ISSUE #015 - Jun 05, 2019

The Yoga of Healthy Relationships:  Using Embodied Communication to create deeper connections 

Robyn Smith

Before I became a body-centered relationship coach, I had been a yoga teacher and meditator for 18 years, but I was still having trouble in my relationships.  My studies of Buddhism, Tantric yoga philosophy, communication practices, self-help books, and therapy weren’t giving me the tools I needed to shift the unhealthy patterns I was struggling with, though I thought they should.  I know they helped me in many ways, but my relationships were still strained.  I was having arguments, competing with my colleagues, feeling insecure, isolating myself, and playing out the victim role in various relationships.  I felt powerless and angry and I didn’t even realize it, nor did I know how to change it.

Learning to access my body wisdom in communication with others as well as in my relationship with myself, helped catapult me towards healthier relationships all around.  Although I was already an advanced yoga practitioner and a Hanna Somatics Educator, I hadn’t known how to contact my body intelligence in my relationships.  And it’s so simple.

You see, when we try to use just our minds to figure things out or fix relationship problems, we are limited.  It’s easy to get stuck in right/wrong thinking and analyzing or pontificating.  And while our minds are intelligent and we want to include them in healing our relationships, they’re not the whole picture.

We are about 95% body!  There’s a wealth of information in our bodies that can help us to understand ourselves and solve our problems, but we aren’t generally taught how to reach it.  So, when we start to include our body wisdom in our communication, not only are we drawing upon much more of the truth of what’s happening (because the body can’t lie), but we’re also a lot more likely to make deeper connections and stay out of conflict.

Sensations and Emotions

Becoming aware of body sensations will help us to get more present with our existing reality.  And the good news about this is that for many of us, getting present will help us to feel calmer and more grounded and less scattered and flustered by our thoughts.  You’ve probably heard the phrase, “get out of your head and into your body,” as a way to get back into what’s true, what’s real and happening right now.  When our thoughts take us into the past, the future, or some fantasy, returning our attention into the sensations of the body can be a valuable tool for getting “here” again.  And a great part about being “here” is that it’s a lot simpler and there’s not much to argue about.

For example, when we talk about who said what and when, we’re very likely to disagree or even fight about that because we remember things differently.  It may be hard to find common ground.  It’s similar when we try to discuss how things should be or could be; there are many different opinions about that.  Any time we’re in the zone of concepts, opinions and beliefs, we’re much more likely to disagree or to feel misunderstood.  So if you want to avert a conflict or misunderstanding, a great practice would be to drop the opinions and concepts and start talking about what you know is true and cannot be argued about: your own body sensations.

For example, you may say something like: “I notice my hands are tingling and my jaw is tight,” or “my belly is churning and my chest is clenched.”  What could you possibly argue about if you heard that?  This is a great first step to Embodied Communication, observe your body sensations and voice them.

Understanding the embodiment of emotions can also support healthy communication.  Since emotions are energy and energy is felt in the body as sensation, we can get information about how we’re feeling by the sensations we’re having.  In fact, many of us do this already.  We know we’re anxious when our heart is pounding and our breath is short.  We know we’re sad when we’re crying or our chest is heavy.  We know anger by the heat in our face and the tension in our jaw muscles.

You see, the body starts reacting to situations before the mind gets the information about what’s happening and begins to interpret it.  You know those moments when you hear a loud bang and you immediately duck or flinch?  You don’t even know where it’s coming from or whether you’re in real danger, but your body is reacting.  And that’s good.  You don’t want to wait for the mind to figure things out when your life is at stake.

Our bodies are constantly responding to cues in our environment and sending us messages about how we’re feeling.  We don’t have to know why our body is doing certain things and we may not ever be able to figure out the source because it may be rooted in a time before we were cognizant.  But when we listen, we can learn about ourselves and make more informed choices.

For example, if I’m standing with a stranger and I notice I feel tension in my solar plexus and I’m turned sideways, I may realize, “Oh, I’m scared of this person.  Hmmm….what do I want to do about this?  Do I feel safe?  Do I need to excuse myself or is it just that he reminds me of someone?”

To further your emotional exploration, start paying greater attention to your body sensations and how they’re connected to your emotions.  Next time you’re having an emotion, notice exactly what’s going on in your body and where.  Are there prickles, tingles, tickles?  Is there tension, pulsing, heat in your belly, chest, head?  With practice, you’ll be able to detect the emotion as it’s just starting to come on.  Then you can use this information about your emotions to make authentic connections and wise choices.  Revealing your emotions could also be useful when you’re wanting to get heard or avoid a fight.

For example, if my husband criticizes me for how I left a mess, instead of shooting back a defensive “well look at you, your piles are everywhere,”  which may cause the situation to escalate, I could instead choose to notice and report what’s happening in my body and name my emotion.  So I might say, “wow, I notice my jaw is clenching and I feel angry.”   Now I’ve let him know how I’m responding internally; I’m opening myself to him, but I’m not making him the cause of my experience.  I’m not taking the bait for the argument so there’s nothing left to argue about.  I’m disengaging from the blame game and choosing to share myself instead.  Perhaps he could respond by sharing his inner sensations and emotions as well.

This practice can be a great step in shifting out of the impulse to defend and one-up another and opens up a new way of relating where truly hearing each other takes priority over being right.  It brings both people into their undefended present moment experience of the Here and Now.  From that more centered and authentic place, understanding one another comes naturally and it’s a lot easier to sort through how to solve the issue at hand.

For me, this heightened awareness and disclosure of my private terrain is why I liken Embodied Communication to yoga, and part of why I call my coaching the Yoga of Healthy Relationships.  I get grounded and present with myself first and communicate from that place.  I form a more satisfying connection with my partner by letting him see into my hidden interior.  It’s intimate.  Just like we can create intimacy with ourselves on the yoga mat by getting hyper focused and tuning into the intricacies of our body movements and breath, we can foster intimacy with another by sharing our current internal observations with them.

These practices of sharing body sensations and emotions are like meditation in action.  They may seem simple or even silly, but they can be life-changing.  And they’re just a small taste of how we can use embodiment to create more fulfilling connections.  I’ve witnessed numerous clients and students as they transformed their relationships from frustrating to fulfilling and from distant to connected.  As one student said recently after learning about sharing body sensations:

WOW! I used today’s lesson twice: once with my partner and once with my 13 year-old daughter. Both stopped talking, made eye contact with me and I actually felt HEARD for the first time in a long time. My daughter apologized for her comments and behavior immediately. My partner pulled me close for a hug, told me that I deserve the best of everything.

I urge you to give them a try and let me know how it goes!

Robyn Smith calls her coaching the Yoga of Healthy Relationships, weaving in somatic practices with tantric yoga philosophy, neuroscience, and knowledge of developmental trauma.  She is a certified body-centered relationship coach in the Hendricks method and certified NARM practitioner of developmental trauma who has been teaching yoga for 25 years.  She has also trained in Sky-Dancing Tantra and leads Tantra workshops in the northwest with her husband.  She has been happily partnered in the best relationship of her life for 17 years and lives in Arcata, CA.  Robyn’s online offerings include relationship coaching, women’s coaching groups, and healthy communication courses.

Her next Healthy Communication course begins on June 12. Watch the free training here:

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ISSUE #015

On Healing & Intimacy
Image: On Healing & Intimacy

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