Moving Together: The Spontaneous Play of Partner Sun Salutes
I arrive at yoga class with the exhilarating mix of eagerness and dread that sometimes comes with teaching. I’m not at all sure what we’ll do and I’m a little worried that the yoga muses might not remember to show up tonight with their sprinkling of magic. Having learned that the surest way to kill a party is to overplan it, I generally try to arrive at class without too much of an agenda. And that always brings edge-of-the-seat angst—this may just be the night we all fall flat on our mats.
I arrive at yoga class with the exhilarating mix of eagerness and dread that sometimes comes with teaching.
My students, though, look bright and airy, with the warm energy of spring buzzing through them. New maple leaves tickle against the windows along the back of the room, and fresh breezes waft through. These bodies look as open as spring and as primed as the season to move, to bloom, to explore. And so, after several moments of resting on our backs, we launch into a few easy rounds of sun salutes.
Tonight, I notice, my students seem primed to fly. Spring has brought lightness to the air and smiles to the bodies around me as they move freely through their own varieties of surya namaskara. One shining woman coasts fluidly on her placid inner currents, seamlessly sailing from pose to pose. Another moves slowly, lingering soulfully at each lift and drop and shift. A man jumps quickly through a tough-guy series of adrenaline-pumping salutes. And a few students stumble, challenge, and recover as they seem to wrestle with some rough-and-tumble demons within.
The room feels quiet, tranquil. My body smiles to see these creatures moving through the same basic flow of movement each in their own way, at their own pace, with their own particular rhythm. In just a few short breaths, we’ve already found our way to yoga’s silky playground, each of us sliding in our own way to our edge—that place where engagement and ease meet at the heart of life.
I ask my students to pair up and position their mats Mysore-style, two-by-two down the center of the room, with the front ends facing one another. I ask the pairs to stand in tadasana facing one another. One member of each pair might move through a few rounds of their own variation of sun salutes, I suggest. The other could mirror the first as cleanly and totally as possible, tuning into the rhythm and style of their partner. None of us knows exactly where we’re going, but everyone seems game.
At first it’s easy to discern who’s leading and who’s following. The ashtangi champs at the bit, trying to speed up the pace of his partner. Thankfully, though, the partner stays grounded in her own languid flow, silently inviting him into her quiet way of sliding through the poses. After a few minutes, he gives up his will and settles into her way of moving, and finally they begin to move as one.
Another pair pushes and pulls just a bit, one ahead of the other as they shift from downward dog to upward dog, both eager to find some sense of unity. Another pair amazes me: these two are total strangers, but from the start they move in perfect sync, their eyes closed all the while. I now have half as many creatures in the room—five pairs of surya namaskaras, where once I had ten individuals rising and setting alone.
Something important seems to be evolving out of this spontaneous exploration. As interesting as it can be to tune into one’s own inner energy, to feel life blooming inside, a different kind of magic blooms when we let that energy flow out beyond ourselves into some deeper relationship with others. Could yoga be not just about listening and feeling inside, but also outside into the vast vistas of other people, creatures, spirits?
I ask the partners to switch roles. This time the transition seems a little easier. The pairs quickly empty themselves enough to make room for the leap from independence to relationship, from willfulness to receptivity, from separation to community. Their bodies move in soundless communication, even the breath finding synchrony. The room remains calm and quiet, as if we were all swimming together somewhere deep near the ocean floor.
Soon I ask whether perhaps the partners can move into a place where neither leads or follows, where it’s no longer possible to tell where one’s movement ends and the other’s begins. Again, willingly, they do just that. They flow so beautifully, so harmoniously, that I know they’ve tuned into each other in a profound way. I can no longer detect any leader or follower among the pairs.
Can we empty enough so that we can see, hear, feel, touch the heartbeat, the anguish, the relaxed pleasure of another?
I am amazed and transfixed by the unspoken communication that has evolved. Can we let go of our need to assert our will over another? Can we be together, without one of us dominating or dictating or demanding? Without one of us demeaning, subordinating, or giving way? Can we empty enough so that we can see, hear, feel, touch the heartbeat, the anguish, the relaxed pleasure of another? These sun-saluting students seem to answer a resounding yes. They almost seem to ask, “Where do I end and you begin, anyway?”
As I watch these magnificent bodies float on fresh air, the golden sunset peaking through them, an intriguing question pops into my mind. Could I invite the whole room to move as one? Could I invite the students to feel into the space not just of the person in front of them, but all around the room? Have we let go of so much of ourselves?
Amazingly I notice that as soon as I’ve had the thought, two pairs begin synchronizing their movements. And then another pair begins to fall into the groove. Tadasanas throughout the room begin to modulate, dogs hop forward and back in closer timing. Bodies start moving together, drafting on one another.
In just a few moments—without my ever saying a word—the class finds its magical rhythm and begins to move as one. Arms reach up overhead in synchrony, torsos bow forward together. Feet float back easily, while breaths modulate.
And then I realize that I am witnessing a more beautiful dance than anyone could ever choreograph—a full and spontaneous play of light and life and color. I am an audience of one to a dance created out of thin air by the vast and potent energy of life itself. Is this what happens when we let go of so much of ourselves that we are able to listen to the inner voices of others? Is this what happens when we finally hear the heartbeat of the universe, which longs to pour through each of us, if only we would let it?
Truly yoga is meant to be such a play of light and breath and movement. And just like life, this play both deepens and brightens when we widen our circle beyond ourselves into the shining life of those around us. Together we say a morning prayer to the sun, together we slip into sleep with the moon, and together we laugh and cry in ever widening circles of friendship beyond our own small selves. And then we understand the aim of yoga: the unity, the knowing that in the end we are all one.
Claudia Cummins lives, writes, and teaches yoga in Mansfield, OH.