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Learning How to Fly: An AcroYoga Session

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Racked correspondent Joshua David Stein tries crazy trends on video for a new series we're calling Racked Road Test. Here, he taps his Cirque du Soleil side with AcroYoga.

Good thing yoga is a flexible discipline because, man, has it been twisted. Before the advent of hatha yoga in the 1960s, the physical branch of the practice (one of eight limbs) was hardly emphasized at all. Now, yoga seems little more than a competition between who can hold tree pose longest. There are a million variations of yoga or what calls itself yoga. We sweat in hot yoga; dance in dance yoga; spin in yoga-and-spin mashups.

Into this fray enters AcroYoga. Developed in 2003 by former Olympic acrobat Jason Nemer and a yogini named Jenny Sauer-Klein, AcroYoga involves two partners, a "base" and a "flyer." The base provides support with his or her feet while the flyer, through cockamamie strength and contortionist flexibility, bends him or herself into farfetched, only vaguely Yogic shapes. Clearly, I'm skeptical about the discipline. But I decided to try it anyway.

It didn't help that AcroYoga is taught, among other places, at Equinox, which has a roster of far-out (and generally really difficult) classes taught by and for very attractive people. Shiva would have been laughed out of the room: "Look at that four-armed freak!" But the teachers—Matt Giordano, who used to be in a not bad band called Stealing Jane, and his girlfriend, Rebecca Rasmussen, a former dancer—didn't seem crass and crummy, but rather nice, in shape and very flexible. I soon found out why.

AcroYoga is hard to do. For a few physical reasons it's harder than solo yoga, more difficult to endure than tree pose, more awkward than awkward pose, more airborne than flying crow. But it's also difficult because you're all up in it with another person. There's a constant communication between base and flyer. With a man's foot in your inner thigh, it actually feels better to talk about it. And it's in that, not in the twirls or the handstands or the barrel rolls, that AcroYoga most closely resembles traditional yoga. For it teaches its practitioners the importance of others, to measure one's actions by how they affect a partner, to be compassionate and, at least for the base, to be grounded. I'm not sure whether these benefits were unintended consequences of just another pop Yoga fad but they are tangible. As I limped away from Equinox, I felt connected, not only to my aching muscles, not only to Matt, whose foot had so recently vacated my adductor, but to mankind.

Namaste.—Joshua David Stein

Equinox regularly holds AcroYoga workshops and is offering a series of AcroYoga specialty classes at its Southern California studios this month. Click here for more information and schedules.
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