Many would confidently say that relationship difficulties can be the most explosive and debilitating aspect of their lives. When your love life is good it’s wonderful, but when it’s bad it’s crippling!
The greatest area of transformation and self-growth lies in the mirror of intimate relationships. It is here that the shadow self arises most inopportunely and spectacularly. The muddy pot of our subconscious mind is voraciously stirred and all of the rejected aspects of ourselves begin to rise to the surface. These could be our negative, disowned qualities but also other aspects that are wonderful, such as a theatrical nature squashed down by parental criticism at a young age which we then criticise when we see it in our partner.
Too many relationships end in this place of projection and warring shadows, where one or both of the partners don’t have the capacity to be present with their wounding. To do so requires turning the spotlight onto their own inner baggage and disowned selves.
If we aren’t on the path to healing our childhood wounds, we carry strong emotional charge that will be expressed in reactive behaviour, projections, explosions stemming from our repressed emotions and a lack of awareness into our own psyche. All of this can be disastrous for the longevity of a sacred loving partnership.
Sustaining intimate relationships
The ancient practice of Yoga is an enormous resource for creating open, authentic, deeply intimate and sustainable relationships.
Mark Whitwell, well known yoga teacher and long time student of the teacher of teachers: Krishnamacharya, is the author of several books including Yoga of Heart: the healing power of intimate connection:
Asana and pranayama empower the system for relationship. Let us end the suppression around relationship, including and especially sexual intimacy – which is yoga. Finding relatedness is what is really going to reduce the pain that people are experiencing, the trauma in the living organism from the mind’s assumed separation from its own nature.
– Mark Whitwell
Healing comes from within. As you realise yourself as non-separate through the practice of yoga and meditation, the abandonment, loneliness, isolation and sense of separation that can get in the way of close relating, are broken down.
By practicing Yoga we come to know and love ourselves, we find self acceptance, a union of opposites within us, and awareness and sensitivity to our own needs. When we are self aware, self accepting, self responsible and self loving, we are ready to enter into relationship with another. Too often we dive into relationships with our baggage intact and no tools to support the healing and unravelling of the cellularly held pain we carry from our past. Whilst intimate relationships can be an incredible catalyst for healing and lifting the lid on this wounding, we can burn our lovers out by overburdening the relationship with our wounds.
The introspective heart of Yoga
Science is catching up with ancient wisdom and today science proves what Yogis always knew: inner reflection, stillness, a practice of mindfulness and inner calm such as that experienced when practicing Yoga, is conducive to complete wellbeing and enhanced performance in all areas of life.
Meditation opens the door between the conscious and subconscious minds. We meditate to enter the operating system of the subconscious, where all of those unwanted habits and behaviors reside, and change them to more productive modes to support us in our lives.
– Dr Joe Dispenza
Yoga teaches you to be with the contradictions, the opposites and most importantly, to be with yourself. The practice of yoga empowers you to be your own healer. The deepened connection and intimacy with yourself creates closer relationships with others and a greater possibility for meeting at a new level. Becoming our own healers, finding support and having a spiritual practice, such as yoga and meditation, empower us to walk the path back to wholeness more gracefully. We become partners on the road to self discovery, grounded in the solidity of our own healing resources.
Dr Bruce Lipton in his book The Honeymoon Effect: The Science of Creating Heaven on Earth, explains how to maintain that glorious new love rush we feel once we find our true love, by reprogramming our subconscious patterns.
I learned again and again in my life, until you get your own act together, you’re not ready for Big Love. What you’re ready for is one of those codependent relationships where you desperately need a partner.
– Dr Bruce Lipton
The Science that shows Yoga improves relationships
Yoga has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, calm the nervous system, heal PTSD, enhance overall health and wellbeing and boost energy. With so much of the trouble in relationships being caused by lack of energy, unhappiness, sexual issues, depression, poor body image or low self esteem, the practice of Yoga can improve each one of these areas.
