Yoga and Relationships: Stretching Toward Commitment
Yoga can strengthen a love relationship between a couple
By Marilyn Galan
It is a few minutes past 5 a.m., the beginning of my daily yoga practice. My right leg is lunging forward, the right foot pointing to the front. My left leg is placed straight and solid behind me. I breathe in and raise my arms, stretching them slowly out toward both sides. I look over my right hand, all of its fingers stretching themselves in one line away from my right shoulder. This is Virabhadrasana, or the Warrior II yoga pose. I feel good.
Bounding into the yoga pose
A relationship is like a yoga posture. Getting into a relationship, everything is rosy bliss. The stars glitter in one another’s eyes. You feel like the glorious hero of an action movie who has just saved the world from a great enemy. Sunlight is like the beloved’s warm embrace, rain is liquid happiness. There is a story to Virabhadra’s yoga pose. As told in the Mahabharata, the great Hindu spiritual epic, Lord Shiva’s beloved, Shakti, happened to be the daughter of his enemy, Daksha. Shakti’s father openly refused the marriage. Shakti was so grieved of her father’s disapproval that she took her own life. The warrior Virabhadra was born out of a lock of Shiva’s hair he had dashed to the ground while avenging his wife’s death.
Use yoga to soften communication in a relationship
In that flash of energy, Lord Shiva must have been practicing yoga. A yoga breath technique couples can use to help maintain a happy relationship is called the “Hmmm!” breath. This breath technique can instantly calm the mind and a relationship when the tension mounts. To practice “Hmmm!” breath: begin by taking refuge in a quiet corner. Simply cover the nose and mouth with a handkerchief and, say “Hmmm!” loudly with the mouth closed. Repeat as necessary.
Yoga allows love to happen
In yoga as in love, the trick is allowing the process to happen. This is the “yes” mind. “Yes” is the balance needed to create a haven of communication, a space to rest in the relationship. “Yes” to each other means, “yes” to giving each other space, and “yes” to just being together in silence. It means saying “yes” to each other’s mistakes, unforeseen expectations and weaknesses. This spiritual wisdom can bring the strength not to fall out of the yoga pose.
Staying centered in the yoga pose
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of The Art of Living, says, “Love is not an emotion. It is your very nature.” Through practicing yoga, pranayamss (yogic breathing exercises) and Sudarshan Kriya , a stress-relieving breathing technique of The Art of Living, this truth has become more obvious to me. With each day of yoga practice, I realize a smile and that warm fuzzy bliss I feel after a restful meditation is the real me. This sense of calm, of quiet observance, is the same as a successfully balanced yoga pose.
A little wobbling is natural
Sometimes in the Warrior II yoga pose, I feel a pinch in my back, the result of long hours spent working on a computer. Waves of uneasiness radiate from the crunched muscle tissues in my back, and I close my eyes. Breathe, I tell myself, allowing myself to practice yoga, to be a witness to this uncomfortable feeling. The muscles are caught unsure of what to do, confused by this new situation. All of a sudden, things stop feeling natural, something is not quite right. I begin to lose balance. Taking deep breaths, I agree to be a witness to the discomfort, and with some wobbling and wiggling in the pose, I come back to balance.
Witnessing the process of a relationship, of a yoga pose, needs faith and strength. Sometimes I have to make extra space between my shoulders. That means slightly adjusting one here and maybe lowering the other there. Watching my breath. There is discomfort, but these are my shoulders, and they are not going anywhere.
Yoga and doubt
Whether it is a yoga pose, or a relationship, doubts may come up when something unexpected or disappointing happens. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says even doubt can be positive. “You know, if someone tells you that they love you, you say, ‘Really?’ Isn't it so?,” says Sri Sri. “But you take it for granted when someone expresses their hatred towards you. If someone asks you, ‘Are you happy?’ you say, ‘Well, I am not sure.’ We doubt in love. You never doubt your depression, but you always doubt your happiness. So a doubt is always about something that is positive.”
The yoga of love
In a relationship, Sri Sri says, “There are two secrets: one for men, one for women. Women should always pump the ego of a man. When he is tired, when he finds blame everywhere, the only place he turns to is his wife to find solace. She should support him 100 percent and not put him down.” For men, Sri Sri advocates, “Men should never step on the emotions of a woman. Never say bad things about her family, her childhood, her past, or her hobbies. If she wants to go for a meditation, anything religious, never say no, because these are very dear to her. You just be stable, smile.”
A space of love
A smile shows on the surface of the “yes” mind. A couple can take the time to nourish their smiles both together and individually. Practicing yoga together, and being engaged in volunteer service are two ways to stay spiritually connected. And that generosity in service, giving of oneself in love will flow back into the relationship. It is a law of the universe.
Allowing for time off to be alone individually is as important as the relationship. “For love to blossom, there needs to be longing…and longing needs a little space,” says Sri Sri. “Though it is a little painful, longing is inevitable. If you don’t allow longing, then love does not grow. So, give them some space…and take some space yourself.”
Like the balance of the five elements in nature, in the Warrior II yoga asana, I balance between the five points of my body: my head, two arms and two legs. In this yoga pose, sometimes I find myself paying more attention to adjusting my hands. At other times, I want to deepen the connection of my feet to the ground. Nourishing a support group of friends and family nourishes a relationship. Spending quality time with friends, spending time alone with nature, or just being in quiet solitude can deepen the relationship with one’s Self.
As time passes in a relationship, a couple witnesses that expectations and attitudes change. The relationship can become better with more yoga and meditation practice. We can learn how to communicate better in the relationship, to be more patient and forgiving. Again and again, the cycle rotates from rosy and glorious bliss to momentary shakiness. There may be confusion when little earthquakes shake. Commitment is what holds the yoga pose together, when you decide not to fall. Spirituality is what gives the strength to see it through.
And even Lord Shiva was a witness to this cycle. His beloved Shakti eventually did return back to him, reincarnated as Parvati in her next life, though the same soul.
(Marilyn is a yoga enthusiast who loves to incorporate her inspiration about yoga postures and spirituality into her writing and art.)