Family yoga: separateness to unity
The deep bonds formed from family yoga are a journey from separateness to unity, writes Gopala Amir Yaffe
What makes a family? It is not necessarily our genetic constitution, but rather the connection and integration we feel with each other. It is how much we merge into each other’s lives and how we support and inspire each other’s growth.
Yoga means unity, and ideally, there is no social unit more united than a family.
There is a gradual evolution in social life that moves us to expand ourselves. We grow up protected and guided by family and friends.
Then we go out in the world to build our own ‘individual’ and ‘independent’ life and we try to be self-sufficient and care for ourselves.
Next, we fall in love and our heart expands to include another. When we have kids, we are made to expand even more… much more.
This is the natural progression of life from self-centredness to altruism, a journey from separateness to unity. It is a path of expansion and wider connections. It is yoga. Having a family is more yoga than doing yoga poses, and it is very intense, but also a supportive environment in which to discover yourself.
When we do yoga poses or meditate, we go within to find our centredness, our yoga. But going within and focusing on one’s self is not the only kind of yoga. Being out there in the world, extending and expanding ourselves is a path that is as valid.
We are mirrors of each other, and living in close proximity to others, as in a family, provides countless opportunities to work on our patience, focus, compassion and many other noble yogic qualities. We can work much more deeply on our emotions, impulses, instincts and intuition when we see them reflected by our partner or kids.
Love is the noblest yogic quality. Love is when we feel so close to another that we are almost one. Love is when you never want to be separated. Love is unity. Love is yoga.
By bringing the awareness and mindfulness of yoga to our family life, we can make loving more yoga, and yoga more loving.
The tools that we can learn while in the relaxing environment of a family yoga practice can go a long way in helping us deal more calmly with the stressful parts of family life.
The deeper connections we nurture, being peaceful together, and the communication skills we learn while doing yoga together, are recipes for a happy and united family.
Here are some points we can emphasise to intensify and deepen our family yoga practice:
Gazing into each other’s eyes: We can see so much in the eyes, our feelings, our fears, our love. By looking into each other’s eyes, we take the time to connect and be present together with no agenda. It is us time now. It can be at the beginning or the end of a practice, or even while in the poses. We soften our eyes and silently look to each other for as long as we need to. Something magical always happens if we are sincere and patient enough with this practice.
Breathing together: Synchronising our breath while doing yoga together creates a joint rhythm and a greater awareness of both the poses and of each other.
We breathe in when we extend or open up in a pose, and we breathe out when we fold in or relax. We make the breath rhythmical, equalising the length of the inhalation and exhalation. These rhythms induce calmness and serenity.
The breath is also a way to communicate; breathing in together we get ready and breathing out we go into a pose. If we see that our partner is holding their breath, it probably means that they feel tense. We should then slow down and pull them less into the pose.
When assisting each other in the poses, the exhalation is when we bring our partner a bit deeper into the pose since this is when their body lets go and releases tension.
Touching: Touch is the most ancient form of communication and the most powerful way to show love. We need a safe and loving touch just as much as we need food and water, and children and adults who do not receive enough safe and supportive touch develop a variety of psychological and social issues.
In a family yoga class, we try to touch each other as much as we can. We join our yoga poses by holding hands or doing them side by side, back to back, and even one on top of the other!
While in the poses, and before and after the practice, we pat each other’s back, ruffle each other’s hair, massage each other and just stay as close as we can.
Touch connects people, and it can help bridge gaps that verbal communication cannot.
Laughing and talking are most welcome in a family yoga session, but it is nice to have some silent parts when we communicate without any words. We can even use hand squeezes or tapping to communicate to our partner if we would like them to ease the tension in the pose or take us further into it. One squeeze or tap means less, and two squeezes or taps mean more.
Being mindful of each other: Practicing yoga together provides us with the time and space to connect and to bond, and to heal any disconnection or discord from before. We love each other dearly, but sometimes we are not mindful of the others’ needs and feelings or we are too much in a rush to notice them at all. Here, we take the time to truly be with each other and do nothing else.
While doing yoga together it is best to do nothing else: no cell phones or emails, or toys, or delicious dishes cooking in the oven. Doing yoga together is sacred (and playful too of course); our family is sacred. When something is sacred we treat it with extra care, we give it special attention.
Moving together, we stay attentive to how it feels to everyone included. When doing partner or group poses, we are likely to hurt each other if we are lacking in communication and awareness skills. It’s a learning process, but the secret of both staying safe and enjoying the practice more is doing it slowly.
We move slowly, we breathe slowly, and we become aware of our bodies and our connections. We try to be equally aware of ourselves and our other family members. When we feel tension in their body we know that they are communicating to us that we need to accept them for where they are and let them open up slowly and gently… no rush… we are here for each other, forever.
“Doing yoga together is sacred (and playful too of course); our family is sacred. When something is sacred we treat it with extra care, we give it special attention”