New York | 07.05.12

It’s a sunny afternoon in early summer, and Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park is dotted with people lazing in the grass, soaking up the last of the day’s rays. For the past 20 minutes, most of them have had their eyes on Matt Giordano and Chelsey Chorus, who are putting on a Cirque de Soleil-esque show free of charge. Lying on his back, Matt supports Chelsey with his feet as she spins above him, seemingly effortlessly. When the dizzying twirling slows down, she hovers in the air, their hands the sole connection between them. She flips over and he catches her with his feet, landing her in a perfect back-bending arc. It’s impossible to keep your eyes off their impressive pas de deux, at once graceful, powerful and inspiring. A few feet away, two little girls mimic them and fall together into a laughing pile on the ground.

Joy is at the heart of the practice of AcroYoga, a yoga spin-off which blends the wisdom of the ancient discipline with the power of acrobatics and the loving kindness of healing arts. Since Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein created it in 2003, it has drawn many thousands of practitioners who are attracted to its playful and collaborative nature. “It’s given me a practice that’s incredibly joyful,” says Matt, who was still living in Long Island several years ago when some AcroYogis in Riverside Park piqued his interest. “I asked if I could try it, one of the girls flew me, and I fell in love,” he recalls. It wasn’t long before he was enrolled in workshops and meeting regularly with fellow ‘flyers’ and ‘bases’ (tops and bottoms in Acro lingo) whenever and wherever they could. His passion for AcroYoga soon brought him to the city permanently, where he delved deeper into his own yoga practice, eventually completing a yoga teacher training at Pure Yoga, where he now teaches, among other studios.

Minnesota-raised Chelsey was already a certified yoga teacher of five years when she found AcroYoga — and Matt — a few years ago while working as the manager at an athletic wear company. “Matt would come and do flying demos in the window. I got on Matt’s feet one day, and that was it,” she says. “We just started playing.”

The two have now been training together for two years, juggling busy teaching schedules with frequent meet-ups in parks (their preferred training ground), where they explore new moves and refine their ability to move seamlessly between them. They also teach together — they recently returned from Wanderlust, a yoga festival in Vermont, where they taught packed classes of AcroYogis in the making — and perform regularly at private parties and corporate events. Perhaps most astounding (after, of course, the awesome gravity-defying acrobatics) is that their sequences are improvised; while they practice regularly, they never plan out routines. “It’s just us playing and feeding off the energy of the room,” says Chelsey. “He speaks a lot with his hands and feet. If there’s a point of a toe, I know where to go.” Matt adds: “If she bends her knee, I know what she needs.”

Learning to communicate non-verbally and cultivating sensitivity to one’s partner are just a few of the benefits of the practice that have the power to shift practitioners and their relationships in ways that extend beyond the physical. “It’s shown me where impatience, frustration or miscommunications come up for me when I’m working closely with somebody and under stressful conditions,” says Matt. “All the insecurities and weaknesses get magnified.”

“The biggest thing about this practice is that it’s all about trust,” says Chelsey. “If, as a flyer, you’re able to trust your base, it’s going to be really enjoyable for you. If that’s a struggle for you, then it’s going to be a constant teacher to you. It’s also about trusting yourself: to be able to catch yourself, that you’re strong enough to do it.” It works both ways, explains Matt. “When someone trusts you, it gives you strength and power and the ability to feel your own strength and potential,” he says. “It takes the limitations out of the practice.”

Both say that AcroYoga has deepened their ability to trust themselves and others, and to take bigger risks — on and off the mat. Above all, the playful practice keeps them connected to their joyful natures, which is obvious in the smiles on their faces as they dance their way through body-bending sequences, and their laughter even when they occasionally tumble out of a pose. “We do it because it’s fun,” says Chelsey. “When it stops being fun, we know it’s time to stop.”

-Jessica Caplan
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