By Lacey Gibson
Practicing yoga with a partner is a powerful exercise in learning to let go and embrace trust. Whether you recruit a best friend, a significant other, a family member, or a total stranger, you and your partner will undoubtedly become closer by the close of your session. Start with this simple sequence of fun partner exercises to begin your exploration of trust for two.
Back to Back Breathing
Start in sukhasana (easy pose) facing your back to your partner’s back. If your knees are higher than your hips when you come to a cross-legged seat, bring a folded blanket, a block, or a bolster underneath you for added elevation. Bring your shins to cross with your ankles stacked under your knees and rest your hands palms-face-down on your knees. Begin to notice the pace and depth of your breath and feel your partner’s breath through your back body. Try to match your breath to your partner’s breathing and together, begin deepening your collective breathing. Take 5 slow, steady matched breaths with your partner.
Your partner can begin by coming into balasana (child’s pose) with knees touching and chest resting on top of his or her thighs. Come directly behind your partner’s feet to sit with bent knees and soles of the feet anchored to the ground. Slowly begin to roll your spine one vertebrae at a time down onto your partner’s back. When your backs are aligned, check in with your partner to ask if the pressure of your weight feels okay. If it does, bring your arms overhead and bend at your elbows to catch your hands onto the space between their outer shoulders and their neck. Begin massaging by applying pressure with your palms and fingertips into the muscular area of your partner’s upper back. When you are ready to come out of the shape, slide your way down your partner’s back until your seat touches the ground and press your hands to the earth to roll your way up to a seat. Your partner can extend his or her arms forward and roll up to sit. Switch positions with your partner and repeat the exercise.
Back-to-Back Shoulder Opener
Come to standing in tadasana (mountain pose) back-to-back with your partner with your feet hips-width distance apart and your arms alongside your body. Then, reach your hands around your partner’s wrists. Once your hand grip is secure, you can both begin leaning your chest forward. Broaden through your collarbones, keep your shoulders hugging in, and keep your chin off of your chest. Pause for 3 breaths, and slowly draw your partner and yourself back to standing. Release the grip of your partner’s wrists and stand in tadasana for 3 breaths between switching roles.
From back-to-back tadasana, join arms with your partner by hooking at the elbows. Press your backs firmly into one another. Maintain this connection as you both begin to walk your feet outward and bend at the knees. Continue walking forward until you have both created a 90° angle bend with both of your knees. Avoid going lower than 90° to protect both of your knees. Maintain this shape for at least 3 breaths before pressing into one another and straightening your legs to release the pose.
Stand in tadasana and face your partner with about a forearm’s distance between both of your frontal hip points. Place your hands palms face down into your partner’s inner elbow, and have your partner place his or her hands onto the bottom of your elbows. Ground firmly into both feet with your weight evenly distributed. Both you and your partner should anchor your tailbones down as you start to lengthen your spine and lift your chest upward. Continue to engage through your core as you both extend your arms and slowly lean back. If it doesn’t cause compression in your neck, you can tilt your chin and lift your gaze upwards. Pause in this backbend for 3 breaths before your both bend at your elbows and draw your gaze back to center to release. Come back to tadasana for 3 breaths between switching roles.
Seated Hands to Heart
To complete your partner practice, come back into sukhasana, this time facing one another. Place your right hand onto your partner’s left knee and your left hand on your partner’s heart. Instruct your partner to do the same. Once your hands are positioned, close your eyes and feel your partner’s breath. Try to match your breath to your partner’s breathing and together, begin deepening your collective breathing. Take 10 slow, steady matched breaths in this pattern. Then, slowly blink open your eyes and thank one another for sharing this practice.
This heart-opening practice is merely a starting point for both you and your partner can learn to trust yourselves and one another while letting go of expectations and inhibition.