OK, I’m being provocative, but it’s true—no amount of meditation is going to help you in your relationships or the practical aspects of living unless you consciously extrapolate the principles into the way you live and interact with others. You can’t meditate your way through the day. No, you need to integrate and apply the principles of the practice for it to really make a difference. Not everyone knows how to do that—or even that it’s necessary.
Over many years of teaching yoga, I’ve seen that what happens during practice is only worth something if we carry the principles off the mat and into our lives and relationships intentionally. Without understanding the why of practice and consciously applying its principles, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and meditation won’t effect major changes in your life.
Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises, like any potentially transformative practices, are tools for cultivating greater awareness and integration in ourselves, for a clearer perspective and a more connected way of life. They are paths, not a destination. Practice on the mat is nothing without the conscious application of the principles.
As all kinds of meditation and mindfulness practices over recent years have taken hold culturally, the mechanics of various contemplative practices have been, at times, glossed over, perpetuating an unwitting ignorance of their depth and subtlety. Let’s look deeply at just a handful of the myriad things meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises teach us and how to apply those principles to consciously improve your relationships.
What you practice:
1. Breathing into the edges of your strength, flexibility, and awareness in postures.
Aim for a combination of strength and flexibility in your interactions with others. This means, if you don’t agree, stay kind and flexible rather than trying to be right. Say what’s important to you and be clear about what you need and prefer without being rigid or critical of the differences between you.
Listen, as you’ve learned to listen to yourself in practice, and be compassionate even when you’re being assertive in interactions.
Breathing into your limitations rather than forcing and straining can help you to deeply experience nonviolence as a more powerful path for deep change and transformation than aggression or forcing, which lead to damage.
What you practice:
2. Mindful observation of your breath.
The take-away principles to apply in life:
You can’t meditate your way through difficult interactions with others, but you can apply the principles you’ve learned by observing your physical and emotional sensations, particularly during challenging times that arise in families or between partners, and taking a breath before reacting and regretting.
It’s helpful to know to take a breath and pause before going with an unhelpful reaction and instead offer a more mindful response. Utilizing your mindful breathing consciously and actively in real-world interactions has a tangible steadying effect on your thinking and emotional state.
Modeling staying cool and taking a breath rather than flying off the handle helps those around you, especially children, to feel more nurtured and connected to you, especially when things are challenging. You inspire trust that you are more often steady and assertive under pressure rather than emotion-driven and chaotic. Nobody’s perfect, but breath and emotions are inextricably linked, and being able to apply breathing practices consciously is a powerful life skill.
What you practice:
3. Staying in the present moment, observing your thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally.
How it helps you off the mat:
Love is a special kind of attention. You must be there emotionally for someone to feel loved by you. That is how fundamentally important presence of mind and heart is to our relationships—with ourselves, with others, even with our own passions. To be able to give our full attention and be present in the moment is nonnegotiable in good relationships.
Distraction and short attention spans are becoming more the norm. Love requires us to stop and give our most precious commodity—our focused, caring attention. Our presence.
Nowhere do we learn and practice doing this more effectively than in meditation, or on the yoga mat, integrating focus with breath and movement.
There’s so much more I could add, but I think you get the idea. Contemplative practices are tools that teach you a different approach to yourself, others, and life, a different way of seeing your inner and outer worlds, where there’s more space around thoughts and feelings.
That extra space gives you the time and mindful awareness to make better choices. Those better choices mean that more often your behavior is consistent with your deepest values, and you feel clearer and more emotionally free. It takes understanding the why of practice and how to apply your learning to consciously enrich your world.
Once you understand what you’re really being taught, it’s up to you to apply, apply, apply in every moment and aspect of your life, especially when you’re challenged under pressure. That’s when you can really know whether what you’ve done on the mat has been integrated, become part of you and the perspective from with you view and interact with the world.
Why do you practice yoga? Why do you meditate or practice mindfulness exercises? Are you clear that the real practice only begins when you leave your mat?
Let it be so, and every aspect of your life will be enriched, especially your relationships.
Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your love horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.