Saturday, December 13, 2014

Partner Yoga: The Bitter & The Sweet

Excerpted from Chapter One of Partner Yoga: Making Contact for Physical Emotional & Spiritual Growth by Cain Carroll and Lori Kimata ND
Welcome. We're excited you've joined us for this journey. We've created a practice that brings two people together through yoga and touch. The practice involves physical postures, conscious breathing, touch, intimacy, trust, communication and play. We call it Partner Yoga. Like yoga, Partner Yoga is more than just an exercise program you fit in here and there. The practice of Partner Yoga is not confined to the studio or the yoga mat. Rather, the practice is something that permeates every aspect of your life.
Partner Yoga creates the opportunity to be in an interdependent partnership. Unlike partner-assisted yoga, where one person is doing the yoga posture and another is assisting, Partner Yoga postures are mutually beneficial. For example, let's take a traditional yoga posture like Extended Triangle Pose, Utthita Trikonasana. You and your partner stand back to back both positioning yourselves in Triangle Pose, pressing your backs into each other and linking arms as you both move into the full posture. Together you have created a new posture which we call "Double Triangle." This produces a different feeling than doing the posture alone. Both of you are giving support and benefiting at the same time. You will also notice that if one of you leans too much, or not enough, both of you will topple over. Exploring the perfect balance between the two of you is half the fun. The playfulness arises from this dynamic nature of partnership.
In this book we present sixty Partner Yoga postures and three Partner Yoga Flows. Some postures challenge your balance, strength and flexibility, while others address trust and communication. Some feel so goofy you'll fall to the ground laughing, while others feel so deep they might make you cry. When you combine your efforts and connect through touch, something magical happens. As the Carl Jung once said, "Like any chemical reaction, when two things make contact, both are transformed."
Why Practice Partner Yoga?
Benefit One: Cultivating Touch
"Hands are the heart's landscape" - Pope John Paul II
Touch transforms. All Partner Yoga postures involve touch so we might as well start right here. If you're going to practice Partner Yoga, begin by looking at how comfortable you are with touching and being touched. Some of us are naturally more tactile or touch-oriented than others. This is usually due to a combination of how we were brought up, the culture we live in and our unique personality.
Lori: When I was in college doing my work in Psychology, I studied human behavior by doing funny fieldwork experiments. I would purposely touch people with my arm or leg while standing on the bus or in an elevator and watch how people became uncomfortable or apologetic, as if it were a bad thing and someone was at fault. Some people would even walk away. I noticed how uptight people were with touching. I cracked up when Cain told me he still does this in movie theaters and crowded elevators. It's no wonder we work so well together.
Touch is a touchy subject. As babies, this didn't seem to be so. Somebody was always grooming us or wiping our bottoms. Touch was a pretty obvious necessity. If we didn't get touched, we'd probably have grown up with a few extra problems, or perhaps for some of us, that might explain a few of our problems. Studies conclude that if an infant doesn't receive physical contact through touch, even if all other basic needs are met, that infant will suffer serious health problems.
Mary Carlson, a neurobiologist and associate professor of neuroscience in psychiatry has spent close to three decades studying the effect of touch on the developing brain. Carlson concludes that touch is crucial to the release of cortisol (an important adrenal hormone) and the regulation of our stress-response system. This influences our metabolism, immunity and neural functioning. Children who aren't touched exhibit serious social and behavioral problems like the lack of basic social emotions, as well as suppressed physical growth and impaired immune systems. Studies show they have trouble walking, balancing, holding crayons, voicing basic needs, and remembering words.
Dr. Ashley Montagu, in his ground breaking book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, claims that, "tactile needs don't change with aging. If anything they seem to increase." Babies and infants are certainly not the only ones who need to be touched. We ALL need to touch and be touched for optimum health and happiness. Think of how nourishing skin to skin contact feels.
Somewhere along the way, we became weary of touching one another for fear of social, legal or health repercussions. In the United States we have become more accustomed to connecting through machines than our skin. Our hi-tech world ties us together in many useful ways. With phones, e-mail and television we can link nearly every corner of the globe. Unfortunately, during the paving of these information super-highways good old human contact got left behind. Technology is limited in its ability to truly bring us closer. A simple handshake can often tell us more about a person than the internet or a telephone ever could.
