Partner Yoga: An Innovative Twist

by Kimberlee Jensen Stedl on Oct 24, 2008

Partner yoga can help students develop trust, strength and compassion. Try adding one or two partner yoga poses to your regular yoga classes or a full partner yoga class to your schedule to give students an invigorating challenge.

While some teachers define partner yoga as one person holding the pose and the second person assisting, I define it as both partners engaging in either the same or complementary poses with connections. I view partner yoga poses, not as mere variations on existing postures, but as entirely new poses. I give them their own names. This helps students make the mental shift from rigidly expecting the poses to be the same as the solo versions to enthusiastically exploring new possibilities.

Sample Partner Yoga Pose: Upright-Back Chair, Inspired by Chair (Utkatasana)

Cue the following:

  1. Stand back-to-back and hook your elbows together.
  2. Engage the abdominals to keep your backs together, and walk your feet away from your partner.
  3. Keep your own feet slightly wider than hip width apart, with both heel and kneecap lining up with the second toe.
  4. When your knees reach a 90-degree angle, with thighs parallel to the floor, hold this pose.
  5. Make sure your knees do not drop below 90-degrees.
  6. To come out, walk your feet slowly back toward your partner.

Tips and Modifications

  • The taller partner may need a wider stance, still keeping good alignment between the knee and second toe.
  • If it is difficult for any teams to drop down to a 90-degree angle with their knees, they can hold the pose at a higher level.
  • If partners land on their bottoms, you can encourage them to try again or push up to standing.
  • Students will need to engage the abdominals strongly.


  • This pose builds tremendous strength in the quadriceps.
  • Students learn to use core muscles to maintain good posture.
  • The pose encourages a sense of interdependency and teamwork.


The symbolism in upright-back chair pose is that even though you and your partner cannot see each other, you know that you are still connected and you can feel each other’s strength. Your partner literally has "got your back."

Key Teaching Points for Partner Yoga Poses

When you add partner yoga poses into a regular yoga class, keep these points to keep in mind:

  • Caution people with back or knee injuries. It may not be a good idea for these students to participate in partner work.
  • Make sure students can hold the foundational poses with steady ease and smooth breathing before you introduce the partner versions.
  • When teaching a partner pose, give students a familiar solo pose they can hold while they watch you demonstrate the collaborative posture with one of your more experienced students. Good solo options for this purpose include chair pose (utkatasana) and boat pose (navasana). Allow students to see the partner pose before deciding whether to participate.
  • Always give students the option to practice a solo pose instead, and respect their choice.
  • Avoid intimate positions unless you are teaching a class specifically labeled "Couples’ Yoga," and even then, be respectful of people's modesty.
  • Provide modifications, especially for the more advanced poses.
  • Partner yoga poses can work well near the end of class because students are more relaxed and open at that stage. I also use partner poses as segues from standing to seated poses or to lighten the mood after a difficult balance pose. You can even try adding a partner pose after corpse pose (savasana) to help students shift from the introverted realm of a yoga class to the extroverted realm of the journey home.

For more partner yoga poses, see the full article in the September issue of IDEA Fitness Journal or online in IDEA's Health and Fitness Article Library.

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About the Author

Kimberlee Jensen Stedl IDEA Author/Presenter

Kimberlee Jensen Stedl is co-author (with her husband Todd Stedl, PhD) of Yoga With a Friend (8th Element Yoga 2007). She is the founder of Punk Rock Yoga® and is a continuing education faculty me...