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.
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!