February 28, 2011

Unifying Oppositions: How to Practice Partner Yoga. ~ Kristina Lekin

Partner Yoga on the Mall. Photo by lululemon.

Are you looking for a way to connect more deeply with a partner?

Be it a significant other, close friend, or even your mom? One way is to practice yoga together. Partner yoga has many benefits, including becoming more in tune with your partner by breathing together, inducing laughter when the poses become tricky to hold, learning to communicate by expressing how you feel in certain postures, as well as encouraging eye contact for breaths at a time. Partner yoga is an opportunity to care for each other as well as grow together.

If you practice yoga regularly, this will be a new spin on regularly practiced postures. Practicing with someone will help you deepen your understanding of the postures as well as push your limits. If you’re looking for a way to ease your partner into your yoga world, then this can be the perfect opportunity. The postures can be simple enough for beginners, while challenging for the intermediate yogi. The practice is barrels of fun, and practicing with you may be just the incentive they need in order to step on the mat.

There are numerous Partner Yoga classes, workshops, and studios popping up everywhere. While there is controversy surrounding this practice (some call it non- yoga), there is no harm in testing the waters. Try it out with a partner and see if it has a positive effect on your relationship and/or your yoga practice.

Described below are a series of postures that you can practice with someone. All you need is one mat and two hearts. Remember to breathe together, make eye contact when you can, communicate continuously and simply take care of each other. Deepen your connection on the mat in order to induce growth off the mat.

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

Begin by sitting cross-legged, back-to-back with your partner. Relax into each other’s support and start to become accustomed to your partner’s breath cycle. Take this time to connect and eventually begin to breathe as one—together on the inhale and the exhale through the nostrils. Share about ten breaths here together before beginning the physical practice.

Twisting Hearts

Turn and sit facing each other, once again setting both of your legs in Sukhasana. Both partners extend their right arm toward the other person’s right hip. Wrap your left arm behind your back and set the back of this hand on the right side of your belly. Lean in toward each other so that right hands may clasp the opposite partner’s left hands, and then sit upright. Ease each other into the twist, and look past your left shoulder. With each inhale, lengthen out your spine and sit tall. With each exhale, use your core muscles to help you twist deeper (don’t yank on each other to get there). Stay here for 4-6 breaths, and then switch sides.

Wild Angle Pose

Sit face-to-face with your partner, far enough apart so that you can just take each other’s hands when you extend your arms straight out. Sit with your knees splayed wider than your elbows and bring the mounds of both of your feet touching the mounds of your partner’s feet. Inhale together, and as you exhale, push into each other’s feet as you lift all four legs up into the air and out to the side. You may need to do one leg at a time at first. The legs need not be completely straight at the knee joint, but work towards that. Be mindful of your spine—don’t let it curl away from your partner. Breathe here together for 3-5 breaths.

For an extra challenge, move to the next pose without lowering your legs back down to the ground. Try to simply bring your thighs together, keeping the feet high, and quickly switching the grip of the hands from between, to outside the legs.

Navasana for Two (Boat Pose)

If you’ve come out of the previous pose, bring your legs together and between the arms. Once again, push into each other’s feet and lift up. You can both attempt to straighten the legs, but only if your spines are long. If the backs of the legs are too tight, keeping the knees bent 90° is a great place to start. Hold for 3-5 breaths and slowly lower the feet straight down when you’re ready to come out.

Two-Dogs-are-Better-Than-One Asana

Now that your cores are fired up, it’s time to have some fun. One partner will come into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) and the second partner will set up as in the picture. Partner Two’s hands are one or two feet in front of Partner One’s hands, but this will need to be adjusted depending on the relative heights of the partners. Partner Two will lift their right leg and set it just underneath their partner’s right hip crest. Once stable, he/she can lift the left leg and set it on the left hip of Partner One. Partner Two maintains a straight line along wrists-shoulders-hips, reaches their heart for Partner One, lifts hips high, while simultaneously assisting Partner One into a deeper Downward-Facing Dog by pushing feet back into hips. Stay here for up to 10 breaths. Come out the same way you went into the pose.

