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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Loop de Loop and Other Extreme Yoga Poses

No, this is not digital computer wizardry. These are real people doing mind-boggling things with their bodies. Their physical pliability isn't innate; it's learned -- which means you can do it, too -- after years and years of dutiful practice. Until then, get your voyeuristic thrill here.

Intro to AcroYoga

If your jaw just dropped, you're not alone -- many people experience visceral reactions (i.e. spontaneous muscle contractions, intense feelings of befuddlement and curiosity) when seeing AcroYoga(r) for the first time. But be forewarned: Observers may become die-hard practitioners, so say the group of seven teachers and students shown here. Recently, we captured them working their malleable magic at Om Factory in New York City. What you don't see are the Thai massages they give each other before, during and after completing each move, which help facilitate a sense of trust, solidarity, and utter relaxation (I had one myself, as Chris balanced me on her feet!). Complimentary massage -- the thrill of hanging upside down -- it's easy to understand the addiction. Here, we find out what keeps them coming back for more.

The Players:

Chris Loebsack, 37, AcroYoga(r), Teacher
Becca Krauss, 27, AcroYoga(r), Teacher
Mary Aranas, 49, AcroYoga(r), Teacher
Will Nagel, 38, AcroYoga(r), Teacher
Deven Sisler, 28, AcroYoga(r), Teacher
Mitch Gerbus, 26, Student
Alyona Mindlin, 28, Student

The Positions:
Flyer: The person who is at the pinnacle of the pose.
Base: The person positioned at the bottom of the move; supports the flyer.
Spotter: A person who is not involved in the pose but provides additional balance to ensure safety.

Reverse Star in Scorpion

"I attended the very first AcroYoga(r) class in San Francisco 5 and 1/2 years ago, and I've witnessed how it can bring a community together, especially in big cities where you sometimes feel like you're alone. When you take a class, you touch people you don't know, so you quickly lose any initial discomfort and learn to harmonize with them physically and emotionally." -- Becca, flyer

Hangle Dangle

"Being the base is all about learning technique -- where to place your feet, what angle offers the best support -- more so than physical capability. With time, you learn to completely trust yourself and what you can do. Then the reciprocal effect happens -- you also trust that someone else can also support you. Think of it as mutual empathy." -- Will, base

Urdhva Dhanurasana - Backbend

"The best prep for taking an AcroYoga(r) class is to take a standard yoga class first. If you have a strong understanding of your body, you'll feel more confident and open to new challenges." -- Becca

Firefly Pose on Two-legged Inverted Staff Pose

"The first thing you do in an AcroYoga(r) class is sit in a circle and introduce yourself to the group. Each person has a particular skill or strength -- for instance, I have a background in dance and choreography-that they bring to the table. The fact that you are acknowledged and respected for your gifts gives you positive feedback and makes you want to continue." -- Chris, flyer

This pose is also called "Tittibhasana on Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana"

Mayurasana, or Peacock Posture

"You may not be able to do a handstand on your own, but you may have mastered some of the building blocks of the move. What's great about AcroYoga(r) is that someone else is letting you use her body for support to help you get there. It teaches you that it's OK to play on the edge of your fears and try things you may not think you can do. That's how you change and grow." -- Deven, base

Urdhva Dhanurasana Pyramid

"AcroYoga(r) has the flow of dance, which I love, the spirituality and wisdom of yoga, plus the dynamism of acrobatics, and the loving kindness and partnership of Thai massage. It's everything I want rolled into one package. I'm 49, but feel like a 5-year-old playing on the swings with my friends, and at the same time I'm working on my balance, flexibility and strengthening my entire body." -- Mary, flyer

Back Flying in Natarajasana, or King Dancer Pose

"I've been practicing ballet since age 5, but I've always struggled with balancing. Shocking, I know! After one month of taking AcroYoga(r) classes I could stand on one foot, no problem. For the first time, my mind wasn't in overdrive -- I stopped pushing myself, and I was patient with my body. That was the answer." -- Alyona, flyer

Loop de Loop

"We focus on making 'I' statements while we play, such as '"I feel tightness in my lower back,'" as opposed to making accusations, such as, '"You didn't have your leg straight enough!'" It helps you communicate more effectively and become a better listener. Each pose is a new partnership and a new negotiation -- you have to get to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and be sensitive to them in order to create a symbiotic relationship." -- Chris, base

Beach on Plank

"You and your partner share a unique kind of intimacy -- you're in tune with that person to the point that you breathe together. That closeness makes it more comfortable to be physical with people in a nonsexual way. You realize that your bodies can connect without a feeling of tension or awkwardness, and you carry that lesson with you when you leave class." -- Mitch, base

Eka Pada Koundinyasana (Variation)

"Your body is a geometric collection of lines and curves. In AcroYoga(r), you use your body to create shapes -- triangles, squares and diamonds. So, if you relax into the poses, eventually they'll come to you naturally." -- Alyona

This pose is also called "Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya"

Vasisthasana, or Side Plank Pose

"The big postures are always going to be there -- you'll get to them. What's important is honoring your body in every moment. If you're not feeling it, you don't have to do it. You're not striving for perfection-this is not a contest. It's OK to back off because you've created a safe, encouraging place of self-acceptance." -- Chris

Astavakrasana, or Eight Angle Pose

"My first thought when I walked into an AcroYoga(r) class 5 years ago was 'what the %$#@!' I felt very intimidated. Even though I was a certified yoga instructor, I didn't know if I was strong enough to hang with this group of people. Three hours later, I felt so invigorated that I signed up to take the intensive AcroYoga(r) training courses. Now I can balance a 240-pound man on my feet!" -- Chris

Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana II, or One-legged King Pigeon

"If it looks good, it usually feels good." -- Alyona

Originally published on, June 2009