Tools for Taking Yoga Off the Mat

In this Q&A, Aruni Nan Futuronsky, life coach and Kripalu Yoga teacher, answers questions about using yoga philosophy to address the challenges of everyday life.

Are there tools you recommend for finding closeness with our partners in this hectic pace of modern life? I feel like I only see my wife at dinnertime or at 6:00 am, when she’s on her way out the door. How can I cultivate closeness with her?

One of my favorite tools for connecting with loved ones in a short amount of time is a simple mindful listening experience. All you need is a timer or watch and two people who are willing to listen and share. First one person listens while the other one takes three or four minutes to talk about what’s happened to them that day, what they’re feeling, what they need or want. Using “I” statements is important. The listener just listens quietly. Then the listener takes a turn sharing—not responding to what the first person shared, but downloading their own experience of what’s going on for them.

It only takes 10 minutes or so total, yet it’s a very intimate tool for catching up with someone. It’s amazing how much can get said when you’re not being interrupted and you know the other person is completely focused on you. Try it a few times a week, or even once a day, maybe in bed at the end of the day. It’s a great way to allow deep communication to occur quickly—and once you’ve done the exercise, if there’s time, you can move into a more habitual conversation and talk about what you’ve heard and said.

How do you approach the work environment from a yogic viewpoint? Lately, I've tried incorporating my practice into my approach, but I struggle with finding boundaries and still being open.

Simply said, yoga teaches us that we get what we need to grow—everything around us is a big shiny mirror in which we get to see ourselves, and work is one of the places where that happens in a big way. All you can do is speak your truth, let go of the results, and know that what you get back is filled with the seeds of growth and self-discovery. It’s all a mindfulness experiment and there’s no right or wrong—we’re learning to be who we are, charting the course, and it doesn’t end, it just keeps shifting.

As far as boundaries, it’s really important to remember that “No” is a complete sentence. I have many life-coaching clients who work until 7:00 or 8:00 pm every night, and their practice is to create boundaries around the end of the day and around their lunch breaks. Sometimes I ask them to try unplugging when they get home—turning off their devices, covering their computers. We need to give ourselves permission to dive back into other parts of our life. Work issues can also create a lot of adrenaline in our bodies, and then, when you’re not working, you feel “not alive.” It’s essential to have some time in the day when the parasympathetic nervous system can rest and digest.

I have a friend who is having trouble with addiction and I don't know what to do to help. I feel like I need to set boundaries but I’m not sure how.

Again, all you can do is speak your truth and let go of the results. It’s kind of like the 12-Step prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the ability to know the difference. No one can make anybody else change. Love doesn’t work like that. “I love you enough to change you” doesn’t work.

What you can do is set boundaries that are comfortable. A friend whose son was struggling with alcoholism as a young man told me about a night when her son came to her house drunk and banged on the door wanting to come in, as he often did when he was drinking. For the first time, she turned off the lights and didn’t answer him. It was one of the most difficult things she ever did, but it was also a pretty profound way to love someone. She feels that night was pivotal in his decision to start taking control of his life again, and he’s been sober for 20 years now.

Setting boundaries and sometimes walking away are not unloving choices. I’ve heard it said that the most loving thing we can do for someone in this struggle is to pray that they hit bottom so they can begin the journey upward. Along the way, you can offer what you can: a list of 12-Step meetings in your area, the name of a therapist or a support group. But then you have to let go of the results.

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