Have More Fun
Nemer and Sauer-Klein aren't the only ones whose love of yoga is matched by a love of high-flying circus acts. Some acrobatically inclined yogis have taken the practice to the sky. Michelle Dortignac, a certified OM Yoga instructor in New York, teaches Unnata Aerial Yoga using tissu, the silky fabric used in circus arts, which can be twisted to form a soft harness. She finds that it helps the body make better use of gravity, so that it can get into poses more deeply than it would on the ground. Dortignac opens class with Sun Salutations done in a circle, so everyone can make eye contact. "People lighten up, smile, and relate to one another," she says.
Sauer-Klein and Nemer, too, emphasize communication and a community connection in their classes, which begin with a chance for everyone to introduce themselves and share how they're feeling. And then the real fun begins.
In the first activity, everyone might stand in a circle, looking at the back of the person in front of them and sitting Utkatasana-style on the "chair" made by the lap of the person behind. It's a small exercise in trust and being there for one another that leads naturally into the awareness of yourself and others that is necessary for practicing AcroYoga. Sauer-Klein and Nemer say that their goal is to cultivate connection, playfulness, and trust—and even a single class offers a chance to experience all three.
Sauer-Klein adds that the internal experience is key to AcroYoga. "You need to know your center, figure out what you need, express it," she says. "You have to be true to yourself." Overcoming fear is crucial, too. Working on these things in AcroYoga can teach people to develop the same abilities in other areas of their lives. "We are all so mind-centered. We tell ourselves that we can't do certain things," says Nemer. "AcroYoga is a chance for adults to explore and see what's possible."
Clearly, people are into it. In the year since Nemer and Sauer-Klein began training other acroyogis, they have certified more than 25 teachers. Earlier this year, the pair made an AcroYoga world tour (the clothing company Prana purchased wind power credits to offset the carbon emissions created by their trip), which took them to China, Japan, Thailand, India, Spain, Holland, and Germany to spread their unique form of playfulness.
"We're meant to play," says Nemer. "And we're convinced self-discovery is possible through play." (To find a class near you, check out acroyoga.org.)
Bathe in Ritual Waters
I'm entering a huge hotel ballroom with my six-year-old daughter, Story Frances. She's excited to be staying up late for "the dance party," and her eyes widen as we take in the scene: A few hundred people are sitting cross-legged on the floor singing mantras; kirtan leader Jai Uttal is onstage, pumping the harmonium; a life-size statue of Nataraj (the dancing form of Lord Shiva) sits in the center of the room; and all around us the walls are alive with ever-changing slides of Indian children, saints, sacred cows. It's the prelude to an evening Yoga Trance Dance session led by vinyasa flow teacher Shiva Rea.
Story is wiggly and giggly, and it's way past her bedtime. I briefly consider taking her home. But when I hear Rea's inviting voice, something softens inside me, and I realize this is the perfect outlet for Story's expressive energy. "Momma, dance with me!" she calls.
Trance Dancers don't face the teacher. Instead, everyone forms a circle. Rea often begins by demonstrating a few moves, encouraging folks to feel their center of gravity and move from the hips. Tonight, she asks those of us gathered to close our eyes and bathe ourselves with imaginary water to prepare for the shared ritual. I pretend we're in a shallow pond and lift the water, splashing my own face and rinsing myself, then helping Story pour some over herself, too.
Dance Like No One Is Watching
As the music builds an energetic arc, it feels as if anything can happen. And that's the wonder of it. First-timers and devotees alike report feeling alive for days afterward. "In that alive state, you're in a more creative place to deal with life and the world," Rea says. "It's a joyous way to be."
I watch my daughter's lithe little body twirling with delight and remember how I once loved to dance. In her exuberance, I see myself. Inside all of us is the seed of expression; this event is an opportunity to let it out. And I can sense that everyone here feels simultaneously self-conscious and eager to move.
The words of my friend and yoga teacher Janet Stone come to me: "If you close your eyes, nobody can see you. It's magic." So I close my eyes, and my self-consciousness melts. I am aware that others can see me and are likely to think I look ridiculous, but I stop caring. I'm starting to let loose.
"High school asana!" Rea calls out, doing a funky disco move. It's as if she's asking us to celebrate our own absurdity, our embarrassing moments, the inherent pain that accompanies the joy of making our way through this life. Now everyone looks a little ridiculous, and we're having fun with it. Woo-hoo!
My daughter and I dance, swing, sway, and laugh together, as the crowd slowly moves out of the circular formation and into a free-for-all of dancing, yoga moves, whatever inspires them. I see friends laughing, making funny faces, having real fun. Story skips away from me. When I fear I've lost her, I see that she's rocking out with a friend, and they both boogie back toward me. Finally, we wear ourselves out and leave the scene elated.