Improve Your Struggling Relationships Using This Ancient Yoga Wisdom
People change, and so do relationships. So how can we be sure when to hold on to the relationship, and when to let them go? It is common to be thick as thieves with a person for years, and then slowly drift apart. The trick is knowing if the relationship is still authentic and beneficial, or now heavy and forced.
This happened to one of my closest friendships. As we began to explore ourselves and what we wanted in life, our friendship fell by the wayside. On the surface we pretended to be the same, but underneath we felt like strangers.
A heaviness between us followed, and I began to question our relationship entirely. As TKV Desikachar said, “Ideally, when we take up the practice of yoga we begin a process that offers us a way of stopping what is harmful to us.” So, I turned to my yoga practice, and specifically the Yamas to give me the tools to see my relationship for what it was, and the courage to release it from its suffering.
Ideally, when we take up the practice of yoga we begin a process that offers us a way of stopping what is harmful to us. – TKV Desikachar
The Yamas are found in the Yoga Sutras as part of the Eight-Limb Path of yoga, and are known as “restraints” or ethical guidelines.
The Yamas help you discover your true self and allow you to take your yoga practice off your mat and into your daily life. The Yamas can also help you see deeper into your relationships to know if they are beneficial and rewarding.
Here’s how the 5 Yamas can bring more freedom and honesty into your relationships:
1. Invite compassion
Ahimsa is the first Yama and it means non-violence. Practicing Ahimsa helps us become aware of our destructive habits, thoughts, words, and actions, and then work towards removing them. On the mat, Ahimsa is practicing asanas that support our body, rather than pushing too far and possibly creating an injury.
Applying Ahimsa to our relationships allows us to recognize and remove the habits that cause harm, such as blaming others, saying hurtful things and setting unfair expectations for the relationship or individual. Finding gratitude and focusing on the positive aspects of the relationship will help redirect our thoughts and habits towards love and kindness.
Old thought pattern: “Everything is all their fault.”
New mantra: “All is well. I practice compassion and understanding.”
2. Invite honesty
Satya is the second Yama and it means to be truthful. We all have ideas of how our lives should be – but when these expectations aren’t met, we unknowingly create suffering. On the mat, we can practice Satya by acknowledging, accepting and honoring the truth about our yoga practice, and what our bodies and minds are capable of that day.
By practicing Satya off the mat, we can start to accept our relationships as they are, and not as we want them to be. Ask yourself what you’re avoiding in your relationship or what you don’t want to admit – this is usually the truth. Although the truth can be hard to admit, accepting the reality instead of the story we’ve created will change how we view our relationships.
Old thought pattern: “I am always disappointed.”
New mantra: “I can be honest about my feelings.”
3. Invite respect
Asteya is the third Yama and it means non-stealing, but it does not just refer to stealing possessions. Asteya can refer to stealing from ourselves by mistreating our bodies, and stealing from others by wasting their time or criticizing their opinions. On the mat, we can practice Asteya by remaining in the present moment in each yoga pose.
In our relationships, Asteya reminds us to show our partner that we care about the relationship. Our actions and words demonstrate how much we value them and the relationship by being fully supportive of their opinions and thoughts, and by not stealing their time and energy.
Old thought pattern: “I feel the need to be right.”
New mantra: “I value their opinion and best interests, even if that’s different from mine.”
4. Invite clear perspective
Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama, and it’s all about managing your energy. Brahmacharya is being aware of what you devote your energy to and doing so in moderation. On your yoga mat, practice Brahmacharya by keeping your energy focused inward. By ignoring external distractions like the advanced yogi’s practice next to you, you are managing your energy to create a deeper connection to self.
In your relationships, Brahmacharya is extremely important. What do you currently focus your energy on in your relationship? If your partner did the dishes? If your friend texted you back immediately? This is a waste of your energy. Instead, focus on growing your relationship and how to connect with your partner on a deeper level.
Old thought pattern: “I feel no value or connection in where my energy is spent.”
New mantra: “I choose to focus on what matters most.”
5. Invite gratitude
Aparigraha is the last Yama and it is non-hoarding. Hoarding stems from the fear of not having enough. When you practice Aparigraha, you turn your focus from what you don’t have and focus on what you do have. In your yoga practice, don’t focus on being able to master an asana or sit in meditation for hours. Instead, practice Aparigraha by finding joy and gratitude in your strengths and capabilities.
To practice Aparigraha in relationships, stop fearing that you are inadequate. Focus your attention on what you do contribute to the relationship rather than holding on to what you fear you lack. Let go of your attachments to what you think your relationship should be, and find contentment in the relationship you have built.
Old thought pattern: “I need more to feel fulfilled.”
New mantra: “I am enough.”
Recommended Read: If you’d like to dive deeper into the Yamas, their meanings, and how to apply them to your everyday life, check out How to Use the Yamas to Refocus Your Life.
The importance of abhyasa and vairagya
Abhyasa is practicing each Yama and vairagya is letting go of the outcome. As with any practice, there will be bumps and imperfections along the way. So set your intention, practice it, and let go of any expectations of how you think it should end. Abhyasa and vairagya will help you find success by encouraging you to continue practicing if you ever become discouraged.
When I realized my relationship was suffering, I set the intention to change my perspective of our friendship in order to relieve the suffering. My intention was to live in the present moment and let go of any expectations I set for our friendship. I wanted us to be free to be who we are and meet our relationship exactly where it was.
The Yamas helped me clarify and strengthen my relationship with myself. When I applied non-harming, telling the truth, respect, generosity, and gratefulness to my relationship too, my suffering transformed into freedom. My friend and I were finally able to sit across from each other and feel free from the heaviness of our changing relationship.