Touch has also been misconstrued by the way our culture deals with sex. Around puberty most people start exploring their sexual nature. As young people get in touch with their sexual feelings they begin to feel connections between touch and sex. Larry Dawson, in his bookTouch Not Necessarily Sex describes how this relationship between touch and sex has become distorted in our culture. The uncertainty around the implications of touch make many people fearful. The result is a society that is intimacy deprived and sexually wounded. It seems we flip-flop between over-indulgent and sexually repressed without ever truly understanding our sexual nature. Movies, magazine articles, lectures and books have attempted to sum up this subject in myriad ways throughout the years. Yet, as a culture, we still know very little about human sexuality.
What we do know is that we are all sexual. Accepting this is the first step toward understanding our sexual nature. Partner Yoga is opportunity to look at your sexuality from a different angle. Maybe you're lying on your partner's back completely relaxed and suddenly a sexual thought or feeling arises. Partner Yoga gives you the opportunity to take a moment and simply observe what you are feeling and thinking. You don't have to repress these feelings or act on them, you can simply be with them, and in turn they will teach you more about yourself. If you jump up and run away or act immediately on these sexual feelings, you may miss a valuable opportunity. Partner Yoga is a playground for learning to embrace the various aspects of your self, including your sexuality.
If you're practicing Partner Yoga with a sexual partner, practice observing your feelings without acting on them right away. By making the conscious choice not to immediately act on your sexual inclinations you are giving yourself the opportunity to experience touch and sexuality in a unique way.
What would the world look like if people were more in touch with themselves and each other? How would it be different if we could let our guard down, relax and embrace each other as our true selves? This transformation on an individual level ultimately helps create a society that practices cooperation, tolerance and interdependence. If we want a more harmonious world, we have to begin by finding healthy ways of meeting our basic need for touch.
Benefit Two: Increasing Fitness
To stay healthy, we need to be touched. This is one spoke in the health and happiness wheel. Our health also depends on how fit we feel. Usually we associate fitness with physical fitness. In Partner Yoga we expand our concept of fitness to include physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fitness. Vibrant "total being health" is a fusion of all these aspects and more. It's different for everyone. Some of us are content with a walk around the block and a good book, while others need to do three hours of intense martial arts and write a software program to feel mildly challenged. The point is we all need to do something to stay at our optimum level of fitness.
Staying fit is a simple equation--all you have to do is do it. It sounds simple, although most of the time it's not that easy. Life is full of distractions. Do you ever talk yourself out of a workout because other "more important" things take precedent? How often have you quit exercising because you were bored, frustrated or just plain lazy? Staying fit takes focus and motivation. Having a fitness partner can be more fun and help you stay on track. You need to enjoy what you're doing or it won't last for long. Practicing partner postures for strength, stamina and flexibility (see Chapter 7) along with the Quick Flow and Power Flow (see Chapter 10) is a great way to meet your needs for fitness and fun.
Your level of physical fitness is a result of everything you do. Your job and lifestyle have as much of an influence on your physical fitness, as your designated work-out. Practicing Partner Yoga postures is a great way to support a healthy lifestyle. Breathing techniques increase your lung capacity and improve your circulation by working the diaphragm and back muscles. Holding physical postures develops strength and flexibility and increases the efficiency of your muscular system. Postures which involve bending and twisting irrigate the spine, and tonify the entire nervous system. Twists and bends also stimulate the abdominal organs and improve digestive health. Practicing yoga builds power without rigidity and creates a supple efficient body which performs well in a variety of activities. People who begin a regularly practice of Partner Yoga are often amazing at how much more energy they have. With a supple body and relaxed mind you are able to accomplish more by doing less. The key is to keep practicing with loving kindness, patience and a sense of humor.
Lori: I remember in high school when I started running track. In my first race I literally thought I was going to drop dead at the third corner of a 440 run. I had one more quarter of the track to go and I thought I was going to simply fall to the ground. I breathed deeply, slowed to a pace where my mind stopped panicking and somehow finished the race. By the end of the season I was running cross-country without too much problem. The ability of the human body to keep stretching to new fitness levels continues to amaze me.
