No doubt you’ve glanced at a friend and thought, That person needs YOGA. It’s a bit sanctimonious, but we all do it.
Your friend makes a futile attempt at rubbing her own shoulders and you think, there’s a stretch for that. You hear your dad complain about his “bad back” and you think, You just need to bend it! You sense a loved one’s stress and you want to ease it with breathing exercises. You wish your friend with anxiety would try meditation.
Most of the time, this person is not eager to join you in a yoga practice. Yoga might be foreign to your loved one. So how do we ease this friend into yoga? How can we take these well-intentioned musings and turn them into authentic collaboration?
Start with your goal to keep yourself in check with what you are expecting out of this. Do you want your friend to meditate with you? Do you want to help her with neck pain? Do you want your mom to enjoy YogaAnytime videos with you? Do you want him to love yoga as much as you??
Uh-oh. If you answered yes to the last one, I encourage you to rethink your goal. Don’t go into this with the goal of establishing a devotion to yoga that matches your own. Let this person have their own experience with yoga.
The path you're embarking on with your friend will be a yoga practice in itself for you; developing skills of dedication and patience.
You don’t need a yoga mat to practice yoga. Yoga mats can be strangely intimidating. I’ve taught mostly beginner yogis throughout my career and I’ve seen students waiting for the start of a class literally cower at the snap of a yoga mat being unfurled. Make it less official that you are asking your loved one to do yoga by keeping it casual -- without a mat.
A nutritionist told me that if you want to eliminate something from your diet, then add something to your diet first. Add maple syrup to your cabinets before you throw out the white sugar.
Most of us like to veg-out and scroll our phones. You are asking your loved one to eliminate some of this time to stretch with you? This might be a hard sell. So let’s make sure your loved one feels like you are adding something nourishing to their life before you ask them to carve away too much of their precious free time.
Add small amounts of time bending and breathing before you ask your loved one to commit to an hour-plus. Yoga can be an acquired taste. Try small bites at first.
I suggest that you take the first practice to the floor.
Easy -- we all have floors, right?
I’m asking for a clearing on the floor -- without obstacles impeding an arm’s reach or an outstretched leg. If you have a lot of furniture, consider reorganizing your house so that you can keep this area available at all times. Making a consistent space to move and stretch prioritizes your daily life around physical health.
Sounds childish, but think of something you can reward your loved one with after the session. Homemade cookie? Cup of warm tea? Glass of wine? Sex? Up to you. Tell your loved one that you have a treat for them and the treat will be made available after ten minutes on the floor.
I’d recommend 10 minutes. Don’t make it a big deal; just sit on the floor and push the start button on a timer. Something will happen if you sit there together, intentionally. You’ll either lie down and rest the whole time (we’ll call this restorative yoga) or you’ll shift and move and inadvertently stretch body parts. Talking is fine. Don’t have high expectations. Let it be mellow and easy.
My husband was at a training once with Saul David Raye, and Saul said that when things get tense at his house, he cranks Bob Marley and makes everyone dance. That strategy might not work for everyone, but music and movement can transform the mood. You want comfort for this friend you have decided to coax into stretching. Dancing -- spontaneous and free movement -- pretty much assures openness with this person. It’s also great for the cardiovascular system and the lymphatic system. Basically, make it fun.
You may have incredible prowess on the yoga mat, but now is not your time to shine. In the beginning stages, no ujjayi breath; no inversions. I’d recommend no Sanskrit. Don’t even call it "yoga".
Do create a plan so that if your loved one sits on the floor and says, "Now what?”, you have some basic exercises to share. It doesn’t have to be partner yoga. You don’t have to form poses together with your combined bodies. Just bend and move and breathe together in the same space.
You may want the first couple of sessions to avoid dog licks and childish banter, but animals and kids LOVE it when you sit on the floor with them. Perhaps even use the pet as a means to get your loved one on the floor sitting comfortably and entertained by the animal’s attention (just sitting on the floor stimulates the hip joint). Some days our three-year-old daughter joins my husband and me as we bend and move. Other days she sucks her thumb and stares at us. Either way, we don’t feel the need to get a babysitter to practice yoga.
I recommend evenings to start. Mornings can be rushed, and excuses are legit in the morning when we must juggle getting kids off to school and ourselves to work. In the evening, make the 10 minutes happen while your potatoes are roasting in the oven. Get the practice in before dinner. I find the pre-dinner session helps me enjoy my food properly since I’m less frazzled from the day -- which aids my digestion and ultimately enables me to sleep better at night.
You must use encouragement and enthusiasm. Even if your friend looks like a gnarled tree while practicing, try to see the magic in the moment. Smiles and encouragement. A yoga buddy can be life-changing, and you'll certainly progress in your own practice with this shared advocacy.