When Rodney Yee and Donna Fone were courting in the early 1980s, their standard Tuesday night date was to take a yoga class in San Francisco, then have dinner and an evening out. Life today is another world. They have three kids: ages 10, 7, and 4. They’re co-directors of the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California. And with Yee being one of the world’s premier yoga teachers, there is his frequent travel, sometimes with family in tow, making life both rich and challenging.
“I’m constantly taking care of business,” says Fone, who oversees both the yoga center and the children. “Rodney is teaching, philosophizing, bouncing ideas off other people. Because we’re looking at things from different perspectives, we’re forced to confront them in a very yogic way. We don’t hideand can’t hide.”
Yee believes yoga benefits them as a couple by promoting listening and knowing your true self. “The study of the yamas and niyamas creates reflection and observation in your life,” says Yee. “Clear communication is based on clear observation. People get into trouble in relationships because they don’t see with new eyes. When you’re with someone a long time, you tend to set up certain roles and dynamics. The key to breaking these habits is basically the training of observation.”
Yee says you can do this with yoga: physically, through the asanas; energetically, through Pranayama; and pragmatically, through such observances as nonviolence, truthfulness, and nonhoarding. Yoga can also provide a helpful time out when two people are at odds.
“Donna and I, if we’re getting heated, will go practice and then talk,” says Yee. “We have a joke between us: ‘Go practice Headstand, then we’ll deal with this.’ If you take an asana break or a pranayama break, you’re observing your body. This puts you in a listening state. In a large sense, the practice of yoga is learning to respond and not react.”
Although Yee and Fone are fortunate in that they are both devoted yogis, they see yoga as a valuable relationship tool even when only one partner practices. “When just one person can listen more,” says Yee, “immediate changes take place in the whole relationship. Too often people think they need to change the other person. What you need is to change the relationship, and one person’s changing will do that. When someone says, ‘My husband is not doing practice, so we’re further apart,’ I question how that person is practicing. Practice shouldn’t create division; it should create union.”
This union is the foundation of their marriage and their lives at the forefront of contemporary yoga. “It’s a balancing act,” says Fone, “with Rodney at the prime of his career, me at the helm of the business, and both of us at the heart of the family.”