Why I Hate Partner Yoga


Stressed business woman, pulling her hair out

I rarely blog about anything controversial. I try to keep my writing and teaching as inclusive as possible, and spouting off my unsolicited opinion doesn’t help anyone. Today, however, I’m going to ignore my own policy. Please bear with me and feel free to chastise me in the comments. 😉

A couple of months ago, I shared an article with my teacher training students about yoga adjustments.  I don’t need to write about that topic, because I agree one hundred percent with everything the Sequence Wiz folks said. So if you want to know what I think about adjustments, please read that article.

Shortly after I sent it out, however, a student asked me what I thought about partner yoga. Against my better judgment, I’m answering her publicly.

I hate it.

Hate is a strong word, but in this case, it fits. My first yoga teacher (who I adored) included partner yoga at the end of every class. I’ve tried to block the experience out of my memory, but whenever I hear the phrase, I still feel a stabbing, ice-pick-sharp pain in my groin and remember people twice my size pressing down on my knees in Baddha Konasana while exerting significantly more force than my forever-injured hips could withstand. Lest you think this was done by a teacher with more enthusiasm than training, please understand that the teacher was well regarded, very experienced, and the co-author of a book on Iyengar yoga.

The pièce de résistance of my partner yoga experience, however, occurred during one of the many end-of-class “partner yoga massages.” As usual, I hid at the back of the room, trying not to make eye contact, hoping that I’d be the odd person without a partner and could graciously sit out the experience. No such luck.  While everyone else got and received shoulder rubs, my randomly-assigned “partner” asked me to rub her gluteal muscles. For those of you not anatomy inclined, let’s just call them her butt muscles. To make matters worse, she groaned in pleasure the whole time I rubbed.

When I got home and shared the embarrassing experience with my husband, he asked a reasonable question: “If you didn’t want to do it, why didn’t you say no?”

I didn’t say no for the same reason your students won’t say no the next time you ask them to do something unwise. No one else said anything, I was intimidated, I liked the teacher, and I didn’t want to make a fuss.

I eventually stopped studying with that teacher—not specifically because of the partner aspects of her classes, but because her classes kept injuring my body. Partner yoga had no small part in my injuries.

Holding hands in tree pose, balancing on top of your classmates, and stretching with arms and legs intertwined may be entertaining. It’s often beautiful.  It may even falsely deepen the sensation of stretching. In the case of true partners, it can beautifully deepen emotional connection.

But asana performed for any of these reasons isn’t yoga.  Not in the true sense of the word.  Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the practice of stilling the mind. The poses we do with our bodies should be in service of that goal.  Believe me, when I’m thumbs-deep in the butt muscles of a groaning stranger, my mind is anything but still.

For the record, I do think partner asana classes may have some uses, though I don’t want to teach them. Partner asana classes can help build relationships, increase trust, prepare for artistic performances, even provide tools to support a woman in labor.

But let’s be honest and call it what it is.  Partner-assisted stretching, acrobatics, performance art—even call it partner asana, if you want.  But don’t kid yourself. It’s not yoga.  And whatever you call it, I highly doubt that for most students the benefits outweigh the risks.

Next week I’ll give some guidelines about partner yoga for those who still want to teach it.

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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! 

11 thoughts on “Why I Hate Partner Yoga

  1. Becky

    Huzzah! Thank you so much for posting this! Last week I attended my first-ever yoga class. I spend 10 to 12 hours behind a desk every day, so it seemed like a good idea. It was a good idea. And when my body said, “Hey, let’s take a break” I took one. I was a #DownwardFacingWriter pondering how I’d work this into my next book. After class, the instructor approached me. I mentally braced for admonishment but she verbally applauded me for respecting my body and listening to its cues. I felt so comfortable that I’m going back next week. I doubt I ever try partner yoga, but thank you for validating the “It’s okay to say no” message.

  2. Sarah Smith

    I have always hated partner yoga…my body is small and there has never been someone my size and weight to partner up with, so I end up having to support someone who is much heavier than I am and it was so hard on my body. Nothing fun about it. Plus I didn’t like being taken ‘out of my space’, meaning I was in those classes to commune with myself, go more inward, relish quiet time and then the teacher announces half way through the class that we have to find partners to team up…and now my attention is brought into the room and my peaceful mind is now in ‘dreading’ mode. I never saw any benefit to putting my body into the hands of someone as equally untrained as myself. Thanks for the great article, Tracy!

  3. Elaine Ellen

    I should do yoga more but don’t. I don’t live anywhere near a yoga class. But I would be so totally uncomfortable with partner yoga, unless the partner was my husband. But he would never do yoga. Partner yoga sounds too private space intrusive!

    1. Whole Life Yoga Post author

      It seems intrusive to me, too. (Obviously!) I do hope you give yoga a try someday….

  4. Matt Nadler

    I absolutely understand and respect your concerns – especially with glute massages! Jeez!

    I teach weekly classes for older (50+) students – predominantly women. I include simple partner poses every other week for quite a few years. This part of the practice doesn’t take longer than about 15 minutes towards the beginning.

    As long as the poses are carefully thought through and explained I’ve found that the students thrive with them. More often than not they’ll have a bit of a challenge so they end up stretching or moving their bodies a little more than if they weren’t with a partner. Size and weigh differences are taken into account.

    The classes are always filled to capacity and when I’ve asked for comments they are almost 100% favorable. It’s fun, social and a tiny bit competitive.

    If doing poses with one another caused any physical or emotional or psychological problems, I don’t think these classes would continue to grown as they have.

    Is this “pure” yoga? Who’s to say?

    1. Whole Life Yoga Post author

      The only thing I’ll say, Matt, is that people attend specific yoga classes for a variety of reasons. They may attend your classes, like I did the class I describe, because they LOVE you–you are an awesome teacher, after all–and your classes IN SPITE OF the partner aspects. Stay tuned for next week and my thoughts on how to make partner yoga safer should you choose to teach it.

      And also remember, my thoughts and $3 might buy you a cup of coffee. 😉

  5. Pawan Thakur

    Healthily concur! I don’t show partner postures on the grounds that while I realize that rehearsing with others gives a decent vitality to the room not everybody needs to touch individuals, particularly individuals they don’t have a clue.

  6. Pingback: Guidelines for Partner Yoga | Tracy Weber – Whole Life Blog

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