Have More Fun
You wanna fly? AcroYoga cocreator Jason Nemer asks me. What a question—who doesn't dream of flying? But, truth be told, I'm a scaredy-cat.
I'm watching Nemer and his partner, Jenny Sauer-Klein, perform their acrobatic yoga feats. A small crowd of spectators oohs and ahhs over their breathtaking moves. This "flying" looks like fun, but I'm considerably larger than Sauer-Klein. I'm certain I'll hurt Nemer or fall flat on my face. I hesitate. But Nemer smiles. "You'll be fine, I promise," he says. So I consent.
Nemer becomes my base: He's on his back, feet up in the air, and I lean over and lay my torso on his feet, ready to play airplane like a kid. For a moment before liftoff, I question how I got here, why I would choose to trust a stranger this way. But I sense that Nemer, who studies with master yogi Dharma Mittra, is strong and stable, so I relax. Before I know it, I'm in the shape of Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), but upside down: Nemer's feet are pressed into the top of my thighs, holding me up, while my head dangles. His hands move along my spine, treating me to a mini-Thai massage. Then he calls out another pose.
The transition is thrilling. I'm not sure how I flip over, but now his feet are on my low back, my head near his chest, my feet on the level of his knees. I'm grabbing my ankles in Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), but since I'm upside down, this backbend feels more like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)—but with more ease, more freedom. It's a pose I've done a gazillion times, yet this circle is totally new, relaxing, liberating. Each time we move into a different pose, I experience a split second of worry and I fear I'll plummet, but somehow I don't. At one point, Nemer laughs, Sauer-Klein laughs, and I laugh, too.
I've just gotten a taste of one form of fun being had by yogis who are letting loose—combining their love of asana with a passion for off-the-mat physical activities like circus arts, theater, dance, and outdoor adventure. These new yogic art forms—AcroYoga, Yoga Trance Dance, and yoga slacking among them—cultivate risk taking, trust, connection, and playfulness. Dabbling in them, I find myself laughing, feeling exhilarated. They bring back the excitement I felt back when I first started practicing—when I fell in love with the way asana made me feel playful and free. Somewhere along the way, my practice has become more introspective and solemn, and I've lost some of the sheer joy I once felt. So here I am, checking out these new forms. And I have to say, they're inspiring.
AcroYoga founders Nemer and Sauer-Klein were both serious yoga practitioners who had been through teacher trainings when they met in 2003. But they were much more than that: He was a competitive acrobat; she was a musical theater major who taught circus arts to children. After meeting through a friend, they came together at San Francisco's Circus Center, where a kind of alchemy took place as they found themselves combining yoga with acrobatics. It doubled their fun and opened them to new ways of expanding their practices. Over time, they also incorporated Thai massage into the AcroYoga practice, and the couple now sees their unique art form as an attempt to combine the spiritual wisdom of yoga, the loving kindness of Thai massage, and the dynamic strength of acrobatics into one powerful practice.
"There are purists and there are blenders. We're blenders," says Sauer-Klein. She learned to dance, then discovered Ashtanga and completed her first teacher training with leading Ashtanga teacher David Swenson. Later, she developed an affinity for vinyasa flow; putting together poses in a different order from the standard Ashtanga sequence was "totally freeing" for her. Now, she says, she's fallen in love with Anusara Yoga.
Sauer-Klein isn't just a dabbler. She's a believer in the idea that a yoga practice should change and evolve, that a solid foundation is important but that it shouldn't keep anyone from exploring new things.
Nemer agrees. After all, the great master of modern yoga, Sri T. Krishnamacharya—teacher to such luminaries as T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois—drew on many disciplines, including gymnastics and wrestling, as he developed asana practices that continue to influence most of the yoga taught today.