There are many studies showing that yoga improves the quality of sleep, enhances mood, improves your sex life and modulates the stress response. Yoga keeps you flexible and feeling sexy, in mind and body, and this can allow you to be more open and less judgemental.
One study in Jerusalem showed conclusively that a yoga and meditation practice improved sleep and quality of life in a group of older adults with insomnia. In 2010, a study into the effects of yoga on male sexual functioning was conducted. A group of men who were exposed to 12 weeks of Yoga showed that Yoga was an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in men.
Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement
While we may all know the benefits of mindfulness, a North Carolina Psychology Doctoral dissertations study in mindfulness-based relationship enhancement had some interesting results. The study was based on a definition of mindfulness as being: “the ability to remain focused on the reality of the present moment, accepting and opening to it, without getting caught up in elaborative thoughts or emotional reactions to situations.” (Kabat-Zinn, 1990)
The idea behind the mindfulness study was that by practicing the skills of moment-to moment awareness, people gain insight into patterns in their thoughts, feelings and interactions with others and can then choose to change habitual patterns, by responding rather than reacting to their partners. The participating couples underwent eight sessions of Partner Yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as home practice with the help of guided audiotapes.
The psychologists discovered that mindfulness enriched and enhanced the couples’ relationships, both improving individual psychological well-being and the wellbeing of the relationship. Mindfulness promoted the relaxation response and psychophysiological changes that are the opposite of stress induced hyper-arousal. The couples displayed greater compassion, an increased ability to problem solve, acceptance of self and others and greater resilience to stress.
When we find purpose and meaning for our own lives and then share this with our partner, we become energised and purposeful, living with joy and the deep happiness that comes from being of service in the world. Sustained Yoga practice tends to open up this wish to make a meaningful difference on the planet.
Creating a higher purpose for your relationship supports growth and contribution, two of the most important basic human needs as outlined by Human Needs Psychology.
Life partners, authors and psychologists, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad have been writing about Yoga and relationships for forty years. Joel Kramer is regarded by many as the Father of American Yoga, for his evolutionary vision of Yoga.
They posit that instead of more detachment, humanity needs better forms of attachment:
Relationships at all levels are the major problem on the planet. A modern evolutionary framework of values – one more in accord with human reality and possibility – is necessary for human evolution and survival. Joel and I developed a framework that can help foster social evolution. It helps prevent love from dissipating over time and reveals why intimacy is commonly laden with conflict – because often the loftiest ideals of love mask a hidden authoritarianism that can undermine love and sabotage relationships.
Perhaps we expect the excavation of our soul, through the path of intimate relationship, to be an easy process, scattered with roses and sexy interludes. Maybe a more realistic and open willingness to do the work required for a deep and loving relationship will ensure a better success rate. Authentic relating, while a challenging path, yields tremendous spiritual growth. Much like the rocky edges of your personality, relationships are softened by the relentless waves of healing inquiry.
If you really want to look at love from the spiritual side, you can make your relationship your yoga, but it is the hardest yoga you will ever do. – Ram Dass
In our individuated separateness, we ask too much of love and our expectations sour a good relationship. Our culture of perpetual desire extends even in to relationship materialism, where we want more and more from our partners, perhaps not looking for some of the love we so deeply crave, within ourselves.
A couple that grows personally and together over time, synthesizing differences, can be a microcosm of evolution… The challenge is how to bring growth and evolution into long-term relationships, where habits, patterns of power and resentments usually accumulate over time. Passion thrives with newness, openness and growth. In fact, open communication can bring a meeting of minds – one of the great unsung aphrodisiacs.
– Diana Alstad
Increasingly, Yoga is being seen as medicine for the body, mind and soul. Bringing your Yoga practice into your relationship, both by practicing on your own and by sharing your practice with your partner (with the added fun of such elements as Nude Yoga, or Partner Yoga) you can foster a lifelong graceful connection and a love that will endure the journey of life.