My husband never had a particular interest in practicing yoga until I invited him to a couples yoga class. It was an interesting experience for us both. We each had our own style, preferences and idiosyncracies. As we awkwardly attempted to do the poses together, and they were relatively simple, we bumped right smack dab into the middle of how we tended to operate when encountering some of our differences off the mat. In other words, we came face to face with our “stuff,” if you catch my drift. But since we were in public we had to behave.
At first, we began to try to get the other one to do it our way…you know, the “right” way. When that didn’t work, we began to get conscious about the fact that my way is not the same as the “right” way. Who knew? We discovered that our differences are not something we needed to judge, fix, argue about, or try to change in one another. Instead our differences were something we needed to become curious about, try to understand, and to celebrate in one another. Hard!
In spite of our differences, yoga on the mat actually brought us closer. Since the meaning of yoga is to connect this is not surprising. After that first yoga experience together we shared many rewarding experiences on and off the mat; including a yoga cruise to the eastern Caribean, and some very exciting yoga retreats which have been among our most enjoyable and memorable experiences as a couple.
To prevent injury on the yoga mat you have to be engaged and conscious. To prevent injury in a relationship, you also have to be engaged and conscious. You have to be willing to go deeper than your need to be in agreement and instead move toward wanting to understand your partner.
Whenever you are in a power struggle with your partner, child, parent, or friend, it is pretty safe to assume that you are not trying to understand each other; instead, you are trying to get the other person to agree with you, to see it and do it your way.
It is the attempt to get agreement that creates disconnection in relationships. A short cut way of saying this is, you can either be right, or you can be in relationship. In healthy relationships a willingness to understand the other person’s perspective is the priority. The issue or task is always secondary.
There are a variety of philosophical approaches, traditions, and yoga asana practices. Even though you may have a personal preference for a particular approach or tradition, one methodology or philosophy is not necessarily better than any other. There is no one right way to approach or practice yoga. The same is true in a relationship. There is no one right way to be in a relationship. The key to intimacy is actually the willingness to honor, advocate for, and celebrate your partner’s difference, not seeking oneness or sameness as most of us have been taught to believe.
But how do you embrace difference especially if you don’t understand it, like it, or agree with it? You do this by setting aside your own perspective so you can step into your partner’s experience. It is a willingness to understand another person’s perspective. It’s the first step towards empathy, a necessary ingredient for intimacy to develop in a relationship.
When someone doesn’t make sense to you, it’s not because they don’t make sense. It’s because you don’t have enough information to make sense out of their experience. You’ve got to become curious instead of judgmental as you try to enter into the other person’s “logic.”
Becoming conscious in a relationship is a difficult practice, but ultimately quite rewarding as it leads to increasingly deeper levels of connection. As a way of helping couples resist the temptation to “fix” or change their partner, leading more often than not to a power struggle and a breakdown in constructive communication, I offer them what I call the Relationship Serenity Prayer:
The Relationship Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change; courage to change the one I can; and wisdom to know it’s me.
- Recite this prayer daily.
- Remember this wisdom.
- Apply it to your relationship to strengthen your connection.
- Stop viewing your relationship issues as problems to be solved and instead regard them with curiosity as something to be experienced and understood. Watch the relationship deepen.