Mental fitness is associated with your degree of clarity, focus and intelligence. All of these aspects depend largely on how peaceful your mind is. In Partner Yoga "peaceful mind" is the umbrella under which all other aspects of mental health fall. Practicing Partner Yoga means using the entire practice--the postures, the breath, the partnership--to bring the mind into a calm state of focus. Developing mental fitness is about training the mind to suspend, from time to time, the constant bombardment of thoughts. Have you ever sat for a moment to observe what goes on in your head? For many people that can be pretty scary. With thousands of conflicting thoughts and worries all yelling at the same time, it can be like a war zone in there. In Partner Yoga, you practice focusing the mind--on your breathing, balance and alignment--as a means of training the mind to find peace amid the chaos.
As J. Krishnamurti once said, "When the mind is still, tranquil, not seeking any answer or solution, even, neither resisting nor avoiding, it is only then that there can be regeneration, because then the mind is capable of perceiving what is true and it is the truth that liberates, not our effort to be free." We practice "peaceful mind" in Partner Yoga with gentle patience rather than force. We cannot make our minds peaceful. We can only open to our truth and allow the mind to let go of extraneous thoughts that often distract us from finding our peace.
People often tell us they simply can't meditate or hold postures because they can't shut off their minds. That is what practice is for! Like anything, creating a peaceful mind takes patience and consistency. In Partner Yoga you and your partner help each other relax and focus as you move through postures. If you allow your mind to wander you might lose your balance or even hurt your partner. Being accountable to another person is a great motivating force. The key is to work as a team and support each other in this process.
Mental fitness overlaps naturally with fitness on an emotional level. Emotional fitness starts with becoming more aware of what you are feeling. Your degree of emotional fitness depends on your ability to recognize, acknowledge and fully experience each feeling. Sometimes it's more convenient to avoid feelings, yet eventually they catch up with you. When you don't let yourself fully experience feelings, they become stuck and eventually weigh you down. Over time, these unexpressed feelings adversely affect your body, mind and spirit.
Practicing Partner Yoga can bring up a wide array of feelings. When you depend on your partner for support in a lifting or leaning posture, for example, you naturally have to trust, and to some degree, surrender. This can bring up all kinds of unexpressed feelings. Once again you have stumbled upon a precious opportunity for growth. If you run, fear's got a hold on you. If you stay, you uncover valuable truths about yourself. In a safe arena where you feel accepted and supported you can relax and let your feelings flow naturally. This emotional "opening" can help you feel lighter and more content.
Ultimately, as you increase your physical, mental and emotional fitness, your spirit is happier. You've moved your body, relaxed your mind and opened your heart. Now you can listen to your inner voice with greater clarity. Partner Yoga gives you a quiet space to hear that whispering voice inside tell you exactly what you need to feel happy and whole.
Benefit Three: Having Fun
"What we play is life." - Louis Armstrong
Partner Yoga is meant to be playful and fun. Approach everything you do in Partner Yoga with a sense of humor and creativity. If you notice you aren't having fun anymore, take a moment to breathe, lighten up and ask yourself a few questions: Why am I taking this so seriously? Am I struggling to get a posture just right? Am I worried about being good enough? Am I trying to impress my partner? Sometimes we place so much importance on being "good" at things we forget to enjoy them.
In Partner Yoga it's not how well you do a pose, it's how much you enjoy the pose. Let's say you're moving into a seated pose and you're not able to stretch as far as you wanted to. You are disappointed and uncomfortable. You're not having fun. Here's where those "new eyes" come in. If you really want to, you can turn pain into growth, fear into courage, and resistance into acceptance. When you approach yourself with curiosity and compassion, rather than berating yourselves for not being good enough, you beget a new way of being. You begin to laugh at your shortcomings and smile at your insecurities. Life becomes less serious, and there is an inherent playfulness in everything you do.
Watching children is a simple reminder of what it means to be playful and free. They have a sense of fascination and presence in whatever they do. For many children life is one big playground. As adults, our worries and responsibilities tend to weigh us down. If the playful child in us gets pushed aside it affects our well-being.
Health comes with lightness and joy. Norman Cousins, in his best seller Anatomy of an Illness, describes how the amazing power of laughter helped to heal his own life threatening disease. Suffering from a serious illness and finding no success in the hospital, he decided there had to be a better way. Leaving the hospital, he checked into a hotel room where he pampered himself with funny re-runs of Candid Camera and The Marx Brothers. Laughter turned out to be a potent medicine. Mr. Cousins regained his health and went on to write and lecture about how emotions affect body chemistry, and the importance of humor and lightness in our every day life. As you practice Partner Yoga make having fun your priority. Laugh often and allow yourself to get a little goofy. Become skilled at the art of being silly and spontaneous.
