Jonathan Henkelman lies on his back on a yoga mat, legs lifted and bent, the bottoms of his bare feet facing the ceiling. I am standing at his feet, looking down at him. He asks me to lean forward and let his feet press against my lower belly to support me. I try a few times, but I pull back when it feels like I’m going to fall on him.
He asks me to try again, and allow his feet to fully plant under my ribs. I lean farther this time, most of my weight now against his feet, my heels starting to lift from the floor.
Henkelman raises his hands and I reach forward, placing my palms on his. He tells me to keep leaning and that he will slowly straighten his legs skyward, lifting my entire body off the floor with his feet.
Feeling a little zap of fear, I let it go and trust he can hold me. I teeter forward as my feet leave the floor. I’m now above him, parallel to him, my legs straight out behind me like superwoman. I’m flying.
This is acroyoga: a combination of yoga and acrobatics that Henkelman has been teaching in Whitehorse since August. It’s increasingly popular across southern Canada and the U.S. and now has a small-but-growing following in Whitehorse.
To do acroyoga you need at least two people: a base (the bottom person) and a flyer (the person being supported). There should also be a spotter for safety.
The practice attracts young, fit, gutsy people who enjoy inversions, being up in the air and testing their strength and courage.
But Henkelman says you don’t have to be daring or fit; you just have to be comfortable stating your limits.
“If someone wanted to come in, and they were not the sort of classic yoga body, like absolutely, you’re welcome, but you do have to have the confidence to say this is my edge.”
Sometimes that edge is not where you think. Henkelman remembers practicing with a 300-pound woman who assumed she would be the base.
“I’m like ‘Do you want to fly?’ and she’s like ‘Omigod I’m going to crush you!’” he recalls.
But he convinced her.
“By the end she would let me fly her – doing basic things. I couldn’t necessarily do the most fantastic stuff, but it was fascinating to see her come to life.”
The benefits are beyond physical, he says, as he has noticed in his own life.
“I struggle a lot with depression. I struggle a lot with mental health issues and coming to acro – all of a sudden I have all this energy because the things that I need out of life are happening – the playfulness, the trust, the touch, the connection, the communication.”
Henkelman teaches at Jessica Read’s Breath of Life studio, where acroyoga classes will continue as long as there’s interest. Read, a 12-year yogi, has found the new practice challenging. But she has observed that athletic talent is not nearly as important as the ability to rely on your base, your spotter and yourself.
“The biggest one is trust… and being present. You’ve just got to be in your body and feel – and be aware of how you’re holding yourself.”
For more information about acroyoga in Whitehorse go to www.BreathofLifeStudio.com. For photos and videos of acroyoga in action, check out the Acroyoga Montreal studio’s web page at Acroyoga.com.