Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Exploring Relationships - Interpersonal Yoga (Page 3)
Relationship as Exploration
If you approach your relationships, and the problems within them, as a field for self-exploration, the uniquely concrete feedback derived from the experience can teach you about yourself and the relationship in ways that introspection cannot. The mind has more of an opportunity to delude itself when alone, for there is nothing to challenge its possible errors and misconceptions. Just think how much more readily you see what you consider to be other people's mistakes and shortcomings than your own. Part of thought's sly nature is to feed itself what it wants to hear, reinforcing unaware self-interest in surprising and sneaky ways. This is the source of blind spots, which are all too obvious to everyone else. Relationships keep you on your toes: whatever you put out comes back at you in one form or another. However, while others' reactions can always serve as a mirror, how clear or cloudy the reflection is depends on how much the person is projecting his own images onto you.
An increasingly popular idea these days is that in a perfect relationship, people wouldn't limit each other or be dependent. This is part of a general reaction against limitations in the name of freedom. As a relationship permeates and changes you, it moves you out of your autonomous control, similar to the way a molecule influences its atoms. This is why many people resist deep involvements, preferring to stay in control of their time, emotions and living space. How the other person feels and what he or she wants affects you, and this makes you vulnerable. The notion that a mature person would not be influenced by another's emotional state is unrealistic. If someone you deeply care for, your child for example, is very upset, it affects you.
The nature of relationship involves interdependence as well as a need for independence. Each person has his or her own movement in life; sometimes the two flow together and other times conflict arises which necessitates "working out" with each other to see what is appropriate. Every relationship at some point has differing wants. There is no way to be in accord all the time and thinking you should be limits growth and stifles individuality. It can be hard to find a balance between sharing and having separate activities and interests. There are no simple rules for this, but care is the key. Hurt usually comes from feeling you're not being heard or taken into account, rather than from not getting your way.
To make real contact with others, it is necessary to have a strong sense of yourself as a separate entity. You can only allow yourself to be open to the extent that you are also able to protect your time and space when you need to be alone. People who have a hard time saying "no" when they need to, or who risk losing themselves entirely in another person, are often actually more closed because of it. Spirituality is often presented in a way that frowns on self-centeredness while valuing surrender and "ego loss" (letting go of boundaries and attachments). One reason for the spiritual tradition of withdrawal is that these ideals don't work in relationships or in daily life. Everyone has two aspects: a concern with self-interest, and a need to merge with another person or group and feel a part of something larger. Living itself is an edge-playing between being in control and letting go, as you try to keep your personality and the framework of your life intact and yet stay open to change.
Yoga involves discovering where your limits are, what you have done and are still doing to maintain them, and how these limits affect and even create the fabric of your life. Yoga can teach you to channel your attention and energy in ways that open you, and expand and extend your limits. Playing on the edge of the body's limits in physical yoga increases flexibility, strength and endurance. While doing postures, your limits keep moving as your body assimilates the openings. Individuals also have limits as to what they can tolerate in terms of hurt, fear, and pace of change. These limits fluctuate with other aspects of your life and depend on many factors such as physical health and energy levels, outside stress, need for security, and whether you're feeling cared for. Approaching relationships as a yoga involves being attentive to the other person's limits as well as your own, which opens them to change. Being aware of the fact that there are limits, and that they are not absolute, brings change in itself. While postures (asanas) are a tool in physical yoga, communication is a tool in relationships. To communicate is to break the boundaries of separation between self and other. Communication is a dance with a life of its own that moves and changes you, an art requiring great attention, interest and care.
Much of what is called communication is really projecting memories and images onto each other, or talking at rather than to the other. Deep communication is rare because familiar or ritualized patterns of relating are less risky. Since communication opens you and opening changes you, there is resistance to it. The new you that may emerge from a real sharing is unknown.
Problems often stem from not listening to each other or an unwillingness to see the other's perspective. You may resist listening since it might force you to see things that would change you in spite of yourself: as you open to hearing the other person, you could see that some of the pleasures or habits you're attached to are inappropriate because of how they affect the relationship. Realizing this would make it harder for you to stay the same. Also, really getting to know someone usually involves uncomfortable periods of revealing unpleasant feelings as well as positive ones. Seeing yourself through another's eyes may upset you by threatening self-images you cherish.
Another source of problems comes from accumulated resentments, for even seemingly petty ones interfere with care and communication. Resentment is like a disease; it can gradually poison a relationship if not dealt with in its early stages. There is great danger in allowing resentment to take hold, for the longer and deeper it lives in you, the more it colors the way you feel toward and even perceive the other person. It becomes a constant hum underneath daily exchanges, creating tension which in turn perpetuates more resentment. Physical yoga can make you sensitive enough to detect health problems long before disease or breakdown occurs. In relationships, you can also become sufficiently alert to catch problems when they begin and are the easiest to correct. Whether physically or interpersonally, not being tuned in can in itself create problems and accentuate existing ones to such an extent that traumatic solutions, such as surgery or separation, could be necessary.