Benefit Four: Relaxing
"Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place." - Tao Te Ching
Many people come to Partner Yoga for contact, fitness or fun. Other people come just to chill. Either way, we'd prefer Partner Yoga doesn't end up as another item on your "to-do" list. Most of you already have more than enough to "do." In fact, our culture places so much importance on what we do, that we are starting to become a race of human "doings" instead of human beings. Partner Yoga is about learning to relax and just be. For example, if you are practicing a posture and you become uncomfortable, explore the discomfort and find a new way to breathe into the posture to release the tension. Take your time. Rushing to do postures is like speeding to a massage appointment then running off to the next activity, you hardly get to taste the sweetness of what you're experiencing. If you catch yourself thinking of relaxation as something that has to be done, you're missing the point. Relaxation is a state of being.
For many of us, stress and tension are such a normal part of our lives we sometimes aren't even aware they're there. It's only when we find our shoulders up to our ears that we realize we're holding a little tension. As you practice Partner Yoga take some time to look at how you are managing the stresses in your life. Having stress is usually not the problem. Stress is simply another experience, although many of us could benefit from eliminating a few unnecessary stressors. In most cases it's how we manage the stress that causes the problem. It's just like food. Food isn't bad. How we manage the food is usually what gets us into trouble. If we take in an adequate amount to nourish us at a nice pace, we feel wonderful. If we stuff ourselves in a hurry we usually end up with a stomachache. The causes of our "tension aches" are similar and not always as obvious.
Remember to help your partner stay aware of how they hold tension. Sometimes they may not even realize their shoulders are up to their ears. A little reminder can be useful. Two good indicators of tension are the shoulders and the hands. As you practice partner postures stay relaxed in these areas. It may seem like gripping your partner's hand in certain postures makes the posture more secure. Most of the time that's not the case. With practice you realize that holding your partner's hand in a firm yet relaxed way is much more effective.
Benefit Five: Strengthening Relationships
Cain: I was in the middle of working on this section about relationships when a friend asked me to be in his wedding in California. On the way back to Hawaii, I got stuck for seven hours at the international airport and decided to change this unfortunate turn of events into a field study on relationships. I wandered through the airport asking people of diverse ages and ethnicities to share their recipes for a successful relationship. Although their accents and skin colors varied greatly, people's responses were surprisingly similar. Every person I asked mentioned communication as one of the main ingredients of a good relationship.
Our conversations are a reflection of our everyday experience and the events of our time. Maybe that's why people are always talking about relationships and the weather; the two are timeless topics that affect every aspect of our lives. Think for a moment about the vast matrix of relationships that make up your environment. The most obvious ones are friends, family and co-workers. How about pets, plants, your home, the weather and the planet you live on? How do you relate to yourself?
Actually the last question is the one we are most interested in. So how do you relate to yourself? How do you communicate with yourself? Are you kind? Are you tactful? Do you accept yourself? Do you respect yourself? Do you trust yourself? Do you enjoy you own company? Do you like yourself? Do you love yourself? It may seem silly to answer these questions, yet the responses will unveil the foundation upon which all of your other relationships are built. There are no right answers and nobody is waiting for a response. So take a little time to digest these questions. Respond to yourself honestly, without regard for how you "should" feel or what your response "ought^ to be.
The fact is, in our busy lifestyles we don't take much time to cultivate a relationship with our selves. When we do, we usually feel more grounded and centered. In our relationships with other people, however, we are required to fill so many roles--teachers, students, parents, lovers, professionals--that it's easy to get pulled off center. In dance or martial arts you learn to move from your center with out being pulled off it. Your center is the source of your balance, power and truth. To abandon your center in dance or martial arts is virtually a sin. In our daily relationships the same principle applies. In relationships "moving from your center" means having a deeper understanding of who you are; it means first establishing honest relationships within yourself and then sharing that person with others. Of course, being real with ourselves can be kind of scary at times. There are always those parts of ourselves we would rather not see, let alone share with others. So we become masters of illusion. With shades of truth we paint a personality we can accept and in turn present to the world. Some of us have created such a masterpiece that even we cannot remember who we really are.