Plank Dog Pose

Partners begin in Plank Pose as pictured right. Top partner’s feet hook around bottom partner’s shoulders while hands plant close to bottom partner’s feet. This stance will, once again, greatly depend on the relative heights of the practitioners. When both are steady and ready, the lower partner will lift their hips and take Downward- Facing Dog Pose. The partner on top will lift up through their legs, pointing their feet towards the ceiling and pushing the floor away. Remain here for as long as feels comfortable for both partners. Communicate throughout the posture! To come out safely, Downward-Facing Dog partner slowly lowers back to Plank first.

Fierce Pose

Partners stand facing each other, just far enough apart that you can hold hands. Inhale—lengthen out your spines. Exhale and sit back together into make-believe chairs. Lean away from each other—this will require trust! Root down through your big toes and lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Look into each other’s eyes and smile as your quadriceps begin to burn. Stay here for at least five breaths and then slowly come back up to standing.

Toppling Trees

Tree pose for partners is an exercise in mutual trust and individual stability (i.e. how dependent you are on your partner on and off the mat). Beware: This pose can be significantly more difficult than the lone-yogi version. Stand tall with opposite hips touching and both practitioners facing the same direction. Mirror each other as you raise your outside knee, lift it hip height, and then slowly open it away from your partner. Set the sole of your foot either on the upper thigh, calf, or around the ankle (anywhere but the knee joint!). If the foot will stay there, offer your palm to your partner for a joint prayer. Stay here for as long as you can, and come back to this posture as often as life allows. It’s remarkable how much you can learn about yourself and your partner while attempting not to topple your own, and his/her, tree. Tip: Don’t lean too much on your partner, otherwise they become unstable. Find your own power and steadiness, and join forces with your partner to grow tall.

Assisted Cobra

One partner lies belly-down on the mat while the other partner sits on his/her calves. Partner One inhales into a gentle Cobra Pose, first to simply warm up the lower back. Stay here for one breath and lower as you exhale. On the next inhale, Partner One reaches back while Partner Two takes their hands and gently assists them into a deeper cobra. Refrain from yanking on your partner’s hands to pull them up. Partner Two simply leans back ever so slightly to lift Partner One’s heart off the mat. In this pose, communication between partners is key, since Partner One must say when the stretch is enough. To come out, Partner Two slowly eases Partner One down without letting go of their hands until their belly reaches the mat.

Lovely Child’s Pose

One partner will sit back on their heels in Child’s Pose. The second partner will stand about a foot or so behind them, set their wrists just above the hip crest of Partner One. Partners inhale together, and as you both exhale, Partner One slowly shifts body weight into their hands to encourage Partner One’s hips to release and move closer to the mat. Stay here for three breaths. Then, release the pressure gently. Come to kneeling to one side of your partner. Make a cup shape out of your hands and begin to rhythmically tap your partner’s back, one hand at a time. Avoid tapping on the spine and try to move through the entire remaining area of the back. Once you’re done, partners switch up. The one who gave shall now receive.


The final remaining posture is simple. Partners lie down next to each other (a second mat would be handy) and begin the relaxation phase of the session. Start by softening your own breath while being mindful of your partner’s inhales and exhales as well. Set the timer and remain here peacefully for at least five minutes. Afterwards, ease your way out,

sit comfortably face-to-face with your partner, and say to them, “Namaste,” with your hands in prayer over your heart. This means, “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you”, which is the perfect way to end a deeply unifying practice.

Namaste to you both.

Kristina is a certified yoga teacher with Pranalife Yoga, in Waterloo, Ontario. She loves to teach Progressive Ashtanga-based Power Yoga to anyone willing to get hard core on the mat. By day, she is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Waterloo in free radical chemistry.

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