Yogic Ways to Build Stronger Groups and Relationships
As a yoga teacher or coach, chances are you are often working with groups. And in other areas of your life, you are part of groups as well, such as your family or friends. How can you bring a new dimension to the groups and teams that you work with or just make part of, by using principles from yoga? How can yoga help to build a stronger connection with others?
Connection to Yourself and Others
First of all, yoga is a powerful way to cultivate a stronger connection to yourself. All yogic practices aim at ultimately connecting to a deeper sense of Self.
You might think of yoga as a purely individual practice. However, yoga is also about connection. ‘Yoga’ in Sanskrit can be translated as ‘yoking’, a synonym of ‘connecting’. It is also often translated as ‘union’, which reflects the core idea of yoga philosophy: all is connected, everything is one.
The ability to connect, to engage in relationships with others, requires the capacity to connect to yourself. We need to cultivate a stable sense of self and a feeling of safety. When we feel safe, we are relaxed and open. Therefore, we are able to communicate and share feelings. This is reflected in the state of our body and mind. It is a state that we can achieve by a regular yoga or meditation practice.
4 easy yogic exercises to (re)connect with ourselves
Most yogic exercises will help you to bring your awareness inward, thereby reconnecting to ourselves and calming the body and mind. These techniques are especially useful:
- Yoga Nidra – will help you to connect at a deep level through relaxation of the body, senses and mind
- Meditation – a structured way to cultivate a state of Self-awareness
- Abdominal breathing – a simple exercise that brings your awareness to the present moment, helps to calm down and thereby connect to your Self
- Body awareness – actually feel your posture, wherever you are, on the mat or in daily life
Yoga Philosophy Applied to Group Relationships
Not only the yoga practice on the mat but also the broader yoga philosophy can help build stronger relationships. The Yamas provide a framework of values and behavioral guidelines that you can translate to groups as well.
You can apply the Yamas to group relationships as follows:
1. Ahimsa: Non-violence in thoughts, words and actions is ahimsa. In a group relationship, you can introduce non-violence by setting rules for communication and behavior and practice these. For example:
- Agree on respecting each other while talking without interrupting
- Commit to thinking of solutions that do not harm any team member.
Apply talking techniques such as
- Talking techniques, such as talking in the first person.
- Before discussing difficult topics, find common grounds by connecting on an emotional level (for example story telling).
- Express your personal needs and feelings, and allow others to do the same.
2. Satya (Truthfulness). Satya is violated when there is a lot of gossip in a group or lying in a relationship. When thinking about truth in different groups and settings it is important to acknowledge that different people have different views on a certain matter, their view is their truth. Below some technique on how to disentangle confusions and non-truths in communication, in order to establish a sense of satya and trust:
- Deep democracy: Giving a voice to all opinions, also those that deviate from the consensus.
- Having an impartial leader, who avoids stating personal opinions and facilitates the group process instead.
- Be compassionate towards each other’s feelings, listening and responding to each other in an open conversation.
3. Asteya: Asteya means literally ‘non-stealing’ but can be also interpreted as not taking what you haven’t received, earned. This is a broad concept that applies to both professional and personal relationships. How to apply asteya in groups and relationships?
- You can think of giving colleagues the credit they deserve for their work.
- Always mention the sources of information that you use.
- Another way to apply asteya is not exceeding time limits. So, for example, showing up in time and not exceeding pre-decided time constraints.
- In more personal relationships, asteya is reflected in respecting each other’s boundaries and not taking up too much (and neither too little) space.
4. Brahmacharya: Brahmarchary is often misunderstood as meaning only sexual abstinence. However, it can be much more broadly defined as non-indulgence. You can think of brahmacharya as practicing self-awareness and self-regulation. It is all about moderation and balance. In a group relationship, you can find balance as follows:
- In leadership theory, there is a model describing a task-oriented and relationship-oriented approach. Most effective is to combine both, not becoming overly focused on the tasks, but neither on the relationship.
- In group meetings, work in a structured way, setting an agenda with points to be discussed. This prevents the group from getting stuck in one topic and helps the group to find a balance between the needs of each individual and those of the group.
5. Aparigraha: The principle of aparigraha, non-attachment, can be a somewhat confusing theme when talking about relationships, especially close ones. A close relationship, for example to your parents or your partner, involves safe attachment. However, safe attachment means that there is reciprocal and unconditional love and at the same time there is space for autonomy and realistic boundaries. In other words, you shouldn’t become too little nor too much attached to someone else. If you realize, from the yogic perspective, that you are at the core connected, there is no need to become overly attached or needy. You are all coming from the same source, the Supreme Self. Practice aparigraha in relationships by:
- Staying authentic and true to yourself, expressing your personal values.
