Mr. Aaron Lind and his acroyoga partner from Swan River Yoga in New Orleans are pictured above. Yes, he is as friendly as his mustache implies.
Acroyoga activity length1 hour and 45 minutes
It was an adventure I couldn’t really predict. I went willingly though, after an already active day cycling around New Orleans on the first of my self-imposed adventure trips as a means to discover what I was made of. I was with my soon-to-be 18 year old daughter, Fiona, a very athletic girl who takes her circus training seriously and who wanted the chance to connect in NOLA with some circus people. We couldn’t find any, but we did hear about this class from our temporary landlord, Coco.
Fiona promised me she would go easy on me and that I could be her acrobatic partner. I am 225 pounds, which is 20 pounds lighter than when my fitness journey began in September, but my routines thus far had involved mostly walking, running and biking, not strength training. And it definitely required some strength.
In the surprisingly new sport of acroyoga (around since 2001) there are quite a few concepts to absorb. Perhaps most important is it’s air of inclusiveness and acceptance, derived most likely from the eastern influence of yoga. The description of the class online begins “Trust is the currency that we exchange in acrobatics.” It goes on to explain how the partnership works, with each trick having a base, a flyer and a spotter. This was not too alien of a concept to me, as Fiona had already done some rudimentary acroyoga in Chicago with her various acrobatic friends and then demanded I be a base at home to show me what she could do. The base holds the flyer in the poses and the spotter will catch the flyer should things fail, but often they act as moral support.
We arrived in Mid-City, frozen to the core from a mile and a half bike ride from the 7th Ward and we were soon absorbed in to the beauty and warmth of the Swan River Yoga facility. The building is painted a gorgeous robin’s egg blue, and makes thoughtful use of the large, old space. A huge group of young people had shown up and formed a sitting circle where everyone joined hands and the instructor Aaron Lind explained the motto, which is that acroyoga was not about having the perfect partner but about having the partner that you worked with in the now and that was perfect. Or something like that. We did some running to warm up, and then broke in to partner mode to do some light balancing poses.
I was going with it, pushing my limits quite early but balancing my daughter well when they announced that we would break in to levels with the advanced group to one side and beginners to the other. To her credit, Fiona offered to come with me to the beginner side but I could see her looking longingly at advanced group and I set her free reluctantly.
Now I was going to be a flyer, my instructor explained. “But…” I struggled for the words to describe my fears. I could break someone. I’m the earthy type. I weigh too damn much for these skinny people to lift up. I can just spot. I probably said all of those things, but he reassured me that he wouldn’t have anyone do anything they weren’t able to do, and that the class was going to get a lot harder in the next hour with me eventually taking the roll of base, but everyone had to know what it was like to do all positions. Quitting at that point was far too cowardly for me. So I flew. I flew in throne pose. This means I sat on a man’s feet, like the calm queen that I was ,while he laid on his back with his legs in the air. He said I had a good attitude and was not a panicked flailer like some people, so flying me was easy. It felt good to fly.
When I switched to base I really got in to it. It took tremendous calm and rocklike steadiness. It felt like I was lifting weights, except those weights were my partner and if I dropped her she might be injured. I can’t think of anything more motivating really than have to lift, hold and balance a person or else watch them crash on to your face and torso. Your heroic side really kicks in. The rush you get form doing it well and feeling the pivot point that makes it almost simple once you find it is exhilarating. I got acroyoga. It was about trust.
At the end of this challenging session, I popped off to the bathroom before the relaxation exercise. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you know this as shavasana. It is usually the reward that everyone looks forward to. It involves laying calmly and breathing deeply while allowing your muscles to recover from their exertions and going deep in to your body rhythms. When I returned, instead of 24 flat, relaxing people, I saw 11 couples of relaxing people, and one lone man waiting for me.
Get your partner, they said. I went to my partner. He was a very muscular man. You are going to rock each other like babies now, they said. I wasn’t so sure I got acroyoga anymore. Trusting someone to not drop me was one thing, but trusting a stranger to rock me like a baby? Fortunately, it was his turn to be the baby first and he was already deeply relaxed. It was up to me to lift his feet, then his legs and sway them back and forth. Next came his torso, which I did my best to lift and rock sweetly. I could barely budge it off the ground, but he sighed happily. There was a point where I willed myself not to laugh as his legs were slung over my bent thigh and my pelvis lunged his hips and legs slowly in an arc. Sometimes I think I should bring a photographer places with me so I can prove these things to my friends later. My turn was next, and I trusted him. He did a good job and I breathed deeply throughout the whole thing, happy to not be lifting flyers in the air for a change. Afterwards, as we introduced ourselves, I asked him how long he had been doing acroyoga. He told me not too long. He was just getting back in to it as he was training for his second summer Olympics as a 100 yard dash runner.
What broke me:
So many things broke me, but they were all mental hang ups. First, there was trusting that I could be a flyer and wouldn’t be dropped by a skinny man. Then there was embarrassment that I had come to an acrobatics class in my out of shape condition assuming I could jump right in. Then, getting physically close and physically tired with strangers took an openness I was not accustomed to and required me to turn off some part of my brain to achieve. Lastly, finishing by rocking a stranger like a baby was the big finale of awkward discomfort.
How I survived:
Turning off the awkward switch and accepting this closeness with strangers wasn’t just novel but interesting and humane. I told myself that all of the adventures I had that week had required trust. Trust that I could navigate a new town on a bike. Trust that not having a vacation agenda and instead being open to exploring a region and getting to know new people would be a rewarding experience. Trust that the non-touristy neighborhood we stayed in was safe. Trust that the friendly and inviting people of New Orleans were the normal ones and perhaps I was the one with yankee hang-ups. So why shouldn’t I trust this process of holding hands and flying and rocking strangers? I rocked an Olympian.
Activity Steps: 1,536
Calories burnt: 285
Daily steps hit: 11,844