On Yoga and Fruitful Relationships

February 22, 2011

Robert wasn’t a yogi or a meditator, but when Rosemary Garrison met him in 2004, she knew she’d found a soul mate. “He’s playful, inquisitive, freethinking, and utterly devoted to seeing me at my best,” says the 31-year-old yoga teacher, who lives in San Francisco.

Rosemary credits Robert, now her husband, with having a “spirit of play, levity, and freedom” that helps her not take herself or anything too seriously. And although she shares a lot of good times with him – dancing, cooking, and entertaining – Rosemary is clear that she doesn’t depend on Robert to feel good about herself.

Like many other people, she has already learned that lesson the hard way, through failed relationships.

“Often, two people get together and hope the other will fulfill them,” says Anna Douglas, a vipassana meditation teacher and one of the founding teachers of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. “Often, a relationship can be a misguided search for our own completeness.”

Most of us have been there – attracted to someone who strokes our deflated ego, lavishes extravagant gifts on our scraping – by existence, takes us to the parties we would not otherwise be invited to, or somehow seems to fill a hole we don’t think we can fill on our own.

“At first they appear magical,” says Douglas. “Later you realize they have their wounded places and needs and unfinished business they’re hoping you’ll complete for them.” And regardless of how much you have in common or how much love you share, a relationship can crumble under the weight of expectations that it will make both of you feel whole.

If you’re on the hunt for a soul mate, your best move may be to take a break from searching online dating sites and instead commit yourself to your practice. It is possible to set the foundation for a great relationship – even when there’s no prospective partner on the horizon – by examining your beliefs and habits and seeking the real truth about what will make you happy.

In the end, as Rosemary discovered, finding a soul mate has less to do with meeting potential candidates than with feeling complete and whole in yourself.

Practice Perspective

Several years before she met Robert, Rosemary was engaged to Jay (not his real name), a charming and wealthy headhunter who had been her high school sweetheart. “Here was a man who had everything and wanted me desperately. He was so affirming, loving, and devoted, it was like a drug,” Rosemary says of their six-month long-distance romance.

She was struggling to make it as an actress in New York and living far from friends and family. “He was living in San Francisco, where I wanted to settle,” she says. “He offered everything: a home, a car, a ring, living near my family and friends again.”

So she donned the ring, packed her bags, and moved west. But almost immediately, she began doubting him and the engagement. Some part of her recognized that her “love” for him was based on something more like desperation than a profound sense of connection.

Less than a week after arriving at his home in San Francisco, she moved out and began the soul searching that helped her see the truth of who she was, which eventually prepared her to find her life’s true love.

She was in her fifth year of practicing yoga, and taking a teacher training with Ashtanga teacher David Swenson, when she came to grips with leaving her fiancé.

“Back-bending would crack my heart open, so I could grieve and actually feel what was happening and let it out. And Handstand helped me to heal. Partly it was the change in perspective. But it was also the ferocity of holding a posture past the comfort zone,” she recalls. “I was physically strengthening myself and emotionally burning through the weakness and sadness.”

For the next year, Rosemary devoted herself to a deeply introspective Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga practice. (In this form of yoga, students follow a prescribed sequence of poses at their own pace, without a teacher leading them.)

“I was very aware of my thoughts. I saw my desire to have my fiancé back – the validation and love and lifestyle. Then, little by little, the more I practiced, the more I realized that my desire for him was not going to be truly fulfilling,” she says. “My yoga training stripped my illusions away.”

Bo Forbes, a yoga teacher, Integrative Yoga Therapist, and clinical psychologist in Boston, says Rosemary’s experience is not uncommon; a committed yoga practice can absolutely transform our relationships.

“Through our yoga practice, we learn to look at ourselves, including the parts of us that are less evolved. Learning how to do this physically, with discomfort in an asana, helps us to do this emotionally,” she says. “If we can’t sit with our emotions, we are more likely to act them out on ourselves or others.”

If we can figure out how to solve our own problems and to love ourselves, we’re not so needy. And that’s when we can enjoy a great relationship for what it is, rather than because our partner appears to fill some need we think we have.

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