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Growing & Deepening Connection Through Yoga On & Off Your Mat

Updated: Jan 31

The origins of the word yoga can be traced to a word in the ancient Pāli language, yug, before it evolved into the Sanskrit word yoga we use today. Historically, yug was used to describe the device – a yolk – that connects an ox to a cart. It brought two separate things together as one. So, in its most simple definition, yoga means connection or union. Yoga is a practice we can use in our daily lives to connect breath and movement; to build bridges and bring wholeness to the subconscious and conscious levels of the mind; and to unite body, mind, and Spirit.

Directly related to this, here at Namaspa Yoga Community (NYC), we view and hold yoga as a path and practice that is powerful and sacred both as it relates to each person’s individual journey of self-discovery, healing, transformation, and awakening – as well the ways yoga can be and is relational; invites us to remember and return to experiences of connection, community, and belonging; and reminds us of the interconnectedness of all of Life.

This month, with themes of connection and love on the minds and hearts of many, we are celebrating the beauty and power of connecting with ourselves, others, the world around us, and the Divine. And we are excited to share practices and opportunities for connecting, specifically with loved ones, that are simple, accessible, and simultaneously, transformational.

Below, you’ll find a partner practice you can do at home with someone you care about, as well as an opportunity to join us for an in-person Valentine’s Partner Yoga Workshop – with Deven Sisler and Susan Towey – on February 17, 3:00-5:00pm at the Bend studio. 

Partner Practice: Breath, Touch, Gentle Stretching, & Conscious Communication

Invite a loved one to do this practice with you. For both people, practice being both present with yourself and noticing what’s happening inside, as well as aware of and present with the person you’re practicing with. Both levels of awareness and experience are meaningful, valuable, and fulfilling.

Sit comfortably in front of each other on the floor or in chairs, either making eye contact, or simply being together with eyes closed. Start a gentle form of ujjayi breathing – breathing through the nose with a slight constriction in the back of the throat – which will make each person’s breath audible to yourself and the person you’re practicing with. As you sit in the shared space – without efforting too much – allow your breaths to begin synchronizing. Each person’s breath cycles might be slightly different lengths, so the synchronization doesn’t have to be forced or perfect. Tune into how the inhales and exhales move your lungs and hearts to expand and contract in a shared rhythm – a dance of breath, of energy, of lifeforce. Notice how, in the quiet space of shared breath, something simple and profound can happen for both people around experiences of vulnerability, intimacy, connection, care, and love.

Then, add consensual touch. Continue the shared breath practice, while resting hands on each other’s knees. Or, place one hand on your own heart and the other hand on the heart of the person sitting across from you. Again, option to be making eye contact, or continue with eyes closed.

Then, engage in a shared partner stretch. Reaching hands and arms across the space toward each other, hold just below or above the other person’s elbows, and begin slowly rocking/moving forward and backward together. Find a pace and shared rhythm that feels good for both people. Allow the movement to provide each person with supported, gentle forward fold stretches. Option to stay in constant, fluid movement back and forth. Or, option to pause for several breaths when each person is in the forward fold position to allow for a deeper stretch, deeper letting go, and deeper experience of support.

And finally, bring the practice to a close, first, by stopping the movement and sitting together again in silence and stillness – simply breathing and feeling the effects of the practice. Then, engage in a phase of conscious communication and sharing experiences. This is an opportunity for both people to practice both sharing and receiving and listening from the heart – with openness, non-judgement, and compassion. Each person has an opportunity to share about what one or more of the different parts of the practice – sitting together, synchronizing breath, consensual touch, and/or the partner stretch – were like. Decide together if you want the listener to stay silent and simply hold space/witness/receive, or if you want to also respond to each other’s shares and have more of a dialogue. Hold the intention that both people feel seen, heard, and held.

If the above practice speaks to your heart, your sense of trying something new, and/or your desire to be in deeper connection with someone you care about, attending and participating in a longer, facilitated partner yoga workshop with a loved one might be something you want to join us for this month!

Partner yoga – even in the form of simple and gentle poses like the rocking/stretching example above – invites and encourages trust, communication, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Whether it's a simple seated twist, or a more challenging partner-supported balancing pose, each movement becomes a dialogue – verbal and nonverbal. There is conversation not just about the pose, but also about what feels good and supportive in and for each person’s body; each person’s wants and/or needs and boundaries; and ways support can be offered, given, and received.

