so you think you can trance
Oct 25, 2011 | 2:52 pm
Do you have this image of yoga in mind: serene people in meditation, chanting "Ohm," in between impossibly pretzel-like stretched poses?
You might want to put that notion on hold. The ancient practice of yoga has some new variations, that might have first-century yogi Patanjali rolling over in his grave (or his current reincarnation).
Since its meteoric popularity rise in the Western world during the past 20 years, many forms of yoga have become trendy, including heated Bikram methods and fusion yoga that incorporates ballet or Pilates. Check out some of these crazy new yoga styles in Austin:
I have to admit that I was completely intrigued when I first heard of anti-gravity yoga earlier this year, and couldn’t wait to try it. After its beginnings in the field of aerial acrobatics in 1990, the practice grew as a yoga fitness program in New York.
There, Travis Shrader and his wife, Sarah, discovered the practice, which uses silk materials like the aerial artists in Cirque de Soleil employ. "After taking just one class we were hooked," Sarah says. The silk creates a hammock that hangs suspended three feet off the ground; participants utilize this hammock to work muscle groups, free from the compression of gravity. The realigning suspension of this type of yoga allows the practitioner to invert into upside-down poses and get into deeper stretches in a completely supported environment.
The Shraders became trained in anti-gravity yoga in New York and then decided to return to Texas. "After moving back to Austin, we decided to bring it to Texas to spread our love for the technique," says Sarah. She and Travis opened Fit to the Core in the Hall Plastic Surgery Center in West Austin, where Sarah also works as a registered nurse. "AntiGravity® Yoga is a great full-body workout. It improves your core strength & balance; all while having fun!"
When I tested it out, I agreed that it was a lot of fun while also providing a very challenging workout. Poses can be modified to accommodate each person, and the feeling of simply dangling in the air made me feel like a 5-year-old. Classes are $18, or available in 10-class packages for $15 per class. Fit to the Core is the only AntiGravity® Yoga studio in Texas.
This is also known as partner, synergy or contact yoga. It's also reminiscent of circus acrobatics - two people get into yoga poses together using balance, inversions, spotting and play. AcroYoga has elements of Thai massage and is meant to cultivate trust, connection and playfulness.
It all started in San Francisco in 2003. Jenny Sauer-Klein and Jason Nemer met at a party through mutual friends. Afterwards they started doing some casual, playful contact yoga together - Jason held Jenny in a handstand on his hands, and Jenny supported Jason in a therapeutic flying sequence, which uses gravity to release the spine. It's inversion without the effort. Their personal interactions laid the foundation for AcroYoga and they started teaching a partner doubles class in San Francisco. "When you are able to give and receive completely, it brings up what yoga is all about - union," Jenny told Yoga Journal in 2008.
There are now 120 certified AcroYoga instructors around the world, including several in Austin which now has an entire AcroYoga community. Through their website and Facebook group, the Austin people seem to have fun with a mix of official AcroYoga classes and unofficial, playful partner yoga sessions that they call "jams."
"Formal classes and workshops taught by experienced instructors, in my opinion, are the best places to learn Acro skills," says John Richter of Austin AcroYoga. "Jams are a great place to practice what you've learned in the classes and connect with other people in the community. In this way, jams and classes have a synergistic relationship. AcroYoga is very much like social dancing. If you don't know how to dance, you take some lessons before you go to the social dance, so you can learn some moves to practice."
Mateo Daniel is a certified Synergy instructor and active in the Austin AcroYoga community; he is starting a new series called Playful Warrior Yoga on November 2, every Wednesday night at 6:30 pm at the Guari Movement Studio. The five-week series is $120. "The 'magic powers' of Thai Massage and Therapeutic Flight are undeniable," says Mateo. "Through weightlessness, pressure point activation and deep stretches, the channels of the body are opened and a lightness of being is achieved."
Yes, you read that right. There is actually a group in Austin that practices yoga in the nude. Founded in 2004, they practice in classes at Thrive Fitness on South Congress, which are taught by certified instructors (and only open to those 18 years and older).
"Each of us has his own reasons for choosing to practice yoga naked," states the Austin Naked Yoga website. "Some enjoy the greater physical freedom. Some of us want to feel more comfortable in our own skin. Some enjoy the taboo-breaking thrill of getting naked. Still others see nudity as a profound spiritual experience—a shedding of armor and barriers and the social masks we present to the world."
It might not come as a surprise that this group is mostly men. There are four men's classes per week, and a Monday evening co-ed, clothing optional class. Most of the participants identify as gay, but it's an open group to all and very welcoming.
The FAQ on the site is very informative and frank. Is there ever sexual energy present? Yes, sometimes, but it's okay to feel it without acting on it, and there is no sexual activity nor genital focus in the classes.
"But what happens if I get an erection?" some of you might ask, a la George on Seinfeld (remember the male massage episode?) The website answers, "Erections are natural and okay, but are not as common as you may think. In yoga, the mind and body are actively practicing yoga and most of your energy is going towards supporting the yoga practice, not an erection."
Naked yoga seems to be more about feeling comfortable in your own skin, and forgiving of your body. "I starting coming to naked yoga to help get more related to my body," says one Austin participant. "I’m learning to accept my body, imperfections and all, instead of hating it. And doing yoga is giving me the extra energy I need to take better care of my body.”