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Have More Fun

Playing with dance, acrobatics, and more, innovative yogis build trust and create connections.

By Diane Anderson

Dancing in the Dark

For Rea, mixing yoga, ritual, and dance feels natural. She explored yoga on her own at an early age, inspired by the name her father gave her. Later, she took courses in dance anthropology at UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures, then studied dance in Africa and Asia. The seeds of Yoga Trance Dance were planted during Rea's first visit to Africa, when she heard drums beating. "It was like hearing the soundtrack to the next chapter of my life," she says. "Every important occasion there was accompanied by dance."

Some have likened Yoga Trance Dance to a rave, but without the drugs. "I'm fine with that," Rea says, "but it's really about so much more. The intention is what makes the difference."

Yoga can be a great physical workout; when done with intention, it becomes a catalyst for personal development and spiritual awakening. Same goes for Yoga Trance Dance. Rea wants people to experience movement as a healing art and to connect with the earth and each other. That's why proceeds from YogaTrance Dance events go to the nonprofit Trees for the Future. (Find out more at shivarea.com.)

"Dance has helped me expand my living experience of yoga," says Rea. "It isn't an either-or proposition. The two are very complementary."

Others who have blended dance with yoga agree. "Yoga postures can be quite linear and boxlike," says musician and yoga teacher Wade Imre Morissette. Morissette, the twin brother of pop star Alanis, travels the country promoting Bliss Dances (his version of Yoga Trance Dance). He finds that "the dance element allows for a greater inner rhythm to be expressed and more authenticity. Every body moves differently; there's no right or wrong way to dance."

Rea conducts her Yoga Trance Dance rituals in darkened rooms. And at New York's Jivamukti Yoga School, a yogi named Parashakti blindfolds participants in monthly "Liberation Lounge" experiences, so they can move without having to think about how they look.

"We don't dance enough, you know? What—maybe, like, once a year? At a wedding? So we tell ourselves we can't," Rea says. "But when the lights are dimmed, you can connect with your spirit." She loves how that experience is universal; she's seen people of all ages, sizes, and shapes throw off inhibitions and become part of the free-flowing movement.

Walk the Line

I watch Sam Salwei and Jason Magness, the YogaSlackers, doing poses while balancing on a slackline—a length of flat nylon webbing about an inch wide. It looks like a tightrope but with more bounce, and it's strung only a foot or so off the ground. With their curls and dreadlocks and well-worn threads, Magness and Salwei look like Burning Man attendees. But these nomads are contemplative athletes.

Balancing on the slackline, Magness says, demands core strength and attention to breath. It forces you to draw on inner sources of calm. Salwei calls it "meditation for ADD people" because you have to go inside yourself to find stillness. "You can't be thinking about anything else," he says.

"The slackline is humbling—it totally destroys your ego," Magness says. "We don't like to try new things, as adults, unless we're already good at them. You have to approach the slackline with a child's mind and be willing to risk and play."

And yoga slacking is fun and participatory, with spectators commenting and offering tips. "On the line, we're discovering and inventing all the time," says Salwei. "You do your own thing, but we're like kids encouraging each other, offering pointers, laughing, trying things out. It's social and it's playful."

Magness, an athlete, credits pPranayama for his improved rock climbing, triathlon, and adventure-racing performances. In 2000, a friend introduced him to traditional slacklining, a kind of moving meditation that can be done as an art in itself or as preparation for activities such as climbing and gymnastics. But he didn't immediately take to it.

Magness and Salwei met in 2002, when Magness opened a rock-climbing gym in North Dakota. Salwei showed up the first day and, as the pair tell it, never left. Magness hired Salwei and eventually introduced him to yoga.

The beginning of their slackline partnership happened at the Yoga Journal Colorado Conference in 2005. "We were studying with {B.K.S.} Iyengar and these incredible masters for over six hours a day," says Magness. "So we'd go outside and play on the slackline as a means of release."

Fall, and Get Back Up

Since the two friends camp often, they usually set up the line between a couple of trees. Standing up is the first pose to master and is a lot more difficult than it looks. But these two have gotten to the point where they can take shapes on the line, moving into poses like Tree, Eagle, Lotus, and Warrior—45 poses in all. And they've taught yoga slacklining in India, New Zealand, and Thailand. There's even a YogaSlackers instructional DVD. (Order it from yogaslackers.com.)

Magness and Salwei want their passion to benefit the planet too. In January, they hooked up "kites," or sails, to snowboards and used nothing but the wind to move them across the state of North Dakota. Their hope was that this expedition (learn more at 2xtm.com) would raise awareness of the unharnessed power of the wind as an alternative energy source.

Watching them on the line, I think, "I can do that!" But when I try standing up, I immediately fall. I get back up and try again. I can see that yoga on a slackline is not so different from other forms of yoga: It's about stilling the mind so the body follows suit. To do that, it really helps to let go of any need for control. Yet you have to be mindful of how you hold yourself. You also are forced to come to terms with how distractible your mind is.

As the boys say, it's really challenging, but it can be a lot of fun. Once again, my daughter, Story, is a natural. She's all gung ho to try it. The beautiful thing about watching her? Her pride isn't so tied up in her performance. When she falls, she laughs and climbs right back up.

While I'm most comfortable with a practice that combines asana and meditation, I love experimenting with these wildly diverse new forms. These styles of yoga coax you out of solitary introspection and invite you to celebrate sangha, community. AcroYoga tests your ability to trust and communicate; Yoga Trance Dance helps you connect to yourself and your community; the slackline forces you to let go. All of them can be exhilarating and fun, perhaps attracting newcomers to yoga through a different door.

The best thing about these new forms is that they allow us to respect yoga's traditions while still branching out. I'm with the folks who think that, for yoga to stay alive as a discipline and practice, it needs to evolve along with the people who are doing it. "Who's to say that a certain way of practicing isn't meaningful?" says veteran teacher Judith Hanson Lasater. "I think it'd be sad if the tradition became rigid. If the people doing it find spiritual connection to themselves and don't do harm to self, planet, or others, great. It isn't classic, but so what?"

Diane Anderson is senior editor at Yoga Journal.



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Reader Comments

Jasmine Kaloudis

Acro Yoga is a great way to learn how to support and be supported. It's not for the faint of heart though.....

P.

Excellent article!
I've been thinking a lot about that lately - moving from a solitary and instrospective practice to more extrovert branches of yoga.

I guess sometimes you just gotta let it all out

Rhea (a reader)

Ever noticed that when you challenge your mind or body in a fun way your spirit soars!? These are great ways to get the spirit soaring.

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