Historically a holiday for Christian martyrdom, Valentine’s Day has exploded into a worldwide celebration of romantic love. On February 14, the world will be overflowing with flowers, greeting cards, and delicious dinners in warmly lit restaurants.
With such fanfare, it’s no surprise that it’s become so easy to mistake all that romance for intimacy.
Romance and intimacy aren’t quite the same thing. Romantic love sings out that “You complete me” and “I can’t live without you,” presuming that we are fundamentally unfinished without another person. This is reinforced by movies like Cinderella, Jerry Maguire, and Twilight, stories in which “finding the one” heals all wounds, relieves all loneliness, disempowers lurking witches, and of course leads to “happily ever after.” While it makes for good fiction, this romantic narrative perpetuates the idea that we are each an unfinished puzzle piece, forever waiting for the mate who can finally make us whole.
However, becoming a jigsaw piece to someone else’s puzzle is precarious. What happens if one of the pieces needs to change? Our wholeness is threatened! We have the choice of either fighting it or ignoring it—or the relationship is over, and we are again lonely, unattached pieces.
As yogis, our practice is to discover and then remember that we are already intrinsically whole. Rather than needing something or someone else to complete us, we recognize that we are already perfect and complete as we are. Not only are we already connected to the Great Source—call it what you will: God, universal consciousness, Ishvara, the collective unconscious, or higher power—we are that source. Our work as yogis is not to create a connection to the divine, but to remember that we already are an expression of the divine. In other words, while we may be flawed, striving, imperfect, and human, we are also already perfect, magnificent, and whole. As individuals, we are not incomplete puzzles pieces waiting to be fulfilled. Rather, we are unique, beautiful, and complete as we are.
As we bring our remembrance of our intrinsic wholeness into our relationships, we can begin to say “I choose you,” rather than “I need you.” We no longer need someone else to act a certain way in order to make us feel okay; instead, we want them to express themselves freely. Intimacy—the ability to really, truly know another person—arises from our capacity to curiously and lovingly experience our partners as they are, rather than who we think we need them to be.
As we bring our remembrance of our intrinsic wholeness into our relationships, we can begin to say “I choose you,” rather than “I need you.”
This Valentine’s Day, rather than settling for just the romance, let’s take the time to become more intimate with those we love. Inspired by the exquisite wisdom of thechakras (energetic centers in the body), here are seven loving practices that invite a rich exploration of your relationships. Whether you are working with a partner, friends, or yourself, these practices will nourish greater intimacy and connection.
1. Be present.
: energy center in the base of the pelvis Muladhara governs our physical connection to the world around us. Through our physical bodies, we are grounded in the reality of each moment and reminded that we are safe, here, alive, and embodied. The invitation of muladhara is simple: be fully present in real time with your loved ones. For example, on Valentine’s Day enjoy a technology “fast”! Put away the iPhones and Androids in order to be distraction-free for the entire evening with the person you love.
2. Enjoy your sensuality.
: energy center in the navel Svadisthana governs our connection to our sensuality. Intimacy with a romantic partner is about more than sex; svadisthana invites us to connect with the subtle and lush tapestry of all of our senses. Take time to awaken to the experience of your senses—sight, touch, taste, sound, smell. For example, savor one chocolate, exquisitely and slowly. What is the smell, texture, and taste? Another lovely option is to sit with your partner and spend five minutes simply exploring the feeling of their hands. What do you discover when you take the time to feel the person you are with?
3. Question old patterns.
: solar plexus energy center Manipura governs our egos and our self-transformation. Fiery and determined, manipura helps us establish our boundaries with others and with the world at large. This Valentine’s Day, notice the participation of your ego in your worldly interactions: Where do you need to have your own way? Do assumptions of right and wrong rear their heads? If you have a partner, notice if you are able to ask for what you want without anger, fear, or rigidity. Opening to scrutiny your habitual dynamic creates a space for play, along with the opportunity to evolve outdated patterns.
4. Practice gratitude.
: heart center Anahata governs the flow of our connection with others as well as with ourselves. Nourish your heart by noticing and appreciating all of the small things you cherish about your loved ones. Ultimately, our relationships are not made of grand gestures, but of the small daily acts of kindness and compassion. Anahata also invites us to breathe more deeply, and to find both the softness and the strength of the heart. An intimate practice: Sit with your loved one and consciously take ten slow breaths together. Sharing this quiet space nurtures our connection with the fundamental ebb and flow of the world.
5. Express your love.
: throat center Vishuddha governs how we express ourselves in the world. Vishuddha invites us to express our experiences, but also to listen and be present to hearing someone else’s. “I love you” is a beautiful phrase, but more meaningful is for someone to hear what you love in and about them. Take the time this Valentine’s Day to consider your experience of yourself, your partner, or another loved one, and more fully explore what this relationship means to you. You don’t always need to speak; you can express yourself through writing, painting, or sharing a quote or story.
6. Release expectations.
: third eye Ajna is the mistress of our vision and imagination. Visioning allows us to dream big, plan for the future, and unleash our creativity. However, visioning can also create expectations. Expectations for our partners can lead to unspoken rules and “shoulds” that we impose upon each other’s behavior. When our loved ones defy our expectations, we can either be disappointed, or we can open to the wonderful curiosity of learning to see them for who they really are. This Valentine’s Day, create the space for you and a loved one to mutually surprise each other. For example, you could ask your partner to plan an activity for the two of you that they’ve always wanted to do. You may be amazed by what they come up with! By releasing your expectations, you will create space for unknown possibilities, and enhance your ability to see your partner with fresh eyes.
7. Open to the great mystery.
: crown chakra Sahasrara governs our connection to the divine. For householders (yogis who participate in the world rather than retreat to a mountaintop), our relationships are portals to divinity. Through the experience of interacting with another being, we more fully connect to the mystery and diversity of universal consciousness. Just as we are each a unique expression of the universal power of creation, so too is each of our loved ones an equally unique and different expression of the same source. In the most refined aspects of our relationships, we are universal consciousness reflecting back upon and loving itself. Take a moment with a loved one to reflect upon the magnificent mystery of being embodied, alive, and awake. Sit with your partner (or you can do this with yourself) and place your hand on their heart. Then ask them to place their hand on your heart. Close your eyes and feel their heartbeat. Consider the astonishing intelligence that is keeping their heart beating, blood moving, and lungs breathing. Take ten deep breaths together, reveling in the magnificence of being alive.
Enjoy these explorations of intimacy—on Valentine’s Day and well beyond. Cultivating deliberate intimacy in our relationships is a magnificent and sacred opportunity to participate in the fullness of our human experience. And never fear: for those who love romance, these practices most certainly can be enjoyed with a side of flowers and dark chocolate.
Remember the words of T. K. V. Desikachar: “The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures, but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”