Originally published on Lion’s Roar on March 1, 2001
Written by Cyndi Lee
When we let our senses dominate, we relate to other people in a different way-sensitive, sensuous, physically awake, and alive like an animal! Who doesn’t want a little more of that in their relationship?
Often I begin my yoga classes by asking the students to sit quietly, with their legs crossed and palms down on their thighs in the mudra of calm abiding. I invite them to let go of their thinking mind and drop into their feeling body. Even though that is a vague instruction, everybody knows what it means and there is a palpable sense of relaxation, a physical sigh throughout the room. What a relief to unclench our brain fists!
It can also be beneficial to relax the tension and inattention that can develop between us and those with whom we are close. One of the best ways to do that is to work with our immediate sensory relationship, not just the conceptual framework we share.
Sensory perceptions lie at the root of our relationship with our world and the other people in it. Our perceptions are inherently sacred and by nature they are always occurring now. They are the tools that allow us to dive into the river of life. But in order to experience the sacredness of every moment right when it is happening, we must learn both to give and to receive. We smell something delicious, savor it, and exhale it out. We keep it moving. That’s the idea, anyway. But we all know that’s not what always happens. Instead we tend to cling to what smells good and shut out what smells bad.
In the classical eight limbs of yoga, there is a practice called pratyahara, which is often translated as “withdrawal of the senses.” This can be a quite helpful practice, since most of us are walking around with not just our eyes bugging out, but our ears and noses as well. When we push our senses so much we stop feeling anything; we become numb and then mistakenly look to our conceptual mind for experience.
So relaxing our outward effort may good at first, but unless we want to become cave-dwelling ascetics, we active citizens of the world need to keep rolling around in the lava lamp of our senses. Rather than ignoring what we feel, we can practice letting go of the grasping mind that quickly arises on the heels of sensory experience, and return to what our eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue are telling us.
When we let our senses dominate, we immediately feel the heat between ourselves and others, our shared exchange of breath, and the universal pulsation of our hearts. We begin to relate to ourselves, our world and other people in a different way- sensitive, sensuous, physically awake, and alive like an animal! And who doesn’t want a little more of that in their friendships and partnerships?
By contrast, we often find our relationships are dry, conceptual and theoretical. We’re afraid to look into each other eyes and we talk so much we don’t even know what it feels like to feel. The habits of a relationship become so stuck that we don’t see or hear each other any more. One partner may have changed and the other one didn’t even notice. One partner may have left and the other one didn’t even notice. We try to talk with each other but we have the same broken record conversations year in and year out. Communication is no longer two-way, but no-way.
Since our sensory perceptions are our primary and most accurate means of communicating with each other, one of the best ways to get some of that animal nature back into our life is by engaging in mindful physical activity with each other.
My parents, Allan and Mildred, have been married for over 50 years. (Can you imagine how often they have said the same thing to each other?) They are not yoga practitioners, but when I asked them if they would be willing to try, to my surprise and delight, they agreed without hesitation. Allan and Mildred are both in their mid-70’s and when I told them they would have to sit on the floor, they laughed and said, “We can do that. We might not be able to get back up, but we can get down!”
That playfulness and willingness is all it takes. You might feel awkward or silly or self-conscious, but you will at least feel something. And that something will be shared together and it will be different and immediate every time you do these exercises.
1. Begin with a little bow of respect to each other.
2. Touch your palms together and close your eyes. See if you can feel your breathing moving together in one rhythm.
3. With your palms slightly separated, feel the heat between them.
4. Gently place your hands on each other’s knees. Inhale and lift your chests and faces up, opening your hearts to each other.
5. Exhale, and curve your back. You can repeat steps 4 and 5 several times.
6. Place your left hand on your partner’s left knee and your own right hand behind you. Inhale, and then as you exhale, twist to the right. Stay here for three breaths. Then reverse the twist.
7. Tree pose. My parents used the wall to help them balance. You can do that or you can try it freestanding. They also told me that when they strongly pressed their front hands together it was easier for them to stay up. This is a great way to explore supporting each other and still carrying your own weight-just what we want to do in relationships anyway.
8. Acknowledge your partner’s generosity, patience and open heart with a bow.
Partner yoga can be done between any two people: brothers, pals, lovers, parent and child, anybody. It’s a way for us to begin to have a conversation through our skin, our breath, our heartbeats. It’s a way of using your body and your senses to get to know each other, support each other and get in shape all at the same time. Try this program both when you are feeling close to each other and when you are not feeling close. Let it be a way to open up to your partner, to receive whatever they have to give, and to find out what your energetic circle is together. My dad enjoyed making the close connection with my mom, and my mom exclaimed, “I liked it because I could do it!”