Relationships and Self Practice: Part 2
By Tara McGee, MSW, RSW, Dip TIRP
Yoga Therapist, IAYT
The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali states that, “Practice is basically the correct effort required to move toward, reach, and maintain the state of Yoga [the ability to consciously direct the mind, instead of responding with unconscious patterns]. It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruption and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed” (Sutra 1.13 and 1.14, translation from TKV Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga).
Let’s break this down in the context of relationships:
- Correct practice means that we have wisely chosen a practice that will suit our current developmental situation, our constitution, and our psychology and is going to efficiently move us forward and bring us to the destination we desire (such as someone who can stay calm and use their voice when their partner is triggering them and they are falling into old patterns). Often, discovering this practice ourselves can be very difficult. This is because:
- We likely see ourselves through the same eyes or “parts” of ourselves that are causing the pattern that responds to the trigger. If we try to develop a practice from the same part of ourselves that created the problem, it is unlikely that we will come to a new outcome.
- We don’t know what a practice is or even that there are practices that could help.
- Because we don’t know what a practice is, we use a mechanized approach from a book that is not attuned to us, does not know us, and is designed for the general public.
- We don’t have the experience with the tools and techniques to know which ones to choose, in which order and at what rate to progressively adapt them to help us walk further down the path.
- We choose random practices that we may find on the internet or that someone else does that may not be suitable for us or our goals.
- Correct practice means we adjust it as we progress – otherwise, we would just be walking in place and staying at the same point but with a lot of unnecessary sweat!
To choose a correct practice that moves us towards our goals, we likely need a guide such as a psychotherapist or yoga therapist or someone else we trust who has the experience to guide this process. Ideally, this therapist is someone who has walked a bit further down this path personally and has the skills, experience and training to see you more clearly than you can because they are not blended with the parts of you that are obfuscating your reality. They likely have some experience and tools to suggest to you, given that they have walked this path themselves and with many others and have studied the tools and their effects extensively. Because they’ve done their work, they know the way. If you have a good, trusting, working relationship with them, such as you would with a psychotherapist or yoga therapist who does their own practices and their own internal ‘work’, you may be wise to ask them to help you develop your own practice and indeed, even meeting with them is part of this practice.
A word of warning – I would not ask someone to teach me to swim who doesn’t regularly practice swimming. If your psychotherapist or yoga therapist or yoga teacher or guide does not regularly personally practice the art they are practicing with you (psychotherapy or yoga or other), I would not trust them. Although they may have the intellectual book knowledge, they do not have the internal, embodied knowing that comes from really doing the work themselves, and there is a risk that they will put themselves above you and give you advice that they don’t even know about themselves. At CPYC, all of our therapists “do the work” themselves, so they are prepared to guide you not just from a book, but from themselves.
- A long time: Once we have a “correct” practice, we can’t just do the practice once a week for 5 minutes and expect our nervous system to change. If you are 35 years old, it is likely that your system has been practicing its unconscious reaction for 35 years. This means you have a lot of catching up to do to create a new pattern that would result in better outcomes in our relationships.
A long time really means forever. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have significant gains along the way, however, to achieve the ability to direct the mind in a sustained way in the direction of responding calmly to something that once triggered us, we probably have a long journey ahead. This journey will likely involve many different practices because the practices change as we evolve, and it may involve many different teachers and healers along the way. There would likely be short-term, more achievable goals, and then the long-term goal of being able to direct the mind even when triggered, rather than the mind going into old unconscious patterns, would remain the same.
So, let’s all stay humble and realize that to achieve lofty goals such as maintaining a state of yoga, we will probably be practicing for all of our days. Really, even to achieve shorter-term goals of staying calm and present so that you can make a new conscious choice about how to respond more peacefully, confidently, and authentically when your partner yells takes time, commitment, and ongoing effort.
I often wonder why people think they will change their behaviour after one therapy session or even 8? It takes time, correct practice, and commitment to truly change your unconscious responses. Just like it takes time, correct practice, and commitment to become really good at tennis.
- Finally, the quality of positive attitude and eagerness is essential. We all know how we get really excited to start exercising and eating right after January 1? But how many of us can sustain this eagerness beyond January 31st? Often having a person or group that holds you accountable and knows the path since they have trodden it themselves is helpful in assisting us to stay on the path even through the difficulty. Having a relationship with a psychotherapist or yoga teacher and a regularly scheduled appointment, group, or class with them can help you to stay on the path so that you stay inspired and eager. Psychotherapists and yoga therapists will stick with you throughout. They will walk by your side, encourage you to keep going even when it seems you haven’t gotten anywhere. They will work through the rough patches when you may get “triggered” by them, the work, or your partner.
Group yoga classes or psychotherapy groups can also help you sustain the energy needed to keep going on your path, as community is so important to our healing work. Doing it alone – trying to change from our limited perspective of ourselves – is pretty hard and likely not as enjoyable.
So as you can see, being in a long-term, committed relationship with someone else requires that you are in a long-term, committed relationship with your self. To be in a long-term committed relationship with your self means that you have a lot of unconscious reactions to bring to the conscious level and then to develop a practice that will help you to respond differently.
When you are annoyed by your partner, that annoyance is felt inside your body and inside your mind; it is yours. As Victor Frankl reminds us, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. Both people in any relationship would do well to do this personal work if they want to reap the rewards of being with the other person. From my observation, when one person is not ready to or chooses not to do their own personal development work, or to do it at a less committed level, this is when long-term, committed relationships lose their lustre and often end. That is a possibility too – it’s ok if you choose to end a relationship that is no longer sustainable or is unhealthy. On the other hand, if you want to try to build and maintain an equal, caring relationship, build and maintain yourself first. Then, see where you end up, what new choices you start to make, how those choices affect how you feel in the relationship, and how your partner responds to your new ways of being. You may find yourself feeling even closer to the other person, and you may find yourself even further apart. You may find you are no longer a fit, or that because you have changed, you fit even better – we can’t know what the destination feels like until we arrive, but the self is always the goal.
So, have some courage and get a teacher, a therapist, or a healer whom you trust, who is doing their own healing work on themselves, and who is at least a bit ahead of you on their path, and get going on your own practice. There is a world of healing possibilities awaiting you and your relationship as you begin your practice of deepening your connection to your self.
As you become more deeply established in self, the relationships you have will either become healthier and more fulfilling or will fall away. It is your practice that will reveal your self to you, allow you to be more self responsible, and enable you to develop a more satisfying, mature relationship with your partner (and really with everyone else).
MSW, RSW, Dip TiRP