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Intimacy. This is the path and practice that can be the most uncertain. It is a path of risk and reward. A path of walking into the unknown. It is a path that is neither safe nor easy. Yet despite the challenges, unevenness and even moments of uncertainty and darkness, this is the path that has the potential for excitement and transformation. It can lead us through spectacular places of inner power—alone and in partnership.

Our yoga practice is an analogy of the path of intimacy. One of the most well-known translations of the word Yoga is “union.” How we understand this changes over time, just as our repeated practice of a yoga pose is new each time we step onto the mat. A yoga posture reveals challenges over time and facilitates the process of opening over the course of many breaths. Our yoga practice also provides a support structure for us to have the courage to embrace intimate relationships. Through the practice of awareness and intention both on and off the mat, both in relationship to our bodies and in relationship to our intimate partners, we can learn to cultivate flexibility, stamina, gratitude, patience, listening, trust, and ease.

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If we want to know if our yoga practice is working, it requires us to look at more than simply how we practice the yoga postures. After all, the asana is a way in which we negotiate our relationship with ourselves in the present moment. And as yogi Rodney Yee says, “There are no poses, there are relationships.” One way to evaluate the effectiveness of our practice is to examine our relationships. Truly bringing yoga off the mat and into life can be confrontational. Just as sustaining a physical asana requires us to reevaluate our habits of reactivity, sustaining a loving, authentic intimate relationship requires us to reevaluate many of our ingrained patterns. This level of intimacy requires courage, the same courage that we practice on the mat and it is a 24-hour-a-day, seven day-a-week practice when it comes to our life partners.

Here are a few exercises to help you create dynamic communication, authentic listening, and a loving yoga practice at home and with the people you love.

  • Share Openly: If you feel something, say something. At first, this strategy can increase the intensity within a relationship a few notches because difficult conversations may surface more frequently, but secrets, fears, resentments, and feelings of anxiety only fester when unexpressed. If moments in relationship are like moments a yoga posture, it is important to express to your partner when you feel unsafe or when challenging emotions arise, so together you can explore the asana of interaction in ways that are secure yet fun and compassionate while you both feel supported and fully informed. If fears remain hidden, you could panic and accidentally hurt yourself or your partner as the pose (or the relationship) progresses. Try practicing with courage, being open with each sensation, feeling, and emotion that arises.
  • Remove Complaining Speech: Often when we complain or nag we bury the real root of the grievance we are trying to express. By removing complaining speech from our vocabulary, we can become more specific about our actual needs and desires. When we become more clear with ourselves, we become more clear with our partners. Clarity allows us to communicate with greater openness and less confusion. This strategy also asks that we slow down and really consider what our needs are in any given moment to increase our ability to genuinely express ourselves. Complaining can keep us trapped and block us from seeing the potential around us. Removing complaining speech—and even shifting complaining thoughts can allow us to create a future that is different from the past, allowing us to practice with an open heart, both alone and in partnership.
  • Practice Gratitude: When the going gets tough, the tough stop, pause, and offer gratitude. When we find ourselves entangled with our partners in a whirlwind of tension or frustration, pause the conversation and name three things you are grateful for in the moment. State it out loud. When the emotional current is intense, this can be as challenging as a one-handed handstand, but the act of giving gratitude can instantly shift the momentum of the conversation. It’s hard to hold thoughts of both anger and gratitude in the same moment, so gratitude allows us to change our experience and replace the desire to be right with the desire to be loving and present.

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Many of us are tempted to repeat patterns, to do what we’ve always done and know what we’ve always known. Many of us succumb to the temptation to simply muscle through a tough yoga pose or fight through a challenging relationship moment. But, forcing yourself into a situation, ignoring the feelings and sensations, and shutting down communication can effectively block the free flow of love and intimacy that we all long to experience—and is part of our human birthright. As author Brené Brown so wisely advises, “Choose a moment of discomfort over resentment.” Take your yoga practice off your mat and into your life, because to love and be loved in return is one of life’s greatest gifts. Allow this to be your practice. Know that opening yourself fully is a powerful act of courage.

Lauren Eckstrom is a 500 E-RYT based in Santa Monica. With background and training in vinyasa based power yoga, her classes combine creative sequencing with a focus on sound alignment, yoga philosophy, and meditation. Together, Lauren Eckstrom and Travis Eliot lead Holistic Yoga Flow teacher trainings, retreats, and workshops locally and internationally. laureneckstromyoga.com.