The Yoga of Relationships

by Camilla Veen |
December, 2021
tvam eva mātā ca pitā tvam eva
tvam eva banduś ca sakhā tvam eva
tvam eva vidyā draviṇaṁ tvam eva
tvam eva sarvaṁ mama deva deva

Oh god, you are my mother, father, relative, friend, knowledge, wealth. You are my everything.

This verse is from the ‘Pandava Gita’, a collection of poems to god in the form of Krishna. It is often also chanted to the guru, as god and guru are essentially the same. In the Indian tradition the first and maybe most important guru is your mother – mātā – and the second guru is your father – pitā. Understanding this is very important to be able to receive the teachings that they have given you.

A wise man – the late Ram Dass – once said these famous words: “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family!” I think the reason why this quote has become so popular, is because most of us can relate. It is in our relationship with others, especially those to whom we are close, that our equanimity and peace of mind often get most disturbed. We practice asana, we meditate, we chant to the divine, we practice love and compassion – and still some people seem to always find a way to press our buttons. What to do?

Ram Dass spent much of his life exploring ways that a spiritual practice could permeate human relationships and gave numerous workshops and talks about this. He thought that issues related to relationships of all kinds take up a lot of space in our minds and could be one of the main obstacles to spiritual evolution, therefore they should not be bypassed nor neglected as part of the practice. He said, “you can make your relationship your yoga, but it is the hardest yoga you will ever do.”

In verse II.46 of ‘Yoga Sutra’ we find the following advice or definition of yoga asana: sthira sukham āsanam. This translates to ‘steady joyful (or comfortable) seat’. Traditionally, āsana in this regard was understood to represent a seated posture for meditation practice, but over time a variety of asanas were practiced and took form – literally! In the medieval text of Hatha Yoga Pradipika we find 15 asanas mentioned and in the 18th century text Joga Pradipika, we find 84. Parallel to this growing number and diversity of asanas, the idea that they provide both spiritual and physical benefits is established. Most teachers of more modern times also agree on this.

Āsana means ‘seat’. A seat is a way that we place our bodies on the earth, or we could say, a relationship between our body and the earth, which leads us to the translation of sutra II.46 in the Jivamukti Yoga Chant Book; “The connection to the earth should be steady and joyful”. What is the earth? It’s the ground beneath our feet and what supports us, but it is also, in a wider sense, every being that we share this earth with. How often are we really steady and comfortable in our relationships with other beings? How can we improve the steadiness and joy in those aspects? Well, we could start by following Ram Dass’ advice and make our yoga asana practice more than just a physical practice by seeing it as a way to practice getting better at relationships. In the Jivamukti Yoga Method, we call this “asana as a way to perfecting our relationships with others”. This way, yoga becomes less something we ‘do’ and more something we ‘are’.

The word ‘yoga’ – from ‘yuj’, unifying – implies that something has been separated. The true essence of the union that yoga speaks of, is love. Any exchange of love requires two separate entities. The great Indian sage Chaitanya Mahaprabhu described this with the saying acintya-bhedābheda-tattva: Simultaneously one, yet distinct. That is yoga – a relationship. It doesn’t matter how many hours you practice yoga or meditate by yourself, the union of being in relationship with others is what will eventually heal you, and the world. Yoga teaches us that isolation and separation are the root cause of suffering, and connection is the essence of healing. This union that is referred to, is not just an intellectual idea, but more an experiential reality, an amazing experience of life itself.

What would happen if we did not dedicate time, attention, and effort to our yoga practice? Nothing. We would stay the same. Relationships are no different. They require dedication, passion and discipline in order to grow and unfold over time. Any yoga practice can be a relationship practice. As the author and meditation teacher Gregory Kramer puts it: “There is sitting meditation. There is walking meditation. Why not listening and speaking meditation? Isn’t it sensible that one could practice mindfulness in relationship and so get better at it?”

Enlightenment is the goal of yoga. What is realized in the enlightened state is ‘the oneness of being’, that we are all one and that we share the same consciousness. So what to do if we are not there yet? Keep on practicing. Or, like my dearest teacher David-ji says: “If you are still seeing others, be nice to them.” Those seemingly others are after all not IN yor way, they ARE the way.

Teaching Tips

  1. Teach āsana as a way for the students to work on their relationships through the practice of steadiness and joy – on and off the mat. Questions to ponder:
    • “What does it imply to strive for steadiness in a relationship?”
    • “How do I find joy in relating to someone I find it difficult to deal with?”
  2.  Explore what it means to “make your relationships your yoga”.
  3. Teach the Chakra Tuning Class as it was created by Padma-ji.
  4. Study the books Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Joga Pradipika (Light on Yoga), especially what they say about the benefits of asana practice.
  5. During this month, teach the Blessing Meditation as it is described in The Magic Ten and Beyond book. Instead of starting with people you love, maybe encourage the students to start with people are having issues with.
  6. It is the holiday month and most of us will spend more time than usual with our families. Make this time an integral part of your yoga practice this month. See your family members as holy beings who are doing their best – just like you.
  7. Explore and study different translations and commentaries to the ‘Pandava Gita’ where this month’s verse is taken from. For example, this particular verse is from Gandhari, who is a prominent figure in the Mahabharata. She was married to the blind king Dhritarashtra and decided to go blindfolded for the rest of her life, to be like her husband. How much are you willing to sacrifice for your loved ones?
  8. Listen to, and play in your class, David-ji’s teachings ‘Does One Need a Guru’ and ‘Healed and Whole’ from The Spoken Word Series, Vol 3
  9.  Read or listen to the words and work of Ram Dass. Watch the movies ‘Going Home’ and ‘Becoming Nobody’ or even organize a screening at the yoga studio where you teach.


Does One Need a Guru

Healed and Whole

If you would like to study more with the author of this FOTM, Camilla will be co-teaching a Yoga Intensive at the upcoming Jivamukti Ashram. Click here for more info.