Building a strong center begins with acceptance of the real you, the whole you; even the parts you don't like. If you can approach this relationship with yourself with a sense of intrigue, humor and compassion, all of your other relationships will follow suit. There are no magic methods or short cuts. J. Krishnamurti puts it best when he writes, "There is no path to truth. Truth must be discovered, but there is no formula for its discovery. What is formulated is not true. You must set out on the uncharted sea, and the uncharted sea is yourself."
Most of you will choose to practice Partner Yoga with someone you already have a relationship with. That person may be your friend, your lover or your child. The physical contact, communication and mutual support required to practice Partner Yoga can certainly strengthen that relationship. Take a gym partner or fitness buddy for example. As you help each other with alignment, balance and concentration, you are building trust and serving as mirrors for each other. Each of you learns more about yourself with the help of your buddy.
Partner Yoga uses the same buddy system that has been around for ages. Tested through time, we know the buddy system works. Looking out for each other, finding safety in pairs, and watching your partner's back are familiar concepts to most of us. As kids we were taught to hold hands when crossing the street and to always travel with a buddy. As we get older, many activities use this same concept. Scuba diving, weight lifting and rock climbing, for example, use the buddy system for safety and support. Partner Yoga postures are similar in many ways. If you notice your partner is stepping way out of alignment in a posture, you can encourage them back. You are physically supporting your partner in certain postures, and literally looking out for them. There might be times when your partner is not paying attention and could injure themselves. As a good buddy you could gently call their attention back or suggest that you take a break to re-group. Partner postures remind us of how important it is to have a buddy and what it really means to be one.
If you have chosen to practice Partner Yoga with your child you are bound to have some fun and get to know each other in a whole new way. Children sometimes have idealized concepts of their parents: parents are always right, they are always strong, and parents know everything. Of course we all know none of these claims are true (although parents may not want to hear that). If you practice Partner Yoga with your child make him or her feel like your equal, your buddy, your partner. Approach the activity with an added element of honesty and vulnerability and your relationship will certainly deepen.
If you practice Partner Yoga with your lover, you have a great opportunity to further your intimacy. Listen to the sound of each other's breath and synchronize your breathing patterns. Together move slowly through poses with grace and sensitivity. Stay acutely aware of each other's physical structure and alignment. Practice trusting each other to the extent that you feel almost uncomfortable. And occasionally, with mindful courage, attempt a pose or variation that takes you both to your edge.
The Territory is Yours to Discover
This opening chapter has been an overview of the purpose and benefits of Partner Yoga. We discussed the importance of touch as a basic human need. We looked at a holistic perspective of fitness that includes physical as well as mental, emotional and spiritual fitness. We shared some ideas on fun and the value of humor. We reminded you to relax, and then we reminded you again. And finally, we came to a discussion of relationships and self-discovery.
Though the process of our own exploration of Partner Yoga, and the experience of co-authoring this book, we have confronted these issues together, as friends and co-authors. To be honest, it was not easy and we did not always agree. Yet we stayed committed to finding ways of making it work. Along the road there were no footsteps to follow and no magic solutions. The answers came when we spent less time grasping outside of ourselves, and more time looking within. Each day of our lives we are confronted with this challenge. Both of us require frequent reminding of where to turn with our needs and questions. Daily, sometimes by the hour, we continue to direct each other inward. As you embark upon your own experience in Partner Yoga we ask that you do what feels true for you. We ask that you honestly communicate with your partner. And most importantly we ask you take the experience inward, and remind your partner to do the same.

When I initially found the following chapter on partner yoga, I became so excited to share it on the blog as I had fallen in love with the concept.  Though my experience in partner yoga/acro yoga is limited, the importance of the connection, trust, communication, and intimacy found in it resonated on an extremely deep level.

I've "sat" on this entry for quite some time in a personal debate on whether or not to share it, given the nature of my experiences.  As the time has passed, and as I've contemplated whether or not to hit "PUBLISH", I've become extremely saddened to see this passion of mine become only a momentary "thing".  My "partner" betrayed and broke the trust we had developed and sorely needed in order to practice, and that longing to experience this beautiful form of play has completely left me. Time has passed, but I'm increasingly empty because of this.  This speaks to the strength of the bond that can be formed.

I do not think that I have the strength of body, mind, spirit, and heart to pursue this.  At least not any time soon.  Who knows.  But at the slight chance that you have stumbled on this entry and are considering partner yoga, please know that it can be an absolutely beautiful practice and I wish you the best in your pursuit of it.  I will look back at my time in this practice as both bitter and sweet.

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