a water molecule. When you open up deeply to another, incorporating him or her into your identity, your very personality is transformed. Your identities become so interwoven and interdependent that you are literally no longer the same person. The couple itself becomes a system, a whole,having patterns of its own. The patterns of a relational unit influence the individuals in a not dissimilar way to how the molecule affects its atoms. No one touches us so deeply is those we are "bonded" with, such as mates, parents, children, and close friends. Considering the tremendous explosive power there is in the interrelationship between atoms, it's not surprising that intimate personal relationships can produce such intensities as love, anger and jealousy.

People want to stay in control of their lives and protect their boundaries. Every unit, whether a person, a cell or a government, has a cohesive force that preserves its identity and structure. This tendency contains within it resistance to change. Although boundaries often have negative connotations they are essential to the life process. A system is defined by its boundaries,which protect its internal integrity yet not in an absolute way, since all boundaries fluctuate as the organism interacts with the external world. When the outside is let in, whether emotionally or physically (eating, for example), assimilation is always necessary for the process to continue. Boundaries can easily become overly rigid, however, isolating a person from the flow of life (or the system from its environment) to a degree that can become destructive to the individual himself.

Relationships, like other organisms and systems, protect and perpetuate themselves as units. When individuals unite to form a relationship, they partially open their boundaries to each other and intertwine, while still keeping aspects of their internal integrity. Then the relationship as a system forms new boundaries which define it. Relationships, like individuals, can only assimilate a certain amount of change at any given moment, so sometimes withdrawal is necessary to allow a new integration. Boundaries are permeable, and may be flexible or rigid to varying degrees. No entity, including a relationship, is totally closed or self-sufficient, nor is any system completely open at every instant, since both separating from and interacting with the external are necessary for life. A paradox of life is that one is fundamentally alone, yet one cannot exist outside of relationship.

Like boundaries, "structure" is often seen as a limiting factor. A relationship is, of course, a structure, which does limit you in certain ways. But at the same time it can produce a shared focus that amplifies the energy and power of the individuals involved in a unique way. This can intensify growth, create new possibilities, and produce greater effectiveness: people with mutual needs and interests form organizations and groups to accomplish their goals and increase their power. On the other hand, the structure of a relationship could also cage and dull you, for if the parts are in conflict with each other, there can be great tension and wastage of time and energy.

Interaction is the source of change, while resistance to change is fundamental to continuity. Continuity and change are the two faces of life. Just as interaction between entities changes them, the fact of being an entity at all involves maintaining a thread of sameness. Resistance to change is related to the universal tendency for things to move in patterns and to have continuity, from planets revolving to water running in a path downhill. A relationship also has continuity; as it matures, roles evolve, which are an intricate network of habits, expectations and ways to be. Any unit - a business, a team, a family - develops patterns and roles for efficiency and convenience. These patterns can help smooth the flow of the relationship and make it more productive.

A certain degree of predictability is needed for smooth functioning, but it is also the stuff of boredom and atrophy. This, of course, is the danger of habits. Although some continuity is necessary as a foundation for assimilation, too much security can dull you by stifling change. Newness is essential to kindle interest in life, which is the source of growth. When you're young, everything is fresh and there's a whole world to explore. As you grow older, set patterns emerge, regardless of whether you live alone or with others, and it can become harder for newness to enter your life. Since habits and specialization increase with age, it becomes important for adults to find creative ways of allowing novelty and adventure to enter the fabric of their lives. Sometimes a willingness to risk altering some of the basic frameworks is necessary.

A couple relationship can be like a cage that limits you, if it closes you to the outside world. But it could instead be open like a river, which by its nature allows newness to enter and flow through it. A river has a defined form or pattern, yet what's contained within its form is constantly changing. The couple framework can be like a channel which not only allows but also intensifies growth. Couples often miss the qualities of passion and discovery which they had at the beginning. Many people search for the uniquely vibrant glow of new romance by going from person to person. This, however, limits depth, for a relationship only develops, and reveals its potential and creativity, as people get to know each other through time. Mature relationships can have a unique intimacy, depth and strength that makes them as different from young ones as trees are from scorns. The couple, which displays many of the problems inherent in relationships generally, will be used in most of the following examples.

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