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Partner Yoga: An Interview with Elysabeth Williamson and Matt Kapinsky

Saturday, August 01, 2009 by: David Hestrin
Tags: yoga, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Elysabeth Williamson has been a teacher and innovator in the world of yoga for over twenty years. Her heart-centered teaching style comes from over thirty years of training and practice in a variety of yogic traditions. She has spent the past twelve years developing Principle-Based Partner Yoga.

Matt Kapinus came to the yoga mat in November 2006, and he has been passionately practicing asana ever since completing his certification in vinyasa-style yoga. In 2009, he began assisting Elysabeth Williamson in leading partner yoga workshops.

David S Hestrin: Can you please tell us what inspired Partner Yoga?

Elysabeth Williamson: My first partner was my two year old son. I`d be doing my practice and he`d be climbing all over me. I would be in a forward bend and he`d want to climb. So I`d say, " Okay, sit and count to ten." - so we could both benefit. It was just a natural unfolding. I became certified as a yoga therapist using yoga in assisted postures and help process what comes through the body - memories that come through when we release armoring. It`s assisted yin yoga. I loved it and gained a lot from the practice, but it still felt like it was a duality. It was like the giver and the receiver, the therapist and the client, and I was just much more drawn to how we could be simultaneous. That brings it back to being in connection and working with each other`s energy.

Yoga translates to union or to yoke, to join. To me, it seems like the most natural thing - to join our physicality and learn how to hook up so that our process and our opening and awakening is accelerated. I find particularly when the sacrums come together in the same direction there`s a very different energy compared to back-to-back meditation where they are in opposite directions. The sacrum is a very key bone in all of yoga - particularly in partner yoga. It`s where the kundalini, the life force and the energy of awakening wants to happen.

So, we come together like that. It happens, and neither person stays in separated role of giver or role of receiver. We learn to soften that polarity and see that it`s really the same - giving and receiving. When we`re present, it happens simultaneously. I think in the workshop that you took I talked about that a little bit in the beginning. That`s a really key concept and experience we can see through a simple thing like contacting palm to palm. Who`s giving here? Who`s receiving? It`s where your attention is. That`s what`s exciting and inspires me: how we can learn to both give and receive in a way that`s really nourishing and mutual.

David S Hestrin: It sounds like Partner Yoga has a lot of unique psychological benefits that might be a little different in the other practices of yoga.

Elysabeth Williamson: The whole relationship component! I notice that we all tend to have a relational pattern or tendencies. I`ve noticed that women tend to have the pattern of being projected out of their center and merging and wanting to take care of others. They leave themselves, and then they end up feeling depleted and pissed off! It`s not serving the other person. That`s one tendency.

Even though that pattern tends to come more through women, men can do the same thing. It`s a human tendency to over-extend and to leave oneself. The other tendency is to be so contained and in one`s self that you don`t feel this flow with other beings. I think Partner Yoga is beautiful in teaching us relational flow. When we`re in these postures worries and thoughts can arise of how the other person is feeling, if they are being hurt, if it`s too much, or if it`s not enough. The more we can develop our presence the more we can stay connected to ourselves while this exchange is happening and actually dissolve any of these worries and tensions to be together in nourishing union.

One of the jokes I found is that when two people that haven`t met before are just beginning to learn and in a posture where something`s not working - they take the blame, but if it`s a couple that`s been together - they point the finger! The truth is we`re just learning.

David S Hestrin: That`s very interesting. In good individual yoga classes there`s a connection between student and teacher, but connection between student to student is at best peripheral. What you`re putting forth seems to change that. Postures like flying pose, where the person is literally holding the partner up above the ground, look like a place where you can build a lot of trust and confidence.

Elysabeth Williamson: It`s a real-life laboratory. These experiences help us learn that we can really show up - really be seen. I think some people have issues of not being seen, but other people might have issues about being seen! In Partner Yoga, we`re up close, and it`s like you know we`re right there. A lot of people have never had experience with that - being present in their body, looking at somebody,and feeling each others bodies and energy. One of my favorite practices is the back to back seated meditation, because you don`t even have that whole question of "how am I appearing with the other person?" You just have that back to back essence from which you`re connecting from.

I think there`s a lot of valuable life experience....As principle-based because we can take any posture and choose to focus on a particular principle. You talked about the flying pose. We can be in that pose, work on trust, and that`s an obvious one. We can also work on balance. We can work on creativity. We can work on compassion. We can work on grounding. We can work on union. Any of the principles I have outlined and even beyond that can be the focus. We`re understanding what it means to be in balance with another person, or what it means to be grounded while I`m flying. So you know there`s just different principles and metaphors for life.

