Yoga and Marriage are both modern institutions rooted in ancient traditions. They have evolved over time, and have undergone especially radical changes in the past 100 years.
In India, Yoga was once both the vast body of philosophy and scriptures underpinning its spirituality, and more narrowly, an esoteric set of practices within a strictly structured social order, disseminated through initiation to a select few. It was gradually introduced to America in the 20th century and has become broadly embraced by society and assimilated into popular culture, especially the branch of Hatha Yoga, the body practices. Other Eastern wisdom traditions have also grown in popularity, and numerous teachers of Yoga have brought their diverse strains and lineages to the Western public, broadening the meaning of Yoga further. Simultaneously, the Western concepts in psychology, especially Humanistic Psychology, have evolved and allowed for a fusion with Eastern spiritual concepts, creating an understanding and practice of Yoga that has evolved well beyond its classical Indian roots.
Marriage, too, has evolved radically in the West. While it remains a social institution with legal, political, economic, and social implications, marriage has also opened new horizons. It was not long ago that women were essentially the property of their husbands; more recently, marriage was the fulfillment of various prescribed social scripts and roles played out by men and women, fundamental building blocks of a structured social order. Nowadays marriage is no longer required for social standing. Couples are more free to choose diverse roles and routines in their committed journey together. Even the idea that we belong to binary gender categories or that marriage requires monogamy is shifting. Couples enjoy tremendous freedom to craft their marriage as fits their personalities and temperaments. These gains come with a price. Couples must take more responsibility for making their partnership thrive. They must invest time and energy figuring out how to navigate the unscripted paradox of two people functioning as an entity of its own. The new freedoms enjoyed in the modern marriage arrangement do not make the prospect of a successful or fulfilling marriage any more likely. The old, familiar story remains: nuptial tenderness and passion culminate in the blissful honeymoon period, only to inexorably give way to irreconcilable differences: frustrations, conflicts, battles, and negotiations. Over time there are truces and compromises, maybe even a few golden moments here and there. But often the hard work hardly seems worth the modest returns of intermittent companionship and sparse affection.
Tools for working through challenges in relationships have emerged. Couples can learn communication and empathy skills; learn how to express their needs and establish healthy boundaries; how to share power, manage money and negotiate responsibilities, and so forth. These skills help to establish a strong foundation to build upon, with the hope that a couple can enjoy a rich life together, raise children securely if they wish, and ensure companionship through old age.
These essays explore the perspective that marriage can be even more than it has been heretofore in our culture; that marriage itself is a spiritual path. By using the conceptual framework of Yoga, other related Eastern wisdom traditions, and evolving Western psychological concepts, marriage can become a vehicle for personal growth, for resolving the patterns, wounds, and habits that seem to prevent you from experiencing ease and happiness in life. It can be a vessel for magnifying and offering your gifts in this world. Marriage can serve as a vehicle to explore and know your deepest identity, the truth of who you are. These essays were written for couples who practice some form of spiritual discipline, Yoga in particular, and who seek to explore marriage as a spiritual path. They were born from our own study of Yoga and mysticism over the past 45 years and our experiences of marriage over the past 36 years. The ideas draw significantly from our own spiritual lineage, but they are also influenced by diverse Eastern traditions such as Zen, Sufism, and Buddhism. They may not be academically rigorous, nor a thorough review of the subject, but we trust they will be thought-provoking, stimulating, and perhaps inspiring to readers.
Next essay, Personal History