- Apply the principle of loving-kindness by allowing others to accept all members of a group as they are.
- Find common grounds when cooperating with other individuals or groups, without getting overly attached to your own ideas.
Yogic Principles in different groups and relationships
If you think about it, you are part of many different groups in your life. Each of these groups has their own unique dynamics and needs:
- Family: Your family often consist of the closest relationships you have in life, as you live together in the same house. Unlike friends, we usually do not choose our family. Each family has its own microculture, with its own habits and values. It is a unique system in which every family member often fulfills a specific role. A yogic way to make your family relationships grow stronger may be to be kind and compassionate towards each other. To build stronger connections within the family:
- Accept each other’s feelings, by intently listening to one another.
- Allow each other to have a private space and time alone.
- Find activities that all family members may enjoy, sharing positive experiences.
- Friends: Friends are the people you choose to have a deeper relationship with. You might have friends that you know from your childhood or who you’ve met more recently. You might share common interests or formed a strong bond through shared experiences. Each friendship is unique. Yogic ways to build and maintain friendship may be:
- To consciously dedicate your time to each other,
- To be honest and share your feelings,
- But also to respect each other’s different opinions.
- Colleagues: At work, you connect with others in a more formal way. A team consists of different personalities, each person having a specific role to fulfill. A yogic way of team building could be:
- To respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses and to take care of each other’s well-being with small gestures.
- At the broader organizational level, you may reflect on the patterns that prevail in a team or department and cultivate awareness of these habits.
- To do in-company yoga sessions. Yoga and mindfulness are growing in popularity among organizations, improving employee wellbeing and organizational health.
30 Minutes Yoga Sequence for Connection
Yoga has become very popular as a relationship-building activity. When you get the opportunity to work in a team building setting, you can help the group to find a stronger connection to themselves. You can do a simple, yet effective, sequence to share the space and time with each other.
Connecting the body and breath has a strong healing effect, as it seems to enable people to more easily connect with their inner world. This easy yoga sequence mainly focuses on the breath and how it flows (and doesn’t flow) in the body. It also includes a few partner yoga exercises – please check with the group if everybody is comfortable with that. It is also possible to do the exercises individually. For the partner yoga setup, make two rows with the mats facing each other.
- Start with a short meditation, bringing your awareness to the bodily sensations. Encourage your students to observe any tightness or constriction as well as relaxation and looseness.
- Proceed with abdominal breathing, cultivating awareness of the breath. You can ask them to place one hand on their belly and let the belly gently expand during inhalation (counting to 4) and let the belly gently contract during exhalation (counting to 8).
- Then start to move the body at the pace of the breath: Inhaling to raise the arms, exhaling to lower the arms.
- Come to hands and knees for Cat Pose, using the breath to lead the movement.
- Do a few rounds of gentle Sun Salutations: Ask the students to mirror each other, trying to not only follow your breathing cues but also to experience how the breath unites.
- After Sun Salutations, stand tall in Mountain Pose. Practice body awareness, noticing the body feeling more open, the mind calmer and connected to the breath.
- Sit down and do Boat Pose with a partner, holding each other’s hands and pressing the soles of the feet together. Remind the people to have a little fun, it is not about doing the pose perfectly, but about connecting to each other!
- Lay down on the belly for a Locust Pose variation, holding the partner’s hands, lifting each other gently
- Take a rest in Child’s Pose.
- Come to a seat for a final partner exercise. You can do a wide-legged forward fold, with one person placing the feet at the inside of the ankles, gently pulling the other forward with the hands.
- Lay down on the back for final relaxation in Shavasana.
In short, yoga can provide a surprising number of tools to build stronger relationships. A strong and safe connection to others starts with a calm state of the individual. Moreover, yoga philosophy offers many values and principles to build group relationships. Examples of these principles are non-violence, truthfulness, and unconditional acceptance. These yogic ways of building stronger relationships apply to different types of groups, from families to organizations. Finally, yoga is also a great opportunity for team building as it can be practiced together in a fun and playful way. All of these yogic techniques will help to cultivate a stronger connection to yourself and others.
About the Author
Kalyani Hauswirth-Jain is creative director & senior teacher at the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams since 2013. She teaches during the Arhanta 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training as well as a variety of 50-hour courses such as the Vinyasa Yoga teacher training, for more than nine years now. She is also the co-author of the book Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners – A Comprehensive Guide to Holistic Sequencing.