Want a more fulfilling intimate relationship? Look to your yoga mat.
There are lessons to be learned in love and relationships from yoga. But—like your practice—it’s going to take some work.
I have never met a student of yoga who found their first class easy. Or their second, or even their hundredth. Even if we master the postures, we can still be challenged by our minds, its judgments about the class, or the teacher, or its inability to stay present for the length of said class. But in every moment of our practice there is a chance for exploration—to learn more about our body, to hear our thoughts, to feel our spirit.
This is the beauty of yoga. Yes, we have a goal, but that goal is moving because the goal is evolution and growth. We don’t expect to get on our mat and instantly become enlightened, rather we see our practice as steps toward greater awareness, deeper wisdom, and a richer life of love. And without the challenges that yoga offers us, that evolution couldn’t happen.
It is interesting how we embrace this philosophy: that the things we enjoy—be it yoga, running, photography, or playing music—are forever a practice with challenges to be met. Yet often when it comes to relationships—which we presumably also enter for enjoyment—we adopt an entirely different view.
By approaching our relationships as we approach our yoga practice, we can create a deeper, richer experience of love with our partner, and with ourselves.
Sometimes we expect our intimate relationships to be easy. Perhaps we believe that we will be a “perfect version” of ourselves the moment we find the right partner. Often we see our relationships not as in a constant state of evolution, but rather we judge them, and ourselves, as “successful” or not. Our society encourages this. “How to have a successful relationship” is a headline we have all seen. One hopefully we will never see is “How to have a successful yoga practice.” Both are ever-evolving and need to be nurtured and loved—not judged—to truly thrive.
By approaching our relationships as we approach our yoga practice, we can create a deeper, richer experience of love with our partner, and with ourselves. Here are just some of the many lessons we can learn from our mat.
One of my teachers used to say to me: “If it is a shooting pain you are feeling, then something is wrong and it’s time to back off. But if it’s just discomfort you’re fine, breathe into it.” As a starting point, this discernment is what we need to bring to our relationships. Sometimes we can stay too long in a relationship that is toxic and damaging, while other times we throw in the towel because we were simply triggered. Every relationship offers growth for us, but sometimes that growth comes with leaving, and sometimes it comes with staying. It is for us to be discerning so as not to cause ourselves unnecessary injury.
2. Leaning Into Discomfort
If we discern we should stay and work through relationship issues, then we are offered the chance to grow. In our physical practice it is the postures we find most challenging that offer us the chance for growth. We look for our edge—that point in Utkatasana where we are in our awkward seat just enough to begin to feel some discomfort and work through it.
So it is in relationships. If we think our partner should bring out the best in us, we’re sort of wrong. Our partner may bring out the worst in us so that we can move through it to become the best that we can be. It can be a shock initially: Am I really unable to do this posture? Am I really this angry a person? But rather than turn away, we can instead seize the opportunity to take our relationship with ourselves and our partner to a new level. We don’t push, but if we feel discomfort arise, we lean in.
3. Showing Up
Imagine if you went to your regular yoga class and the teacher decided not to show up. We take it for granted sometimes, but if we pause to think about it, knowing that someone will be there when they say they will allows us to relax, and to tend to our growth. We can bring this quality of reliability and kindness to our partner by being there in times of need—with or without their asking. When we become someone our partner can trust, then they are more able to open up, and that, in turn, will encourage our own expansion.
Even when we are holding plank for 60 seconds, secretly cursing our teacher’s name, we know in our hearts just how grateful we are to them for pushing us. This is why we come to yoga after all—to strengthen our bodies and soften our hearts. It’s hard to be appreciative when we are in a heated argument with a partner, or if we are hurting after something they have said, but we can try to hold in mind at those moments the thought: This is where my growth lies, so thank you.
There is nowhere to hide on our yoga mat. Even if we dress in a manner we think will portray us in a more generous light, in the end—when we are sweating it out on the mat alongside everyone else—we can only do what our bodies and minds will allow us to do in that moment. Just as we can’t hope to see our yoga practice evolve if we are inauthentic, this too shines true in our relationships. Practicing self-acceptance will not only bring us personal benefits, but it means we will also be more accepting of and compassionate toward our partner and relationship.
6. Being Present
Surely one of the biggest gifts of yoga is that it shows us the gulf that lies between being present and not. In those moments of presence on our mat we just flow, and we tap into a place of such ease and spaciousness. To be present is to be in love—so consciously absorbed in the moment, that there is nothing that could distract us. When we listen with presence, respond with presence, and make love with presence, it is our chance to show our partner that love, and in turn they are invited to reciprocate.
7. Patience and Commitment
Our practice of yoga never ends, and within it there are postures that we have to view as a “long game.” When I first started yoga in the early 2000s I asked my teacher when he thought I would be able to touch my toes, and he replied, “…maybe four years.” I was horrified. But if I had walked away at that point I would have missed the last 13 years of practice and growth.
So it is in our relationships. We sometimes become easily discouraged by a difference of opinion, a criticism, or a difference in communication style. But relationships are also a practice that never ends. And so we need to have patience and commitment: Trying our best in every moment and returning again and again without frustration, each time noticing even the tiniest difference, and trusting in our relationship’s evolution.
Helen Avery is a senior writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website, Life as Love.