Relationship Yoga: exploring non-attachment by Bex vanKoot
The benefits of yoga are often flaunted in terms of the physical; tight abs, impressive flexibility, and yoga is also devised as a means to improve meditation, concentration and connection.
Yoga is a philosophy. It is a collection of guidelines for how to live in the world, to be good to ourselves, to the earth, and to each other. It has the power not just to change our bodies, or even our minds, but our hearts and souls as well. It can strengthen the bonds between us and help us to be better lovers, partners and friends. The yoga mindset can really benefit our relationships and our love lives.
While the many aspects of yoga philosophy aim to work in unison to create change, the most powerful lesson I have integrated from my lessons is to embrace the concept of non-attachment.
Aparigraha is one of the five yamas (restraints) in the Eight Limbs of Yoga, codified by Patanjali in the yoga sutras more than 1600 years ago. The word is often translated as non-greed, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment. It specifically refers to having only a desire for possessing, that which is necessary in the context of one's own life.
In other words, non-attachment looks different on different people, from the wandering ascetic monk to the polyamorous hippie commune. How you do non-attachment will depend on who you are, what you do, where you live and who you love. And learning ways to practice this mindset can impact our relationships with others in surprising and powerful ways.
When this subject comes up in discussion circles, it almost always comes around to jealousy and monogamy first. For culturally monogamous creatures, we tend to be very fascinated with the possibilities that lie outside those rules.
Monogamy isn't for everyone. But it's also true that non-monogamy isn't for everyone!
Any yogi who tells you that the only way to be spiritually enlightened is to give up on monogamy is someone whose motives I would be questioning. How you love is up to you and certainly isn't any indication of some “hierarchical level” of attachment.
Let those ideas fade away for a moment and instead consider: Why are you monogamous? This isn't meant to challenge your decision about this way of doing relationships, but rather empower you to see why monogamy really works for you. What are the benefits for you and your lover? How does it make your relationship stronger and closer?
Now, what role does jealousy play in your decision? Do you experience it? When?
Think about the times you have felt jealousy and try to trace what other emotions may have gone hand in hand with that feeling. I've experienced jealousy when I am feeling scared or lonely, left out, tired, overworked, and bored. There can be a lot of reasons that make me experience a negative reaction to something positive in my partner's life, and a lot of it has very little to do with sex.
It has to do with attachment.
Most of us experience jealousy as the negative consequences of attachment to desire. We want something – to be loved, to go out and have fun, to be wanted, to have pleasure, to relax – so profoundly that we actually feel bad when our partner attains that same desire. Certainly we experience jealousy in other contexts, as reactions to betrayal and other serious problems in a relationship.
But haven't you ever just felt jealous of your lover because you know they got to eat chocolate ice cream earlier and you didn't? Or they get an extra day off work? Or someone pays them more attention than you think they pay to you?
These are things that are largely out of your partner's control. And they definitely aren't something that it seems rational to fight over. And yet, like most of you, I've felt the sting of jealousy!
In circles of non-monogamy, there is a movement to cultivate the opposite of that pain, with the slow, happy burn of compersion – the feeling of joy we can experience when our loved ones feel pleasure.
One of the distinct pleasures of being human is the joy of having, striving for and reaching your goals. But practising non-attachment can change the way you feel about having hopes and dreams.
Take some time to think about what goals you have for your life, both personally and as a couple. Are these goals that you've shared with each other? Now consider, are there any chances you've missed, opportunities you regret leaving behind, because of an attachment to your goals and dreams? What happens, in the future, if you don't have the life you hope?
In other words, can you work towards goals without getting attached to them?
Our attachment to a perfect vision of the future, the so-called “relationship escalator” that we are each expected to ride from first date to deathbed, keeps us from experiencing authentic connections and having realistic expectations of the people we love.
What expectations do you have for yourself and your partner that aren't realistic, or in line with your individual desires? Are there any ways that your shared trajectory and your personal desires conflict? Take some time to think about this.
When my partner and I experience the most conflict in our relationship, it is during the times when we are in desperate need of non-attachment. We each find ourselves attached to different, unsatisfactory solutions to a challenging problem. And it isn't until we break our feedback loop and look outside ourselves that we start to see new options.
In other words, if it feels like you don't know which way is up, or how to make the right decision about where your relationship is going, you need fewer personal goals and more personal time. Get out of the house. Go be interesting. Do something fun. Meet someone new. Make friends, influence people. Get some new connections firing up in your brain before you sit down to talk things out again.
It's the reason most couples fight, get divorced, or cheat and it’s the thing most likely to land in the spotlight when non-attachment comes up.
How much money you each make, who makes important decisions, which particular household jobs and chores are best suited to each of your personalities, when and where and how you have sex, each of these aspects of your relationship are vulnerable to misguided expectations and damaging attachments.
What beliefs do you hold onto about money, what it means to make it and who is responsible for it? How do you support each other and give energy and love to the relationship?
While most couples fight about these issues, few actually talk about them, especially in the early stages of a relationship when no one wants to imagine that anything could possibly ever go wrong.
It may seem trivial at first, but after a few months or a few years under the same roof, you will be happy you took the time to talk about how to balance your bank accounts and booty calls, about who is going to work and when, what your need for clean is like and how to make it all work in a way that gives you the most time and energy to enjoy your life together.
When it comes to romantic relationships, we talk a lot about “deal-breakers” - the expectations we have that we are willing to put out there from the beginning, things we know aren't negotiable. But most of us have many more presumptions than we are willing to admit to ourselves. What if your hopes and expectations for your partner, your attachment to the person you want them to be and the relationship you want to have are getting in the way of having a deeper love with the person they are now?
Take notice of any moment you find yourself reacting in anger or frustration, out of habit rather than conscious thought, to something your partner has done, or hasn't done, or said, or didn't say. Take your attachment to whatever it is that sparked your reaction with you to the mat. Sit with it in meditation, move with it through yoga or dance. Write it down or paint it. Let the bonds that tie you to the negative emotions loosen until you can see what's at the heart of that grasping.
Let go and make more space for love.
by Bex vanKoot