The first thing I learn about couples yoga is that it’s tough to find an instructional video on the subject—whether basic or advanced—that doesn’t inspire my boyfriend to want sex.
“This isn’t about connecting sexually. It’s about enhancing intimacy and becoming more present,” I explain.
But the man’s brain is elsewhere. “Yoga all over me, baby,” he says, then sets off to find the right “mood music.”
Within the robust community of yoga devotees, there are vast claims regarding the healing powers of couples yoga and meditation. Depending on who you ask, doing yoga together can provide everything from stress relief to an infertility fix. Though some of these claims are suspect, the sheer number of testimonials and success stories seem to suggest that there aren’t many drawbacks to giving it a try.
So while we sit back-to-back in the traditional cross-legged position for five minutes of meditative silence before experimenting with downward dog, I decide it doesn’t matter that our goals aren’t exactly aligned. The important thing is that we’re making an effort to incorporate these ancient rituals into our relationship. Right?
According to Dr. Marsha Lucas, the author of Rewire Your Brain For Love, mindfulness meditation helps people struggling with relationships in three critical ways—by reducing stress, by bridging the intellectual and emotional areas of our brains (a phenomenon Lucas calls “minding the gap”), and by increasing awareness—all of which promote understanding and empathy.
Other proponents emphasize that these techniques are universally good for relationships, and shouldn’t be limited to those who need to repair their bond.
When Erica Jung, the founder of Trepta Yoga, started meditating with her partner a few months back, it wasn’t because they were fighting, but because they agreed that reaching for their phones to scan emails couldn’t be the healthiest way to start each day. The benefits were apparent immediately—they felt more grounded as individuals, and more in tune with each other. Morning meditation is now their “regular date.”
Dr. Vernon Barksdale and his wife, Dr. Louise Taber Barksdale, are a walking advertisement for the joint meditative lifestyle they’ve parlayed into a business. The duo asserts that any couple seeking a “deeper spiritual connection” can profit from the exercises outlined in their 30-minute Blessed Union CD ($16), which is part of the larger Successful Living Series.
“Shared intimacy can only bring closeness,” agrees Katherine Corrigan, who sells handcrafted meditation and yoga supplies, “focus jewelry,” and japa mala (prayer beads) through her Etsy shop, Be Well Gifts.
Still, those who assume that yoga and meditation will solve all their relationship problems risk serious disappointment.
When we face each other to begin guided stretching, it irks me that my boyfriend looks more relaxed than I am. I struggle to embrace the shared quiet as we move each other’s limbs into various positions, but my resolve is mostly just competitiveness — I want to “beat him” at yoga. By the time we fail at the final “airplane” pose, I’m totally discouraged, not to mention annoyed that I’ve spent 20 minutes fretting instead of de-stressing.
The sad reality is that not everyone benefits from increased awareness and a new shared mindfulness. In Rewire Your Brain For Love, Dr. Lucas notes that achieving mindfulness can change how people experience sex, which is potentially confusing to one or both parties. Further, some of Lucas’ clients have reported that life seems “too boring” once increased understanding leads to a reduction in drama. “It’s a bit like the person struggling with recovery from addiction,” writes Lucas.
There’s also the added rub that once you’ve achieved a heightened state of emotional and spiritual wellness, it’s VERY difficult to sustain it longterm. Yoga and meditation aren’t referred to as “practices” without good reason. Perhaps yogi Marilyn Galan says it best: “A relationship is like a yoga posture.” Both involve unanticipated changes, and require commitment, faith, and strength.
On the second morning, I maintain a better attitude throughout our regimen. Shimmying around on the mat together is a more harmonious experience than the day before. It feels good—sexy even. When we manage to execute “airplane” for three full seconds, I get a rush of satisfaction and happiness from the accomplishment.
As Jung says, one of the key benefits of couples yoga is simply working towards something together—the mastery of a certain pose or the discipline to do this every day. Accomplishing a goal helps both parties “keep the integrity of their commitment.” So maybe in all our floundering lies an opportunity. Or maybe this is all just one more thing to stress over.
Mélanie Berliet is a New York City based writer and producer. Her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Self among other publications. For more of her work, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.