David S Hestrin: Matt, would you like to tell us about the back to back pose - to instruct it to readers?

Matt Kapinus: Oh, sitting back to back. All right! The first step would be to find a comfortable seated position, getting upon the sit bones, and pull in the extra flesh to get high on the sit bones, and then sitting back, so you have a nice solid sacral connection, feel that point of contact between your sacrum and your partner`s. Then, you sit up straight without leaning back on your partner.

There`s a kind of a light contact between both of your backs where you can feel the respiratory rhythm of your partner as you are breathing, and you can experiment with the breath. You can inhale at the same time or alternate. I find that the latter, the alternating the breath, somehow creates a little more unity, and you can almost feel a bit of an inhale quality in your own exhale. You can feel a little bit of exhale quality in your own inhale. It feels like you almost become one organism when you`re doing the alternate breathing, but the other way is just as beautiful. Breathing in simultaneously and feeling that sacral connection brings a level of intimacy with your partner. It`s unique to that location in the body.

Elysabeth Williamson: Beautiful

Matt Kapinus: Thanks!

Elysabeth Williamson: That was excellent! Intimacy is a beautiful word for it. I feel like we need to reclaim that word. I went to a satsang where intimacy with oneself was the theme. If you break down the word intimacy, it`s in-to-me-see. In Partner Yoga we`re cultivating that - that ability to see and be seen. Ultimately, it`s about intimacy with oneself and seeing others as part of oneself. That was beautiful, Matt.

Matt Kapinus: There`s something very strong about facing back to back that lets us let down our armor. When making face to face connection, sometimes unconsciously, we find ourselves acting more out of a desire to not quite go deep. You know when you`re looking at someone face to face - armor comes up. How`s my expression? Am I smiling? Should I be smiling? Am I looking at them in the eyes? Should I not be looking at them in the eyes? All these little things you can let go when you`re facing back to back, and all it is is a matter of sensing the presence of another person.

David S Hestrin: How important is intimacy with yourself or with others to the process of healing?

Matt Kapinus: I personally believe, and I think that most people would say this, that healing has to be done in the context of community and in the context of relationship. We can only get so far when we`re on our own. We energetically have to come into relationship. There`s a level of wholeness that we can`t really access until we enter into relationships with other people. Otherwise, we may be masters at meditating, but heart-opening and things like that... it`s essential to incorporate other people into that process.

Elysabeth Williamson: Yeah. To have that mirror and reflection is important because we can easily be dishonest with ourselves. If you`re not present, or if you`re feeling shut down, or if you`re angry - your partner is going to feel it. When you`re doing your own practice you can be there just going through the motions, but when you have a partner it`s going to be revealed pretty directly.

Matt Kapinus: Mhmmm

Elysabeth Williamson: Yep.

David S Hestrin: Is there anything else you`d like to tell the readers?

Matt Kapinus: It can`t be emphasized enough that partner yoga needn`t require us to be in a relationship or even to have a regular partner with which to do partner yoga. The transformation that takes place from just doing partner yoga with a person you don`t even know - a person maybe of the same sex, or somebody who`s much older, much younger, or much taller. Just doing that will reveal so much about yourself - little insecurities or levels of openness. It will reveal your fortitude when facing a challenge. There`s so much that can come up, and you can look at yourself so much, and how you respond to another person in your field of energy - their touch and their presence.

There`s a great revelation that takes place in that experience. You get to see yourself a little more clearly in a way. Doing it once will have a deep impact and will color the rest of your days following that until you get onto the mat with a partner again.

Elysabeth Williamson: I think to model of Matt and I; here we are man and a woman. We`re not lovers. We do this intimate practice together. We`ve been teaching together, and even that is dispelling a lot of myths around intimacy between a man and a woman. We can be intimate. We can have this very intimate practice, and that obviously brings up emotions, brings up different things, and we`re clear. We have clear boundaries. We can communicate if something might come up. So I just think that that`s a very powerful model for healing the male-female dynamic

Matt Kapinus: Yeah!

Elysabeth Williamson: There`s a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of miscommunication, a lot of fear, and a lot of mistrust that`s come through the generations. This is a really beautiful metaphor for healing that as well.

David S Hestrin: Thank You So Much!

About the author

David Shlomo Hestrin is the author of The "Cure" For Blur an e-book written to help people improve their eyesight naturally by improving their relaxation and enjoyment of life. He also does health and nutritional research for the Better Earth Institute.

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