Samantha Smith and her husband both grew up with divorced parents. They married very young and have a codependent familial relationship, of sorts, with three teenage children. While Samantha’s husband has many positive qualities, including being a brilliant and renowned surgeon who has saved many lives, behind closed doors his behavior toward her could be dismissive, and he showed up in their relationship in an emotionally limited and distant way.
Yet Samantha was determined to stay married as she had suffered the wounds of divorce and was committed to creating a different family story. She spent a lot of time in psychotherapy working on her relationship with her husband, refining how she responded to him, and while things were challenging, she made the marriage work.
After years in therapy, she felt she needed additional tools to manage the stress she held in her body and to continue to evolve how she responded in her relationship. When she came to Namaste, we worked with Samantha to develop a practice of breathwork, meditation, daily movement, and massage therapy. She continually worked on holding strong boundaries, breathwork, and mindfulness so she could respond to her husband from a centered, clear, compassionate place.
She mentioned often how her time on the massage table inserted loving energy into her weeks that felt uncomplicated and nurturing. Samantha held her feelings in her body, and the process of connecting with them and letting them go through a variety of bodywork techniques enabled her to avoid a prolonged somatic response to stress that would cause illness.
Her self-care practices combined helped her hold strong, empathic boundaries in her marriage, and see her husband’s stress and suffering as his own. Samantha’s self-care practice anchored her and enabled her to actualize her goal of staying married. She leveraged the practices to prime herself mentally, emotionally, and physically, and being in great shape was empowering.
She runs for about forty-five minutes each day, practices yoga twice a week with meditation and breathwork, and has weekly massages. While Samantha didn’t try to “fix” her husband as her path was her own, after a few years of observing Samantha, her husband was also inspired to work on himself in a multidimensional way. Ultimately, they are both working hard to build self-awareness, strength, and softness.
As a result of years of work, they both feel more connected to each other’s beauty as well as their own and more capable of recognizing painful and dysfunctional patterns that separate them from that perspective. The relationship is our ability to see the light in others, and an opportunity for us to be seen as well.
There is an imperfect beauty in each of us, and we can move through our day in a vacuum, disconnected and out of touch—or we can cut through indifference and distraction and look to see the good in others. If we can believe it exists and cultivate this lens, regardless of whether we are with our most intimate friends or the dry cleaner, we hold a key ingredient to inner wealth.
Our Greatest Teachers
The ability to build healthy, lasting relationships is one of the most foundational aspects of mental and physical well-being. Healthy relationships decrease stress levels, help us heal better after surgery, give us a sense of purpose, and can add years to our life. As human beings, we need relationships to grow and thrive. Beginning with our mother, the path of relationship provides the opportunity for us to learn about ourselves, learn about others, and evolve through the obstacles we face in life.
Surrounding ourselves with people who push us to break through our limitations and overcome obstacles is like medicine, albeit sometimes in disguise. Intimate relationships are not easy and require deep work and commitment to bear the ripest fruits. The more we connect with and learn to accept and love ourselves, the more deeply we’re able to connect meaningfully and authentically to the people we love. We return to the four layers of the Metta meditation. The first is our relationship to ourselves; the remaining three are intimate relationships, neutral relationships, and challenging relationships.
Relationship to Self
I could write an entire book on this topic alone, and it is a theme woven throughout the four pillars. Our self-talk, or the voice inside our head, is a powerful place to focus when nurturing this realm. The world-renowned researcher Brené Brown talks about how people who wake up in the morning feeling like “I am enough” is the happiest, most wholehearted people.
When we are wholehearted with ourselves, we can more readily welcome others into that dimension. The practice of not being hard on ourselves when we make mistakes, the practice of accepting our humanity and imperfections lovingly, yet still growing and evolving, is self-love. But where to begin? Simple rituals are a great start. Our hands are an extension of our heart.
Take a moment to try this: Place your hand on your heart, right now. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? Offer love inward by telling yourself that you are enough. Breathe for just one minute, repeating the mantra “I am enough” or another affirmation that feels right. You can also put your hand on your belly, where your power center is. The feeling there is slightly different than putting your hand on your heart.
Your affirmation for this practice maybe “I can be honest and brave,” focusing on tapping into your inner strength. Now try putting one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. You connect with your compassion energy and your power energy simultaneously. Another more active expression of this idea that I learned from the renowned neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki is a mind-body fitness practice called intenSati.
Developed by a woman named Patricia Moreno, the name is derived from the word intention and a Sati, which is from the Pali language of India and means “awareness.” The practice combines intense bursts of movement from a variety of practices like martial arts, yoga, and dance with the shouting of empowering affirmations such as “I am strong” and “Yes, I can!”
Combining empowering movements with inspirational words is transformational and helps us diminish negative beliefs about ourselves. Whether we resonate with a quieter, more heart-centered affirmation practice or a physically and mentally intense and empowering practice—or both—when practiced regularly, these affirmative rituals water the seeds of self-love and self-confidence and melt away self-destructive patterns.
Our most intimate relationships are the laboratory for our personal growth. Through those relationships, both wounding and healing take place. Here, we learn about and can practice being human. We learn to express our needs, accept the imperfections of others, apologize, and learn about commitment.
Our families of origin, as well as the families we create through partnership, marriage, and procreation, are fertile ground for these challenges and growth opportunities to present themselves. Within these primary relationships, we are faced with the puzzle of finding intimacy, forgiveness, and acceptance despite differences and sometimes dislike.
Siblings can push each other’s buttons and force each other into growth through conflict and resolution, and through learning to communicate honestly and compassionately, which sometimes comes after heartache and pain. The opportunity for healing is always there, but sometimes we have trouble peeling off the layers to get to the vulnerability that leads to repair.
