A few weeks ago I wrote a blog article about partner yoga, or more accurately, everything I don’t like about it. Even if I think it’s unwise, however, my yoga teacher training graduates may not agree. If you still want to teach partner yoga after my last diatribe, here are a few guidelines.
- Call it something other than yoga. I know I’m going to lose this battle, but I had to say it again. The classes I’ve seen that claim to be partner yoga, are really partner asana. Let’s reserve the word yoga for practices that wouldn’t make Patanjali cringe. That’s the last I’ll say on that subject. 😉
- Provide clear guidelines on dress, hygiene, and appropriate touch. There’s a great Saturday Night Live skit in which Tom Hanks plays a sweaty yoga guy in partner yoga class. And I can only imagine that wardrobe malfunctions are all the more mortifying when someone’s standing on top of you. Don’t let your class become the next SNL skit.
- Teach partner yoga in dedicated classes or workshops, clearly advertised as such. Don’t surprise students or add it on to the end of a non-partner class. Give people the clear choice on whether or not they want to have someone else “assist” in their asana practice.
- Make sure students understand and can safely perform each asana on their own before they try it with a partner. Adding a partner increases risk. If a student can’t safely do the pose by themselves, how on earth can they be safe with a partner?
- Teach both partners how to helpfully assist. Do they understand their partner’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities? If the answer is yes, do they know how to accommodate them? If not, there’s a lot of baseline training needed before they should be hands-on with each other.
- Think of partnering as support, not leverage. The partner should never move a limb further than it can comfortably move on its own. (That principle goes for yoga teacher assists, too!)
- Pair students with appropriate height, weight and experience levels for the moves being attempted. A three hundred pound man pressing on the back of a hundred pound female is just asking for trouble.
- Choose poses that have a low risk of injury if there’s an “oops” moment. And believe me, there will inevitably be an “oops” moment. It’s safer to have people fall like dominoes out of Tree Pose than Headstand.
- Provide a safe word. I’m joking here, of course, but I think it bears mentioning. Whenever you teach something emotionally or physically risky, the student must feel comfortable saying no. State up front at the beginning of every class that no one should do any movement that makes them uncomfortable. Model that, compliment it, reward it. Doing so may save your student a trip to the ER and you a phone call to your insurance company.
The above guidelines are a bare minimum. I’m sure there are many others I haven’t thought of. If you teach or practice partner yoga, please let me know what should be added!
Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere!