Illustration by Sophia Huang.
Illustration by Sophia Huang.

Twenty million Americans practice yoga and the top three reasons are flexibility, general conditioning and stress relief. Partner yoga, while not new, offers a different experience and an alternative to typical Valentine’s Day traditions.

“It’s something different,” said Kate Giampapa, an instructor at Village Yoga in Santa Cruz. “Everybody is used to the flowers, the chocolate and fancy dinners but this is something entirely different. It’s not the uniform, traditional day when you wine and dine. It’s a great way to relax and be healthy and active.”

Partner yoga expands the traditional individual practice of yoga to emphasize the relationship between partners. Designed for two people, partner yoga uses the forms and principles of individual posture while incorporating the presence of another to deepen the impact of the experience.

“Everybody is literally on a hormonal, chemical high,” said Amber Campion, an instructor at DiviniTree Yoga and Art Studio in Santa Cruz. “It’s really fun to see and be a part of.”

Campion said beginners might shy away from the words “yoga” and “couple” together because the words may have an exclusive and intimidating connotation. She encourages people to keep an open mind.

“A lot of people come in with the idea that it was going to be weird and inaccessible,” Campion said. “But the language and approach I use makes it more personable.”

Campion said partner yoga is a great introduction to yoga for people who are nervous, but curious. She is teaching her second partner yoga workshop this Valentine’s Day, and while it’s often made into a date night, Campion said it can also be a fun exercise between friends.

With over eight years of experience instructing partner yoga, Village Yoga instructor Giampapa found that when people arrive in partners, one person is normally a yogi and the other isn’t. But that doesn’t mean one person dictates the entire experience.

“It’s about taking and giving, learning from what each person’s body and mind can give and take,” Giampapa said. “It’s not like one partner is doing all the work.”

Campion said another major benefit to partner yoga is the ability for beginners to find comfort in an experienced partner to help them get past the common initial discomfort. She said this often applies to men, usually non-yogis, who are invited by a female partner to participate in a partner yoga class.

“[After the workshop] the men were coming up and saying, ‘You know what? That was fun and I didn’t expect that.’ They loved it,” Campion said.

Campion said she noticed an increase in male attendance at her regular classes — which had previously been nearly 100 percent female — since starting partner yoga. She said men often go to the Valentine’s Day workshops because they are pushed by their partners to do so, and they comply when they otherwise might not because it’s a special day.

Stephanie Alejandre is now an avid yogi who first encountered partner yoga in her classes at UC Santa Cruz.

“Right away it was the complete opposite of what I expected,” Alejandre said. “It’s nothing that asks too much of you, but it’s something that both people can do to motivate themselves and each other.”

Alejandre immediately shed her preconceptions of yoga and partner yoga once she began to take classes. She said people should get rid of the mentality that they can’t physically do yoga, and enjoy the resources that UCSC and the Santa Cruz community have to offer.

“The purpose of yoga is to love yourself,” Alejandre said. “So doing it with your partner is something that would make for a great connection between yourself and your partner.”