Keen on Getting Close

Keen on Getting CloseOnly weeks before I’m scheduled to co-teach a partner yoga workshop, I receive a link entitled, Why I hate partner yoga. The irony did not go unnoticed.

To be honest, I haven’t practiced that much partner yoga, and taught even less. But, when my friend approached me about teaming up for a workshop, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more. First, I do not have an aversion to sweat. I am a vinyasa teacher and practitioner, and sweat is part of the process. For the most part, I like people, and I love to share yoga, so we were off to a great start. And the stroke of luck that sealed the deal was that my partner for the workshop was well versed in the workings of this practice.

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The workshop varied somewhat from my experience of partner yoga in the past which was more akin to the article referenced above. Maybe I just had a better understanding of yoga in general, or maybe I was subtly rebelling against what I had just read, in either case, the experience was fun, communal, and very respectful. Crucial to the understanding of this workshop was the fact that it was not meant to be a yoga “practice.” The purpose was to provide an experience of yoga asana meant to support and deepen your personal practice, and to do this while cultivating an outward reaching connection. Just as many times in yoga class, we are working at what we think is our limit or our deepest point, completely engrossed in ourselves, and our instructor comes to our mat and with a gentle laying on of hands, helps us to find a deeper experience of an asana that takes us out of our heads and into life for a moment, so partnering in asana can help us break our own personal and mental boundaries, and therefore provide the tools to experience our personal practice at a deeper level.

Possibly the biggest “ah-ha” moment for me was the realization that working closely with another person is so difficult. The work done between partners who were together was more open, though it took a bit for a comfort level to be achieved, but when asked to partner with others in the group, the challenge was significantly greater. I found that even in myself, I consciously had to let go of my resistances over and over again. It seems that we often have an aversion to connecting with others especially those whom we do not know. We walk through life with our eyes on the ground, or on the prize, and rarely stop to look our neighbors in the eye. We shudder at the thought of touching a stranger on purpose, much less accidentally brushing up against them in line at the grocery. We are guarded, shielded to those we do not know, and often even to those who are closest to us. The bigger picture of partner yoga is not to replace the solitary experience and awakening of an individual practice, but to uncover our habitual resistances and to bring awareness to how that can limit our individual development.

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We all have our hang-ups, sweat, feet, personal space, whatever. However, when we are scrutinizing our personal evolution, don’t we all seek something bigger than our own individual drama? So many of the ancient texts and realized teachers speak of balance, that freedom from desire and aversion which underlies the deepest understanding that beneath it all, that we are all one. If our practice of yoga is limited, not necessitated, by an isolated experience of tuning out and turning in, are we limiting our capacity to progress beyond our small mind and move closer to the big picture?

I don’t think anyone left our afternoon together with a feeling of dissatisfaction, or hate. Many people found a playfulness (leela in Sanskrit) and openness that they may not have recognized in themselves before. Everyone left smiling, and my partner and I were grateful for the opportunity to share and connect. Partner asana may not be for everyone, but it was well received in my little yoga community that day.

What are your experiences with partner yoga? Did you love it or hate it?

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