Intimate relationships are our greatest teachers when we approach them with openness, curiosity, and intention. By creating practices within our relationships that anchor us in the intention of love, learning, and connection, similar to a self-practice that serves that purpose as described earlier, we set the stage for the fulfillment, which does mean perfection. For example, consider the hugging practice I have with my children.
Each day as part of our morning routine, which can sometimes feel very stressful and time-crunched, I hold them with intentionality and take a full breath. It’s quick, and they barely notice. For me, it’s a touchpoint that centers my day, reminding me what is most important in my life.
Prioritizing moments for intimate connection, whether it’s hugging our child or making love to our partner (instead of binge-watching Netflix), bears fruit. This is the fruit of a commitment to move through the hard stuff, anchored in the intention to nurture connection. It can be ugly, no doubt, but this is the nature of the human experience, the shadow side of everything magnificent and worthwhile.
Those with whom we have a neutral relationship are an opportunity to practice honor, respect, and reverence for other humans. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, often with these people, we can access and feel an easier expression of heartfulness than we can with our closest relatives. Why? One reason is that they do not push our buttons the way intimate relationships do, and they enable us to rest wholly on our values and teachings, as opposed to being sidetracked by emotional responses. Making an authentic connection at the moment with people such as our taxi driver, the front desk assistant at a doctor’s office, or the barista at our favorite coffee shop is healthy on many levels.
In that moment of connection, we feel our humanity, and it engages us more deeply in the experience of living. Taking a moment to see and recognize the humanness of someone who sits in this “neutral” relationship category creates a namaste experience. By “namaste experience,” I mean the ability to recognize that every human holds a divine light within them; the term namaste acknowledges this principle, as do words and beliefs from many other spiritual traditions.
Tapping into the universal, evolved experience of love allows us to navigate those more challenging relationships with mindfulness and a more malleable heart. When we can’t move through a challenging relationship, we suffer. This stagnancy has the potential to manifest mental and emotional hardship as well as physical illness.
The pain that festers in the dysfunction, anger, and even rage that lives in these challenging relationships can produce even greater pain, or healing, depending on how we work with it. We move through this difficult place and grow when we approach the tough relationships with some awareness of our storyline.
The ability to bear witness to a situation from a more spacious and objective place enables us to communicate more mindfully without getting stuck or swept into a negative vortex of mind and heart. To the extent that we can learn to listen to these relationships and let them be our teacher, they will serve us on the path to inner wealth. Personal growth and true fulfillment require obstacles to build stamina and flexibility, which ultimately enable us to feel strong and happy from our core.
When We Change, Others Notice
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but something has shifted since she started working with you.” Colby Parker’s chief of staff spoke those words to me a few months after I’d begun working with the socialite. This was the late 1990s, and yoga was becoming more mainstream. Colby had read a Vogue article about a supermodel who practiced yoga. She came to yoga to be cool, stay thin, and have toned arms for her sleeveless ballroom gowns.
We met her where she was—let’s get those arms toned! In the meantime, we added breathwork and mindfulness practice and snuck in a three-minute simple guided Metta (loving-kindness) meditation at the end of the session. Before she began practicing yoga, Colby was indifferent to the incredible team of people who worked in her home—not abusive, but not reverent either.
She paid more attention to her nails and page six of the New York Post than she did to the people who made every aspect of her life work seamlessly, daily. After about six months of yoga, breathwork, and meditation three times a week, something shifted. Colby began to look her helpers in the eyes, smile and say hello, and even ask how they were as part of a morning greeting. The entire energy of the house shifted because her vibration was different, and her dedicated team felt that shift in a big way.
Colby jokingly said to me during one of our sessions, “I’m becoming a better person every day because of you.” Even though she laughed it off, it was happening. Her friends and family asked her why she seemed softer and more easygoing. She admitted that while she didn’t think she had changed much, the work we were doing did make her think about things a bit differently.
Relationships Are the Key to Success
Dave Sutter had been practicing yoga and meditation three mornings a week for about a year when he decided to create a wellness program for his employees. He told us the work we’d done had such a profound impact on him; he was able to think more clearly and creatively, navigate big decisions with less anxiety, and overall feel like a happier human being.
Dave wanted his employees to have the same experience, too. His interest was, of course, in having productive, loyal employees, but he also wanted them to have a better experience of being at work and live their best lives. He attributed these more altruistic motivations to his yoga and meditation practice.
The program, one of the first corporate wellness programs Namaste created, and perhaps one of the first corporate wellness programs of its kind in the country, has had a tremendous impact on his thriving business. Employees stay for life, enjoying the supportive ecosystem that allows them to grow and thrive personally and professionally. Dave found that the practices informed his ability to be a better boss, partner, husband, and father.
He believed that relationships were key to the success of the organization and the well-being of the people within it. Creating a dynamic that fostered candor and innovation was important to him, so he was willing to invest resources to create a safe and inspired workplace. Pursuing our growth and development through relationships enables us to find and show up as the best version of ourselves.
In the process of learning to forgive ourselves, tolerate our imperfections, and show compassion to ourselves, we build that muscle to show the same to others. Dave built that muscle and then flexed it in the form of his groundbreaking corporate wellness program. When it comes to relationships, as with all the practices, we start where we are and work with ideas and actions that resonate with us.
For example, we may choose to begin by hugging our children more often and intentionally or endeavor to build more intimacy with our partner. As we move through our exploration of the power of touch and connection as an essential self-care ingredient, we couldn’t ignore the impact the digital world has on our relationships and the importance of unplugging.