Practicing Co-operative Opposition

Practicing Co-operative Opposition


“The aim of yoga is to calm the chaos of conflicting impulses.”

B.K.S. Iyengar (the most influential yogi of modern times)

What if your yoga practice could help heal distress and resolve interpersonal conflict?

It can. Cooperation between opposing forces is the key to reaching peace. It’s not about erasing differences but balancing both sides. This is true on the yoga mat and at the negotiation table. Tensions in your body and conflict between bodies can’t be realistically resolved by getting rid of differences. We don’t want dark and light to blend into grey. Best results follow from maintaining yet balancing our differences.

Research confirms that balancing opposite forces on the yoga mat has a dramatic power to calm the mind. Calm minds solve interpersonal problems more creatively.

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A Book Is Born

On a winter evening not long ago I was having a beer with some friends after my weekly game of outdoor hockey.  I was at a table with Jason and Pete, middle-aged men who, like me, had separated from their wives.  Jason began to describe his divorce battle.

 “She’s trying to take it all.  She’s in a fury, won’t talk to me, and her lawyer just eggs her on,” he said through clenched teeth. “But there’s no way I’m giving in.  My lawyer says her claims are bogus.  She won’t let me into the house but I’ve been told I can force her to sell it.”

 “Don’t your kids still live there?” I asked.

 “Well that’s just it.” Jason said.  “I care about them but I’ve also got to get my share.  I don’t want to force my kids to move, and look like a jerk, but no way I’m going to pay and pay while she lives like a queen in the house I bought.”

 “Can’t you find a compromise?” I asked.

 “I tell you, she’s gone nuts.  There’s no middle ground.  We only talk through lawyers.”  Jason went on.  “I’ve already paid thousands of dollars.  So has she, or even more, I bet.  It’s been going on for close to two years and we’re farther than ever from a solution.”

 Pete had been nursing his brew across from us in silence.  “Same with me,” he said, “for two years going on three.  I’m self-employed and hardly make any money.  She’s got a big job.  Just up and walked out on me.  Now I’m looking after my son and have to fight her for alimony.  How am I supposed to do that?   I don’t even know what she wants.”

 I had just signed the legal documents finalizing my own divorce which, from beginning to end, had taken under five months and 3.2 hours of legal bills.   

 “Listen guys.  It doesn’t have to be like that,” I said.  “There is a simpler way.”

 “Yeah, right.  Good luck trying that with my ex,” Jason growled. 

 “Have you tried talking with her calmly?”

 “Dude, you jest.  Sure I’ve tried.  But I open my mouth and we end up screaming at each other.”

 “Then shift your reactions.  Let me describe the strategy I used.” I said, and began to outline how co-operative opposition works on yoga poses and at the negotiation table.

 I explained that the key was to “park ego at the door” and to seek the best for both sides.  I described how a mindfulness practice could strengthen the body and help resolve conflict by respectfully balancing opposite forces.

 Pete in particular was intrigued and wanted to know more.  I realized from this conversation that many couples could benefit from putting these simple strategies into practice. 

 Simple they are. But not easy.  We most urgently need to make calm decisions at those times when being calm is most difficult – in the midst of emotional crisis.  When stakes are highest we feel most triggered to attack. For the sake of our children, our wealth and our personal well-being, it’s worth the effort to work past negative emotions, and put ego in its place.  

 I decided then and there to put these suggestions into a book.  The Yoga Of Divorce is being published by Friesen Press in the winter of 2016.