Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Exploring Relationships - Interpersonal Yoga (Page 4)


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Many things ordinarily considered "negative" that happen in relationships, such as anger, resentment and guilt, can be looked at non-evaluatively as feedback and used to determine where limits lie. "Feedback" is one part of a system telling another part how it is being affected. Yoga has much to teach in this domain because refining and understanding feedback processes are at the heart of it. Pain is one of the stronger kinds of feedback and can be a great teacher. There are no simple rules however, as to which pain to back off from and which pain to work through. If you experience pain while doing a posture, you ordinarily back off, assuming it's a sign that you're opening too fast. But sometimes it's necessary to stay with it instead, since pain can be a form of resistance to opening that can be worked through. (Stay with the pain but push not through it -ed.)

In interpersonal yoga the feedback comes from others as well as from within. When hurt, anger, jealousy and other so-called negative emotions occur, there are no rules. Great sensitivity and care are needed to take each other's limits into account without letting yourself be mechanically controlled by the other's feelings (such as when you try to win approval or react out of guilt), for instance, if I'm doing something I consider important that causes you to suffer, your being hurt doesn't necessarily mean I should back off or change. That may not be best for either of us, and doing so could build resentment in me, which would inevitably come back at you in one form or another. Neither does it mean you shouldn't feel bad nor that you should be the one to change.

To communicate, you must not only accurately describe your inner reality, which is difficult enough in itself, but you must also figure out and talk to the other's inner reality in a way that can be understood. This means asking yourself: "How is the other person going to take what I'm saying?" "What are their beliefs, values and fears?" "Will this make them defensive?" It is also important to pay attention to such things as tone of voice, how particular words affect you, how the other's behavior makes you feel, and how you affect the other.

Communication is actually energy - the energy of change. Care and interest open your boundaries as you focus outside yourselves, and the contact between you creates energy. The catch is that you can't force care or interest: either they're them or they're not. You can, however, be aware of what dampens them, such as judging, attachment to being right, and wanting to be dominant or to be an authority. To participate in the joy, depth and adventure of communication, you must be willing to hear and say things you may not initially like, just as in Hatha Yoga you must confront your physical limits in order to transcend them.

Unraveling "Conditioning Knots"
As the body has blocks and tensions, relationships have what I call "conditioning knots." Knots form when two or more persons' habit patterns or conditioning networks intertwine, "hooking" each other. A significant clue as to whether you are caught in a relational knot is any type of repetitiveness, which may take the form of arguments about the same issues, with the identical words, sentences, and even emotions recurring over and over, in endless variations, while each side rigidly keeps the same viewpoint and tries to convince the other they should change. The very fact of these repeated patterns, which are inherent in knots, indicates that each person involved is both feeding the knot and, in ways that may not be at all obvious, getting something out of it. The recurrence of emotional patterns (whether intense or subtle) is an indication of conditioning. Realizing this while it's happening gives you an opportunity to watch your conditioning in action and see what ignites and fuels it.

Most couple have common themes that knots revolve around, such as how to raise children, handle money, share work and responsibilities, and how open to be with others. Often you could even play both parts, you know them so well. These knots can be like bottlenecks - they contain volatile emotions but have no real movement. Since there is rarely progress toward resolution of these knots, the natural tendency is to want to avoid or escape them. When anger and disagreement are in the air, it seems impossible to work out problems; but on the other hand, people don't want to bring sensitive topics up when they're feeling good either, so most of the "working out" happens when people are caught in the grips of strong emotions. This greatly handicaps you, of course, just as only doing physical yoga when you feel bad or ill would drastically limit your practice. It is much harder to communicate during times of conflict when you are usually out of touch with love or care. Love is an energy that occurs when boundaries open; conflict closes them down.

Just as tight areas need the most attention in physical yoga, knots and impasses need to be explored to see how they work. Physically, you may prefer working your most flexible areas because of the immediate gratification, yet that will create even more of an imbalance in you. Similarly, wanting a relationship always to feel good and be harmonious means avoiding conflict and discomfort, which also creates an, imbalance as time goes on. As more and more issues remain unresolved, and even unacknowledged as problems, you bury your bad feelings and never learn the process of unraveling knots. Here, as in physical yoga, great learning takes place as you discover how to work your problem areas and weaknesses. Improving your communication process naturally makes it possible to unravel knots more quickly. Underlying knots may be buried for awhile, only to surface unexpectedly. You're surprised sometimes by the things that bring them up, and dismayed by what you may consider over-reactions in you or the other. Such sore spots often have a backlog of frustration and pent-up resentment that comes out over seemingly small issues. Your "buttons" get pressed, so to speak, and all of a sudden you're not in control. These mechanical·buttons set off networks of conditioning rooted in unresolved issues from the past. Each reaction pattern has its own emotions, gestures, words, tone and values associated with it. "Over-reactions" (a stronger response than the event seems to warrant) can be feedback indicating that a knot exists. The resulting lack of communication increases frustration and tension, and can bring about blame and polarization. Blaming and fault-finding are ways of keeping your position firm and not listening to the other person. This creates a "feedback loop" that once initiated escalates on its own: the more you blame the other, the more he or she resents you and does things to annoy you, the more closed you both become.

Awareness is the key to breaking this kind of loop, for awareness unhooks you from automatic behavior. By changing your focus from anger and blame to interest and curiosity, you begin to see the mechanisms involved in the knot. This makes your communication clearer and less reactive. Reactions may still occur in you, but seeing them as they happen, detaches you from your conditioning so it doesn't have the same power over you. This makes you more objective. Actually, both people do not have to be interested in approaching relationships this way for change to occur. If just one person can become aware of the mechanisms and stop fueling the other's behavior, this changes the whole interaction and can break the circle.

Conflicting values are often at the root of a knot. When there's a "miss"-understanding, each person is usually "missing" something: the total picture, particularly the other's point of view. The knot is transformed if your interest shifts from self-justification to looking for what you are missing, because part of the problem stems from your attitude. If you can uncover the value systems that fortify each side, as if you were a detective, the underlying nature of the conflict becomes clearer. Having a real curiosity about how your own values are contributing to the knot detaches you from them, making you more objective. It removes the conflict from the abstract level of values and judgments to a more concrete one of needs, desires, interests or styles. Values and criticisms (such as, "You're self-centered for not giving me more attention," versus "You need so much attention because you're weak and dependent") cloud the real nature of the knot.

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