Partner yoga offers an innovative twist on classic yoga postures. Adding one or two partner poses into your regular yoga classes or adding a full partner class to your schedule gives your 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.
Instead of viewing partner poses as mere variations on existing postures, I see them as entirely new and 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.
Key Teaching Points for Partner Poses
Partner work is not necessarily appropriate for everyone. When you add partner poses into a regular yoga class, there are several 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. There are plenty of powerful and challenging partner poses that involve nothing more than connecting with hands, feet or backs.
- Provide modifications, especially for the more advanced poses.
- Have students hold standing and strength-building poses for four breath cycles, and more passive stretching poses for eight breath cycles.
- Sequence poses appropriately. Partner work 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.
Two Sample Partner Poses
Upright-Back Chair, Inspired by Chair (Utkatasana)
Cue the following:
- Stand back-to-back and hook your elbows together.
- Engage the abdominals to keep your backs together, and walk your feet away from your partner.
- Keep your own feet slightly wider than hip width apart, with both heel and kneecap lining up with the second toe.
- When your knees reach a 90-degree angle, with thighs parallel to the floor, hold this pose.
- Make sure your knees do not drop below 90-degrees.
- 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 the partner team 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.
Double Down Dog, Inspired by Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Cue the following:
- Partner B: come to your hands and knees, with fingers spread wide and the middle finger pointing forward.
- Partner B: walk the knees back several inches behind the hips, and press the balls of the feet into the floor.
- Partner B: lift the hips high up and back, reaching the heels downward, with knees slightly bent. (Partner B has now established a solo downward-facing dog pose.)
- Partner A: stand in between Partner B’s hands.
- Partner A: fold forward, bending the knees and taking the palms to the floor 1-2 feet in front of Partner B’s hands.
- Partner A: keep your fingers spread wide, with the middle finger pointing forward.
- Partner A: lifting one foot at a time, take both feet onto Partner B’s back, with either the balls of the feet or the heels solidly on Partner B’s hips. Keep the arms strong, and avoid swayback in the lumbar spine.
- Partner A: gently push Partner B’s hips back.
- To come out of the pose, Partner A: gently hop down, straddling Partner B’s hands, and bending the knees for a soft landing.
Tips and Modifications
- Torso height will influence the placement of Partner A’s hands; students may need to experiment to measure properly. Partner A’s shoulders should line up over or behind the wrists.
- You will need to spot many of your students. You may also need to guide their feet so they land solidly on the ilium bones.
- If this is too challenging, Partner A can place just one foot on Partner B’s back and hold for two breath cycles, then switch feet.
- It is important to remind students to bend their knees and straddle their partners’ hands when hopping down.
- For Partner B, this pose provides a gentle assist for hamstring and calf flexibility.
- Partner A builds excellent triceps strength. In fact, Partner A is actually doing a half handstand.
- This pose has a "wow" factor, and students are elated when they can accomplish it.
The symbolism of double down dog is that if your partner provides a solid base, you can take a risk and really amaze yourself&mdashmaybe even taking flight.
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 member for both ACE and AFAA. Learn more about her practice at www.8thElementYoga.com.