Bringing in the new year with yoga

Within hours of emailing my entire contact list—yoga students, networking group and greater circle of friends— inviting them to a partner yoga practice on New Year’s Eve, I got one “count me in” and a humorous tease from my friend, Shuli. They’d come if we served those waffles with cheesy-mushroom sauce, she said; it was a dish Philippe had accidentally created for our Bastille Day party last July. I agreed. “And karaoke?” she replied. I knew she was joking but also sensed she was interested in getting on the mat, something I take seriously. I assured Shuli the waffles would be served with champagne but that karaoke was asking too much. Shuli signed on at which point I knew I needed my husband’s help. He agreed but changed the menu from waffles to fondue.

In the days that followed, two more couples emailed to reserve a spot, and I was set. It was a motley mix of three experienced yogis and five newbies with one couple from Down Under, one from England and two mixed American women-Israeli men.

As New Years approached, I began thinking about the practice, trying to decide the best way to engage the timid newcomers, quiet the over-effervescent Australians and challenge the regular practitioners. I googled partner yoga and watched a few YouTube clips to see what other teachers suggest and unearthed old Word documents from previous partner practices I had taught in New York.

Monday night, December 31, was a school night since the winter vacation in Israel coincides with Hanukkah; Christmas and New Years are regular days here. The house was unusually calm: Benjamin was out, Daniella made a last minute dinner date with some friends and Simone was upstairs doing homework.

At 8pm, a half hour before class, I went downstairs to the studio, turned on the heat, lit sandalwood incense and set up eight mats, 16 blocks and four straps. I wanted the room to feel warm and inviting. Shortly before everyone arrived, I lit some candles and turned down the lights.

By 8:40, everyone, including Philippe, was on a mat and seated, though not necessarily quiet. A couple were whispering back and forth until I shushed them with a smile. Some laughed, egged on by the others.

I instructed everyone to sit cross legged back to back with their partner. They oohed and aahed and did what they were told. We closed our eyes and breathed into one another’s spines. There was a lot of energy in the room, which only motivated me. From the easy, comfortable seat, they took their arms out to the sides and put their palms together. I told them to lean to one side, putting the bottom hands on the floor and stretching their top arms overhead. For some, it was effortless while for others it was an intense stretch. I heard it in their breath and watched it on their faces.

After a few warm-up poses, I moved them onto all fours for cat/cow, runners stretch, down dog and child’s pose. We did lunges and twists, lizard, warriors, triangle and side angle pose to create warmth. I turned on a mix from a yoga teacher in New York and turned off the heater. For about 20 minutes, they flowed,  each on their own mats. Socks and sweatshirts were slowly being removed and tossed on the floor. Their internal heat was building.

They did downward facing dog with straps on their partner’s upper thighs and child’s pose with their hands on one another’s back. They stood for friendship bridge, first facing one another holding two hands and walking back, lowering their backs toward the floor and then alternating holding just the right hand and then the left.

We moved onto the floor for partnered seated poses: upavista konasana with legs wide apart, holding hands, one leaning forward and the other leaning back and then circling. From there, they slowly extended one leg up in the air at a time, touching their soles of their feet together for boat pose. Philippe took pictures. I circled the room to make sure they were in the right place or to see if that place felt good. The outbursts and giggles quieted.

Everyone laid down on their backs and a sense of calm permeated the room. Yoga happened. That subtle, magical, mysterious connection between mind and body and breath filled the space. Philippe slipped out to start the fondue upstairs. I guided the class into simple twists and hamstring stretches. They hugged their knees into their chests and made circles on their sacrum. Shivasana or final resting pose was easy. It didn’t matter that one or two fell asleep and snored. They had worked hard, stayed open-minded and earned their rest.

Boat pose

Child's pose full-on

At the end, when I had them sit back to back, line up their spines with the partners and breathe into one another, they obliged without making jokes or snickering. A shift had taken place; from fidgety to relaxed, from outward to inward, from lively to still.

After opening their eyes, they thanked me one by one, but it was me who was thankful. I left a lot of loving, committed students behind in Westchester and feel that loss. Here, I teach four classes a week as opposed to 15 in NY, and after a year, there are only a handful of steadfast practitioners. So each time I get someone new on the mat, whether it’s in my studio or elsewhere, on a monthly basis or a one-time event, I am grateful.


To partner yoga… and a year filled with movement!





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16 Responses to “Bringing in the new year with yoga”

  1. Shuli January 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Well written as usual. Can’t believe I actually did all that. Including apparently the snoring. Thanks for being kind on two accounts : 1. not posting my picture doing yoga and 2. Not posting my picture devouring Phillipes extraordinary fondue!
    It was an excellent and enjoyable experience and I highly recommend you try couples yoga class with Jennifer.

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:22 am #

      You are so very welcome! Thank YOU for coming and being so open-minded. xo

  2. Doris Fankhauser January 6, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Wish I could have been there, that sounded like so much fun and what a great way to end the year and start the new one. And – I LOVE fondue!!! Makes me want to run to my kitchen and make one right now! To a year filled with love, happiness and yoga!

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:22 am #

      So, did you make fondue? You love it because you’re European. I like it but the cholesterol aspect clouds the experience for me. The partner practice was fantastically fun. You should try it if you have the chance. To a good, good year. xo

  3. Marina January 7, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    Yes it takes me back! The consistency was nice. Maybe you can do a virtual Skype session for us who miss you?

    Happy new year!


    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:21 am #

      How’s your back? Your kids? How was your trip to London? I hope all is good. It’s pouring and has been for days, a little like Noah’s Ark. Stay warm and dry and feel good. xo

  4. Marianne/Mom/Grandma January 7, 2013 at 5:42 am #

    I read this with a smile on my face. What a creative way to ring in the secular new year! And I certainly hope it brings with it a new couples yoga class and others to follow, both couples and singles. Even I might have tried that one!

    Much love, Mom

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      It was fun for sure. Glad I/we did it. The fondue was fabulous, but of course! xo

  5. Laura Rotter January 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    As always Jennifer, a beautiful post. As a new teacher, I too have a handful of students that come to my class on a regular basis, and I appreciate each and every one of them!

    Happy New Year!

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      I am so glad to hear from you and to hear you are teaching and able to balance work (2 jobs) and family. Enjoy the beginning and the teaching. It’s a great journey. xo

  6. Dorothy January 7, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    Hey Jennifer – Am preparing to do a partner workshop for Valentine’s Day! Your words have inspired me.

    Much Love, Dorothy

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:18 am #

      THanks, Dorothy. Where are you doing the partner practice? It’s high up on my list of favorite aspects of yoga. Have a fabulous 2013 and love to all. xo

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:18 am #

      THanks, Dorothy. Where are you doing the partner practice? It’s high up on my list of favorite aspects of yoga. Have a fabulous 2013 and love to all. xo

  7. Liba January 7, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

    Great post, Jen! Made me very nostalgic. Miss our Tuesday class tremendously. Happy & Healthy New Year to you and your fam!

    Love, Liba

    • Jennifer Lang January 8, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Are you practicing at all? I hope the new year is good and that married life is better. xo

  8. Dorothy January 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Hey Jennifer!

    Our partner workshop will be at a studio in North Salem.

    Happy 2013!!!!!

    Much Love, Dorothy

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