Go figure: We try to get close and stay close in a relationship — but our tactics often put a strain on the very bonds we're trying to strengthen. Why not try breaking new ground? Get close with a partner yoga practice, and see how you can use it to strengthen your connection while having fun together.
A form of Hatha yoga in which partners support each other in modified asana (yoga pose) sequences, partner yoga is an increasingly popular concept that's been interpreted in a variety of ways — from AcroYoga to Couples Yoga to Mom-and-Baby Yoga. Each offers a unique opportunity to relate deeply to another person — whether it’s someone with whom you plan (or hope) to share your life, or a new friend you’ve just met in class.
Working with a partner can also help you move beyond your own self-limiting ideas of what you can and can’t do, says yoga teacher and healing artist Mishabae Mahoney from Bainbridge Island, Wash. Mahoney has developed a system of partner yoga called Balance Arts, a flowing vinyasa yoga practice focused on strengthening bonds between couples. Her book Lovers’ Knot: The Art of Sensual Partner Yoga guides individual and partnered practices that explore yoga and sex as powerful healing arts.
4 ways to get the right start in partners yoga
1. Don’t assume couples yoga is only for couples.
Some couples yoga classes allow you to sign up as a solo participant and seek out a partner in the class itself. If you go this route and you’re new to partners yoga, try to pair with a student who’s about your height and weight. Mahoney notes that as you get used to the practice, learning to adapt the postures to two different body types is a rewarding challenge.
2. Don’t expect miracles.
If you begin a couples yoga class with an existing partner, talk with each other before going to the first class about what you want from this. Try not to let your expectations get overblown in terms of how the class can remedy any specific relationship challenges you're having. Go in with an open mind and heart — not with a sense that this is going to fix something, but a willingness to learn and grow together by sharing and connecting through yoga.
3. Be ready to be giving.
As a supportive partner, your role is to listen as well as share openly, and to treat the person you’re practicing with as you’d like to be treated. Sound familiar? By exploring physical give-and-take, you and your partner can dive deeply into the principles that govern successful, supportive friendships and loving relationships.
4. Enjoy the moment.
Be present and focus on each other during your partner yoga class or practice — and try not to take anything too seriously, cautions Mahoney. “Take a deep breath and relax. Laugh together. Partner yoga is full of the hilarious and the divine.”
A couples yoga pose sequence to try
Child’s Pose is a simple favorite to explore with a partner, Mahoney says. “Everyone loves the deep release that the partnered variations give the sacrum and lower back. Child’s pose can also serve as a solid base for other heart openers such as Camel pose.”
Start with regular Child’s Pose, then add the couples elements: For a simple but delightful partners yoga massage, Mahoney suggests beginning with one partner resting in child’s pose and then moving into the following sequence:
The active partner stands between the resting partner’s outstretched hands, and the resting partner takes firm hold of the active partner’s ankles.
The active partner leans forward and walks hands down the resting partner’s back until you come to an Upward Dog-like position with hands resting on the lower lumbar or sacral area of the back.
From here, the active partner moves his or her weight forward into the hands to give the resting partner a deep low-back release.
The active partner shifts weight back into his or her heels, releasing the pressure. Repeat several times. Very, very nice!
Adapted from Partner Yoga, courtesy of Whole Life Times magazine. Watch our Yoga for Two practice online at GaiamTV.com!