Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Flying with yoga

Each week Rachel Grunwell tries a new sport to bring you the lowdown

Rachel Grunwell samples acro yoga, a mix of yoga and acrobatics. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel Grunwell samples acro yoga, a mix of yoga and acrobatics. Photo / Michael Craig

Acro yoga

What is it? A mix of yoga and acrobatics with a partner. One person is the base, who lifts and supports another person (the flyer) into the air for yoga poses.

What's needed? Snug-fitting comfy gear, bare feet, hair tied back, water.

The experience: I've had a love affair with yoga for years - it makes me strong, flexible and I believe in its mind and body benefits.

I get my fix of downward dogs and chaturanga poses with Vince Bolletta at the GetRunning studio. He stretches my body like it's bubblegum and into a human pretzel, but when I unfurl I feel fantastic.

So when I hear Ponsonby-based yoga teacher Nikki Ralston is hosting an acro yoga workshop at her newly opened Urban Ashram studio I'm game to go. Nikki teaches a modern style of yoga that is dynamic and all-inclusive with attention to alignment and self-discovery.

Her new passion is acro yoga and so she invited American expert Trevor Gribble to take workshops to kick off Auckland's first official acro yoga community.

Trevor tells me it's like "yoga on steroids". What he means is it's even more challenging than everyday yoga, plus it's more "playful; you get to be a kid again." It's also pretty "intimate" and so our class of roughly a dozen guys and gals is told to break down barriers about being close with yogi partners.

At first I pair up with Trevor and we try counter-balance warm-ups. We lean into each other while intertwining our hands. We feel each other's weight and how to "integrate".

After a bit we're into acro yoga. He lies on his back and I place the soles of his feet on to my hips, we hold hands and then he elevates me off the ground and I "fly".

We then let go of our hands when I'm balanced and he instructs me to arch my back, and place my arms in a more elegant pose. I'm now just merely supported by his feet, balancing myself by sucking in my core and holding steady. And trust is a two-way street: I trust Trevor not to drop me, while he trusts me not to suddenly move and fall on him!

It's a buzz being "in-flight". I want to giggle but I can't because I'd crash.

Trevor is right that once I "fly", I'm keen to try another mid-air challenge.

It's also neat seeing others tackle tasks (we even do one called a "low lying whale"). The room looks like it's full of breathing sculptures.

One of the more challenging poses is a head stand while balancing on our yogi partner. Talk about turning my world upside down. I wobble a bit at the start, but a fellow yogi helps spot and steady me and I feel chuffed when I'm the opposite way I'm meant to be. When Nikki and Trevor pair up they make this manoeuvre look effortless; their performance is like art.

Trevor winds up the class by teaching some Thai healing techniques and then Nikki thanks us for filling her studio with enthusiasm.

I glimpse my watch and realise almost four hours has passed without me realising.

Acro yoga is a blend of yoga, acrobatics, balancing, performing, strength, poise and even Thai therapy. It's circus-style yoga.

To do it you need confidence, a strong core and trust in the partner you connect with. It looks kinda crazy, but I like "crazy"! If you dig yoga then give this a go, it's quirky cool.

How much? AcroJam sessions $10 donation. Nikki's yoga classes at Urban Ashram are $20 (casual), five-class concession $95, or 10-concession $180.

Worth it? If you're an adept yogi then go fly: it's fun.

Try it: AcroJam sessions are Sundays, 2.30pm, Urban Ashram, 2/49 Brown St, Ponsonby, Auckland. It's for experienced yogis at present but Nikki plans to run her own workshops to teach more beginners and grow the acro yoga community. Look out for future workshops at urbanashram.co.nz

Rating: 9.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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