Yoga and Relationships: Working With Discomfort, Part 2 of 4

This series of four blog posts is dedicated to exploring ways to use the principles of yoga in intimate relationship. These posts were inspired by a Global Glue Project talk that was given at the Hanuman Yoga Festival this summer.


Recently while hiking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, my friend and I encountered snowy, windy and cold conditions. To top it off, I was hungry, but we needed to keep moving and weren’t able to stop and eat. Amidst the discomfort, I began to panic, questioning if I would get too cold or hungry, my friend reminded me that just because I was uncomfortable didn’t mean that I was in danger.


It is the same in yoga and in relationship, we learn to touch the edges of our limits, but hopefully we distinguish between discomfort and injury. Discomfort in our relationship or on our mat doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. The practice is learning to stay.


Jason and Chelsey, good friends and yoga teachers, who share their wisdom in their Glue Film, teach a Jedi yoga class that is all about working with difficulty. They tell their students, “In times of discomfort look for ways in rather than out.” Those moments of intensity and wanting to escape may be the moments to make a choice to go deeper instead of running away. The practice of turning toward discomfort is transformational. Challenging, but transformational.


This practice is absolutely paramount in intimate relationship for the inevitable times when we don’t like our partner. The practice of turning toward your partner despite the discomfort is the work.


To take it one step further, the work is then remembering to extend friendliness toward the uncomfortable feelings without judgment and remembering that both good and bad feelings are all part of the path. The practice is meeting all of it with acceptance and kindness.


This seems like an appropriate place to remind readers that we are talking about committed relationships once the vetting process has occurred. I am not suggesting staying in discomfort without knowing who is in front of you and without the foundational trust and choice to be in a committed partnership with that person.


The human condition orients us toward wanting to experience good feelings while avoiding negative feelings. All of us try to hold onto feelings of happiness while rejecting negative feelings such as loneliness, jealousy, irritation, or sadness. The catch is that avoiding discomfort causes suffering, and the more we run from these feelings the more damage we do in the long run.


This same lesson applies to our partners. Just as we don’t get to experience happiness all the time, we don’t get to accept the good aspects of our partner while discarding the things we dislike. We have to accept all of it as parts to a bigger whole.


As Tommy Rosen said in his Glue Film, if we go into relationship thinking, “Oh I met my soulmate, nothing can ever be difficult, is a terrible way to go into relationship.”


The choice to be in relationship is the choice to commit to difficult emotions. As couples’ therapist Bruce Tift says, being in relationship is committing to the unresolvable, but our job is to use those difficult emotions as fuel for spiritual growth. The yoga of relationship is staying with difficult emotions, staying with sensation, staying with the breath, staying in the present moment.


There is no such thing as a low maintenance person, people are inherently annoying, so if you think that being in love will allow you to skirt irritation, you are wrong. Stan Tatkin so eloquently says, “I take you to be my pain in the ass and you take me to be your pain in the ass.”
This is the practice of relationship. Being with what is, in reality and not in our imagination or in the story of what we think it should be. Someone told me that it takes two years for all of our projections to fall away and to see the other person for who they really are.


If we can stay embodied and work with what we are feeling even when we are uncomfortable, we can start to change our reactions. One of the keys to successful partnership is learning how to increase the pause between the stimulus and response. Freedom comes from cultivating this gap before responding, and that is perhaps the biggest gift of this practice, learning to respond versus react.


We want to stress that these simple practices are anything but easy. These are practices of a lifetime, so be kind and patient with yourself while on this path.


This being human is a guest-house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest honorably.

Who may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi


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