By Catherine Ghosh

When we allow love to transform us through Yoga, the first thing it begins to affect is our vision and thus our relationships. In this article, Catherine Ghosh reflects on the ingredients needed for success in relationships. Essentially, Yoga is a practice of the heart. Ghosh illuminates how this is the message of one of Yoga’s most important texts—the Bhagavad Gita. According to the Gita, love is the most powerful light in countering darkness and the transformative power behind achieving Yoga’s goal.

We are all connected. Honoring the interdependent relationships we all share in the world, sensitive yogis tap into the very essence of Yoga: connection. They ask themselves: What is the quality of my connections with others? And how do I choose to act within those relationships?

Most practitioners of Yoga will reply that they wish to act lovingly and peacefully in their relationships with others. It is easy to act loving and peaceful when nothing is challenging us. But how good are we at loving when all our buttons are getting pushed and our feathers ruffled? How deep does our love really go: Is it authentic? Or is it just a superficial display of how we think yogis are supposed to act? Is it consistent? Or does it evaporate the minute we’re being confronted with our own weaknesses or those of others

When we are inconsistent in feeling loving and peaceful under all circumstances, we become like Arjuna in the Gita: conflicted about how to act in response to the great tension building up around us and within us. Is our state of being a loving and peaceful one we can access all the time? How about when we are in the middle of an imminent battle within those relationships that matter to us most in life? Can we exercise our love then?

In Graham Schweig’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the first verse is identified as the bija, or seed verse, which anticipates the focus of the entire text. The first line of the Gita’s bija verse, presents us with a powerful juxtaposition of dark vs. light forces: dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre. Dharma represents the light and kuru the dark. Ksetre is “the field” upon which we move in our lives. And, according to the Gita, the field is not a very friendly one! Two armies line up to fight upon it. Yoga is about remaining focused on love even when everything surrounding you is inviting you to fight.

How do we avoid battles? The Gita tells us that battles will find us in life no matter what! We cannot pretend they don’t exist. We cannot skirt around them and avoid facing them. And we certainly don’t want to feed them. But, as Arjuna did, we still need to bravely move through them. Most of the battles we’ll face in our lives are already occurring within us. Our exchanges with others only activate them.

For this reason the Gita wants to know how we will act when this happens: when the outside world triggers our own internal fears, and doubts, and insecurities. This is when our behavior counts the most and when it is hardest to act lovingly and peacefully. The Gita’s first verse is therefore a question that highlights the power we all have to choose how to act at any given moment in our lives, upon our own battlefields.

Perhaps the most challenging part of practicing Yoga occurs when we are feeling tension within relationships. Yoga is identifying with the most permanent part of ourselves even while our relationships with others are constantly changing. Much of Arjuna’s anxiety in the Gita stems from his fear that his actions on the battlefield would destroy the already established relationships he had with many of the warriors on the field. Arjuna wanted to be true to himself, and yet also to society’s expectations of him. Because the two seemed to contradict, Arjuna became deeply conflicted.

What a powerful way for the Gita to open! Instantly it highlights how easy it is for humans to feel torn between their fears and their hearts, or between a superficial, material view of success and a deeper, spiritual one. Setting Arjuna’s conundrum on a battlefield—of all places—takes our interactions with other human beings to the ultimate extreme: that of life and death. It’s as if the Gita were dramatically reminding us that our interactions with others could either increase the quality of our lives or kill us. Toxic relationships are a reality. Identifying them is part of Yoga.

Perhaps the best way to test how deeply absorbed we are in Yoga is to test how loving and peaceful we can remain while faced with conflicts and tensions within relationships. In Chapter 7 of the Gita, Krishna describes one such person as “exceptional” and characterizes them as possessing both knowledge, or jnana, and the ability to offer love unconditionally. This “offering of love”—as Graham Schweig translates it—or bhakti, is what the Gita tells us is the secret formula for navigating through the tensions in our relationships gracefully. Where there is love and light, fear and doubt dissipate. This is a successful stance to take in relation to any challenge we may encounter in our practice. . .

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2014 of Integral Yoga Magazine.