Another day in class, Rosenberg demonstrates using straps in groups of three to deepen each other's Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). I'm a little out of sorts — it's hot and humid, and it feels as though every bit of dust in the room has gotten itself stuck to either my skin or my mat. Pretty much the last thing I feel like doing is hovering over someone's armpits. My lower back twinges a little, and I briefly wonder if this is a good reason to opt out. But instead I flop down on my mat and let my two partners gently help me into a deeper Wheel. I have to admit it felt pretty good. When it's my turn to assist, I forget about the dust. My focus shifts completely to the person on the floor in front of me. I concentrate on getting the strap around his shoulder blades, on watching his face and his breath for cues that I'm giving the right amount of pressure in the right place, and on gently lowering him to the floor when it looks as though he's had enough. Afterward he thanks us, confiding that he'd always muscled his way through that pose, but that our doing some of the work for him had allowed him to experience the pose in away he never had before. I thank him, too, not for deepening my Wheel, but for sharing his practice and for helping me realize that there's nothing at all awkward or embarrassing about partnering.
These days, I am no longer averse to partnering exercises. I don't avoid them by taking a bathroom break when a teacher announces one, or by shuffling extra slowly to the prop closet, hoping everyone will be paired up by the time I get back to my mat, I'm eager to see what a partnering exercise can teach me, and I even practice some of my tricd-and-truc favorites with friends when I want ro deepen or finesse a pose.
I found that the kind of partnering exercises i appreciate the most arc those that bring subtle refinements to poses I already feel strong in. I'm not comfortable assisting someone when there's a chance I'll have to bear their weight, and I'm wary of being helped into a pose I'm not confident in. But when it's a pose I know I can hold comfortably, a little touch or adjustment from a partner can make a huge difference, bringing my chest more open in |etu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), for example, or lifting me out of my standing legin Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). I'll still occasionally opt out of an exercise if it feels risky to me, or if I know that injury or fatigue preclude me from being a good partner that day, but I'm comfortable with that. I've found that it can take as much openness and honesty to ask questions and communicate my reservations about a partnering exercise as it does to participate in one. But more often than not, I participate. And more often than not, I'm glad I did. *
Charity Ferreira is a senior editor at Yoga Journal and a conscientious yoga partner.
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