There’s an old story about a young sage who goes to sit on a mountaintop to practice yoga.
Let’s call him Larry. For years, Larry stays in his cave, meditates, nad subsists on a bowl of rice each morning. And through his solitude, he begins to experience a deep and profound state of peace. Opening his eyes one morning, Larry feels inspired to bring his newfound wisdom back to the people of his village. He climbs down from his mountain, goes through the village gates, and wouldn’t you that he walks straight into his mother!
“Larry!” she cried, embracing him to her ample bosom, “My boy! At last, you’ve returned!”“Well, mother,” he said gently, “I have actually realized that I am not just a boy, but an eternal being of light and -” “But you’re so skinny!” His mother is aghast, “You’re all ribs and bones!” “Food is but a material substance, unattractive compared to the wondrous delights of-” “And your HAIR!” she interrupts, “It’s so matted, it’s like a rat’s nest. And what a beard you have! You always were the furriest of my children.” “Mother,” Larry is shaking his head, his jaw getting tight. “Just like a miniature bear!” “Mother!” Larry shouts. And just like that, nirvana is over.
“You think downward facing dog is hard? Try relationships.”
Beverley Murphy, my first yoga teacher
Our intimate relationships - whether they are with a family member, friend, or lover - can tripwire all of our unfinished business! The world - and our relationship with those around us - is a testing ground for keeping our cool, staying present, and practicing compassion. However, there is hope! The tools that you have mindfully cultivated on the mat are exactly what you need to navigate your relationships with more savvy, honesty, and compassion.
Here are five simple ways to bring the principles of your yoga practice off the mat - and into your daily life.
- Plank it out
Be willing to get uncomfortable! Let your yoga practice be a reminder that you are capable of handling yourself when things get a little heated. Rather than running from an uncomfortable moment (a fight, a misunderstanding, feeling hurt), be willing to stay and experience your feelings. Take a breath, and remember that if you can handle a 60 second plank, then you can handle a hard conversation.
“Yoga isn’t about narrowing the bandwidth of our emotions, but about creating a container that is vast enough to hold them with grace.”
2. Slow down and breathe
Slowing down gives you the space to pause and respond - rather than feel and react. Most relationships run into trouble when we let our immediate emotional reactions overpower our ability to hold space and listen. Take your “pausing super power” off the mat, and take three deep breaths before following through on an emotional reaction.
“When the stories in our head pause, we have a moment of clarity where we realize that we are not the incessant thoughts that are running through our heads.”
3. Practice gratitude
During our practice, we remember to be grateful for the capacity of our body and our aliveness through our physical practice. But unless we pause to practice a little gratitude, it’s all too easy to take this simple thing for granted! Off the mat, take a pause each day to practice gratitude for your loved ones. Counting our blessings helps ensure that we truly appreciate what we have.
“Our humanity is to forget. Our practice is to remember.”
4. Say Namaste
Namaste is a traditional greeting that means, “the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you.” When we say namaste in yoga class, we are recognizing the inherent mystery of our own aliveness, and honoring that mystery in everyone else. Though you don’t literally have to say, “namaste” to your partner, take some time to remember that they are a unique and special human being. There is no one else like them in the world! Regardless of whether or not you are spiritually minded, namaste is an invitation to reconnect to the wonder and mystery of being alive.
“God realization is not something that only happens in prayer or meditation; realizing “God” in this world emerges from our participation every day in our relationships, in how we touch and reach each other.”
5. Don’t Believe Everything You Think
On the yoga mat, we are taught to question the stories in our heads. “I can’t do handstand!” “Warrior Two is too hard!” In our practice, we start to recognize that the running narrative in our head isn’t always the truth. In your relationships, apply the same discernment, and begin to recognize that your inner monologue may not be accurate. When you start to create stories, ask yourself, “What if this isn't true?” By questioning our own certainly, we can stay open to possibility and be more open to authentic communication.
“Our capacity to question our assumptions allows us to become more intimate and connected with others. Rather than remain stuck in our version of events, we start to crack open our expectations, which lets us experience others more fully and authentically for who they are.”