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Partners Yoga

by Jan Williamson(more info)

listed in yoga, originally published in issue 53 - June 2000

Yoga practice is extremely versatile; it can be practised in solitude or in the more social atmosphere of a class situation and can be modified to suit age, ability and need. It can also be done in a co-operative sense combining the skills and support of another person. In this article we are going to explain the benefits and advantages of practising Yoga with partners and friends.

Yoga's holistic approach uses physical postures (asanas), breathing and relaxation techniques in order to establish a sense of awareness and integration for each person. Its foundations in ancient Eastern philosophy are, nevertheless, very relevant to the modern, Western lifestyle; it can help to reduce the inevitable stresses and strains, both physically and emotionally. Yoga asanas work by stretching, strengthening and massaging all structures of the body. For example, a forward-bending posture stretches the muscles of the spine and of the legs and also, by compressing the front of the body, it gently massages internal organs.

This is 1 of 16 photos from the printed issues

This is 1 of 16 photos from the printed issues

Using our partner

Using the support and guidance of a partner, yoga postures can be enjoyably developed and extended. This can be appropriate for everyone, especially at the beginning of practice, but particularly so if there are restrictions because of injury, lifestyle or individual capability. Often the classical asanas can seem daunting, unfriendly and far removed from an individual's ability. Pairing up to do yoga acknowledges human limitations so that there is a greater sense of personal achievement and the whole experience is positive and enriching.

The effects of partnering are immediate, the postures work at a deeper level and then massage movements are directly applied. The reality and basis of practising yoga is, therefore, not necessarily to achieve an athletic stretch, but rather to experience the movement and to develop the posture within individual ability. The contact and assistance of a partner can enhance this development. In addition, a confident and trusting relationship promotes an atmosphere of greater relaxation.


As with any new regime, the initial introduction should be a gentle exploration; postures can be added to and modified as experience increases. As with all Yoga practice, partnering Yoga is best learnt under the guidance of a teacher. Normal health checks and contra-indications to practice apply. If suffering from a medically diagnosed condition consult your physician; do not practise immediately after meals. If pregnant it is recommended that you only begin practice under expert supervision.

Uttanasana. In this posture, a standing forward bend, the muscles of the spine and legs are fully extended. Toe touching exercises are normally inadvisable since they can strain the lower back; this partnering safely prepares the body for deep stretching.

Gently reach for the floor (Figure 1). When stretching is experienced at the back of the legs, reach forward and clasp your partners wrists. Lean back with arms fully extended. Hold for ten seconds, breathing deeply (Figure 2). On exhalation, squat, keeping feet flat on the floor (Figure 3). Relax in this position for ten seconds. Slowly stand upright, maintaining hold of your partner then gradually release the grip and gently fold the body down towards the floor (Figure 4).

Bhujangasana means rearing up like a cobra. This posture is beneficial for the structure of the thorax, deepens breathing and corrects tension at the base of the spine. Sit astride your partner and reach forward to grasp their wrists. On inhalation, lean backwards to gradually raise the body from the floor (Figure 5). As your partner exhales release pressure so that the body returns to the floor. Do not sit firmly on your partner's legs but gently so as to anchor the posture.

Place your hands directly over the back of your partner's pelvis (not spine) and, on exhalation, firmly press on to the body (Figure 6). Repeat twice more then move your hands to either side of the spine, level with the shoulder blades (Figure 7). Again on exhalation, but very gently, compress the body. Repeat twice more.

Pascimottanasana means in this posture that the lumbar and cervical spine are fully flexed. The abdominal organs are gently massaged and leg muscles loosened.

Sit very closely back to back and interlink arms with your partner. Offer the back of your neck to your partner's head and rest, breathing deeply. On deep exhalation gently squeeze your partner's arms and lean forward slowly. Hold, breathing easily for ten seconds then sit up slowly (Figure 8).

Slowly reach forward and aim to grasp your toes, leaning forward gently as you exhale. Hold for ten seconds before sitting upright.

Trikonasana a word meaning triangle, releases spinal tension on the triangular base of the legs.

Standing back to back with your partner, feet one legs length apart, interlink little fingers. On exhalation, slowly tilt sideways towards pointed feet until maximum stretching is achieved (Figure 9). Ensure feet remain flat on the floor and hold, breathing deeply for ten seconds. On inhalation slowly stand up straight and repeat to the other side.

Matsyendrasana takes its name from a yogi devoted to twisting the spine. It is one of the most beneficial postures especially for aching backs. Sit cross-legged facing your partner, extend your right arm to the right side of your partner's body, place your left hand behind your back so as to clasp hands. On exhalation, gently pull on the arms so as to rotate the body as far as comfortable to the left (Figure 10). Hold for ten seconds and recover slowly. Repeat to the other side.

For a slightly stronger rotation of the spine sit directly behind your partner while he crosses his right foot to the left side of his body and steadies himself with his left hand. Hold your partner's right hand, extend the arm and gently rotate the body. Place your foot so as to support the spine and on exhalation, continue rotation as far as comfortable (Figure 11). Hold for ten seconds breathing deeply. Unwind from this posture very gradually and repeat to the other side.

Sarvangasana means all-embracing posture indicating its widespread benefits. This partnering enables people apprehensive about inverting their bodies to gain the benefits of sarvagasana.

Standing close by the head, ask your partner to slowly raise their bent legs, hold the ankles gently (Figure 12). On exhalation ask your partner to press their arms against the ground while you raise their body into line (Figure 13). Once extended your partner will feel more balanced. Hold this posture, breathing deeply and reverse movements to gradually and gently replace the body onto the floor.

N.B. Sarvagasana is an entirely safe and well-designed posture, however, due to its revolutionary position, if becoming extremely hot or experiencing any breathing distress, discontinue and attempt later.

Inversion sequence. Partnering Yoga leads to experimentation and innovation. This series of postures progresses from a back releasing technique to a fully inverted position headstand (Figures 14, 15 and 16). No attempt is made here to describe the details of the technique. But be assured that the sequence is easily learnt under guidance and offers unique benefits.

Be inspired, invite your partners to join you in Yoga. Be patient, be accommodating, especially if your Yoga partner is also your life partner! But most of all, be creative and let us hear of your ideas.


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About Jan Williamson

Jan Williamson MAR, BWY (Dip), ITEC (Hons), Cert Ed is a complementary health practitioner, yoga teacher and pre- and post-natal therapist. She is director of the School of Precision Reflexology and is based in Exeter at the School of Complementary Health. She can be contacted on 01392 499360 email:

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