NYC is so grateful, lucky, and privileged to have Deven Sisler as a core part of our teaching team and community. She is widely-known, recognized, respected, and celebrated across the country in the realms of AcroYoga and partner yoga, as well as family and kids yoga. She is a leader in creating and facilitating teacher trainings in both Family AcroYoga and kids yoga, and in 2023, Deven wrote her first children’s book called The Yamas in Pajamas: A Guide to Yoga for Kids and their Adults

One of Deven’s countless gifts and contributions when it comes to facilitating partner yoga experiences is how accessible, fun, and non-intimidating she makes every pose, class, workshop, and training. The quote in her bio on her website is so true: “Deven is a forerunner in making the esoteric accessible and fun!”

For this blog, Deven shared about how she got into partner yoga and why she has become inspired to share the kinds of offerings and trainings she does now.

“When I first started dabbling in movement and yoga, I was doing mainly gym-based yoga and a physical form of theater at the time – and I definitely didn’t identify as flexible. In fact, in the first yoga teacher training I did, I was probably the least flexible person in the group, and I remember being self-conscious about it. I started going regularly to an AcroYoga gathering, but really, it was more partner yoga-based than Acro, which is what made it less intimidating and more accessible to me back then. At each session, we would do a number of partner poses, maybe just one flying pose, and then end with Thai massage. In the partner poses and through learning Thai massage, I started finding my way into sticky places in my body that I felt like I was always fighting against when doing yoga on my own. I started finding ease and relaxation in partner poses, and letting myself be supported, in ways I had never experienced before. Through all of the years of practice, these experiences helped and continue to help me so much with self acceptance. In partner yoga, I find myself feeling: ‘this is where I am today,’ and no matter where that is, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. This is why I love sharing these kinds of experiences and offerings with others, too, and why I approach and facilitate them the way I do.”

Deven is passionate about creating offerings that break down barriers for people being able to have their own experiences of acceptance and opening. For example, she loves how partner yoga is much less intimidating for a lot of people than Acro, and in addition, she loves how partner yoga is inherently playful, and bursts the bubble of how sometimes yoga in general, and flying-focused Acro, in particular, can be seen or experienced as being ‘very serious.’ 

About the upcoming Valentine’s Partner Yoga workshop, Deven says: “What my co-teacher Susan and I want people to know, is that in the workshop, everything we will do will be for people at any and all experience levels, and everything will be about deepening connection – but in simple, uncomplicated ways that we don’t always make time for in our busy lives. And additionally, we want people to know it doesn’t matter how flexible or strong you are! The way we teach partner yoga, for example, people don’t have to be the same size to support your partner and be supported by them.”

You’ll also notice in the description of the workshop, that although it’s a Valentine’s-inspired offering, Deven and Susan are adamant that it is not just for people in romantic partnership. They’ve created the workshop so that you can come with anyone in your life that you care about or love. “The workshop is a time to celebrate love and connection with that person,” Deven says, “and there are so many kinds of love.”

So, what specifically to expect at the workshop?

  • Gentle and accessible partner poses that invite ease, receptivity, and feeling good in the body;

  • Opportunities to practice communication – for example, sharing how things feel, what each person likes or dislikes, etc.;

  • Slightly more challenging poses that further encourage dialogue and trust-building, but that are still accessible for everyone, all experience levels, and every body;

  • And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Valentine’s-inspired offering without chocolate!

Deven shares how the combination of people being in their bodies, while practicing listening both to themselves and each other, creates such a sweet space for everyone. “By the time we get to partner savasana at the end, the space and the field is filled with a sense of care and love – not just people feeling that for the person they came with, but in a way that reminds everyone of the love that is so much bigger than any one or two of us.”

Deven and Susan are both LGBTQ+ positive, friendly, and safe people, and the container of the workshop will be that, too.

This Valentine’s season, whether you’re desiring and moving toward deeper connection with parts of yourself, family, friends, your partner, your community, and/or the Earth, invite your practice of yoga on and off your mat to be a part of, or even at the heart of, your movements toward that desire for connection. We hope you grow and deepen in connection in multiple areas of your life this month, and that NYC gets to be a part of how some of that growth and depth unfolds, as well!

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