As we move forward into 2021 with little relief from the pandemic, many of us still feel the pangs of separation from friends and loved ones and long for personal connection. If you live or shelter with someone and have the opportunity, practicing yoga with a partner can provide the nourishment of touch along with many other benefits. Partner yoga connects people through movement, breath and awareness in a uniquely intimate way. It’s also lots of fun!
Here are five reasons to give it a try:
1. Working with a partner can help refine your alignment and allow you to access deeper poses. In many partner poses, your partner’s body becomes a prop, replacing traditional props like bolsters, blocks and straps. The ability to literally lean into another person with confidence and trust can allow you to open into postures that might not be available without support. Likewise, the gentle leveraging that happens through touch in partner poses might facilitate deeper twists and stretches.
2. Interacting with someone else can become a mirror of awareness for your own inner experience. When you work with a partner in movement and breath awareness, you inevitably become more deeply aware of your own bodily sensations, breath patterns and thoughts. These are the very things yoga invites us to witness so that we might become more skillful in our engagement with both ourselves and the world. Even as you attune to the needs, resistance and challenges your partner faces, you will simultaneously refine your personal awareness, perhaps noticing many similar patterns that exist within you.
3. Partner poses offer opportunities to practice non-verbal communication. In our modern world, particularly in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, with masks and social distancing, we rely heavily on the faculty of speech to communicate our ideas, needs and concerns. But words make up only a fraction of total communication potential. Facial expressions, body position, gestures, touch and space are equally important tools for connection. When you invite a partner into your yoga practice and intentionally choose to keep as much silence as possible, you develop other skills to communicate needs, desires and boundaries.
4. Sharing movement with a child, friend or lover can help promote greater intimacy and connection. One of the principles of partner yoga is synchronization of breath. This practice alone can create a sense of togetherness and harmony. Furthermore, trying something new together creates the opportunity to share challenges, successes and vulnerabilities. To work together effectively, you will need to develop trust, understanding and perhaps even a sense of humor. All of these can deepen the bonds of relationships as well as create new ones.
5. Healthy touch has been proven to benefit both mind and body. A series of studies conducted by Dr. James Lynch in 1977 revealed that physical touch lowers the heart rate, reduces blood pressure and speeds recovery from illness. In an April 2020 article published in Time, Dacher Keltner, a professor of Psychology at U.C. Berkeley, discussed his concerns about touch deprivation in the era of COVID. “Touch activates a big bundle of nerves in your body that improves your immune system, regulates digestion and helps you sleep well,” he writes. “It also activates parts of your brain that help you empathize.” The intentional, supportive and collaborative touch of partner yoga fulfills the deep human psychological and physiological need to touch and be touched. And that, in turn, leads to greater wellness of mind and body.
You don’t need to have any experience or skill to begin a partner yoga practice. The sequence below provides a great way to start.Breathe Together
Sit back-to-back with your partner in a comfortable position. If you need bolsters or pillows for support, ensure that both you and your partner are at the same height to allow your backs to fully connect with each other. With eyes closed or softly focused, notice your own breath and find a gentle rhythm that supports internal awareness. After a few moments, bring your attention to your partner’s breath and begin to gently synchronize, breathing in and out together. Remain there for at least 10 breaths to establish a full connection.Partner Twist
Reach your right arm behind you to find your partner’s left thigh, then bring your left hand to your right knee. Invite your partner to do the same. Elongate your spine with a deep breath in, and gently twist to the right, leveraging the support of your partner. Remain sensitive to your own and your partner’s edge and pause at a point that feels comfortably challenging for you both. Breath together for five full breaths. Then release, pause and twist the other way.Stand Together
Reach back to catch your partner’s arms and link at the elbows. Both partners bring both feet forward, flat on your mats, hip-distance apart. Press firmly into each other’s backs to leverage your way into a Supported Chair Pose. Pause there for three breaths, then stand.
Face your partner, standing four to five feet from each other. Stand with feet firmly planted and soft knees. Both of you reach your right arms forward and catch your partner at the forearm with a firm grip. Hinge at your hips and bow halfway forward, pulling gently on each other’s arms to create a deep side body stretch. Hold for five breaths, then support each other as you return to a standing position. Repeat on the opposite side.Partner Warrior II
Stand side by side, facing opposite directions, with the outer edge of your left feet touching. Connect to your partner, holding your left hands together. Step your right feet wide and turn your right toes to face the front edge of your mats. Reach your arms wide and turn your gaze toward your extended right fingers. Use the hand-to-hand connection with your partner for support as you bend more deeply into your right knee. Hold for three to five breaths, then stand upright and repeat on the opposite side.
Supported Warrior III
Stand face to face with your arms reaching forward and resting on each other’s shoulders. Walk your feet back and away from each other as you bow forward about 90 degrees. Micro-bend your right knees and gently reach your left legs out behind you. Use the support of your partner’s shoulders to maintain balance while engaging your abdominal muscles for support. Hold for three to five breaths, then support each other as you stand up. Repeat on the second side.Partner Boat Pose
Sit facing each other with knees bent. Reach your arms forward on the outside of your legs to hold each other’s wrists. Then connect the balls of your feet to your partner’s and press firmly together as you press your legs upward. Try to keep your spine extended and your chest lifted even as you hold hands.Wide-legged Forward Fold
Sit facing each other with legs wide apart and your feet pressing into your partner’s shins. Clasp each other’s wrists, then gently lean back as your partner eases into a forward fold. Gently rock side to side for a few breaths, then return to an upright position. Switch roles.
Thank your partner in whatever way feels appropriate to you, then return to your own space for savasana. Lower to a supine position with whatever support you need to remain in comfortable stillness. Notice what it feels like now to be on your own and allow your full awareness to drift inward. Remain in this space for five to ten minutes or more.
Sheila Ewers, ERYT500, YACEP, owns Blue Lotus Yoga in Johns Creek. A former professor of writing and literature, she leads group and private lessons, yoga philosophy workshops, yoga teacher training and retreats. Contact Sheila at [email protected]