AcroYoga links people on the mat and in the air

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      How often have you gone to a yoga class without talking to or interacting with anyone, and then left?

      Such is the nature of many fitness sessions, which doesn’t do much for Vancouver’s reputation of being isolating and unfriendly.

      However, there is a yoga program in Vancouver in which zero social interaction is impossible. Needless to say, it’s not your average yoga. AcroYoga is an intriguing combination of yoga, acrobatics, and—interestingly enough—Thai massage.

      It may sound intimidating to some people, but AcroYogaVancity cofounder Slava Goloubov says it’s accessible to all.

      “People see the acrobatics side and get nervous about it,” he says in a chat at his private East Vancouver studio. “You don’t need any experience. Zero.…We take everybody.”

      In fact, that’s how Goloubov got his start. And it changed his life.

      Originally from Russia, Goloubov was working in Canada as a construction sheet-metal worker, unhappy with his job and relationship at the time. After attending a Vipassana meditation retreat in Costa Rica, he was primed for change. Goloubov first acquired his yoga certification, then trained with AcroYoga in Montreal. (There are two schools of AcroYoga: AcroYoga Montreal, which draws upon acrobatics, dance, and yoga, began in the late 1990s, while the Berkeley, California, school, which combines acrobatics, yoga, and healing arts, started up in 2003. Although Goloubov trained at the Montreal school, he also incorporated massage into his practice.) He cofounded AcroYogaVancity with yoga instructors Devon French and Jolene Bayda two-and-a-half years ago.

      Goloubov and French now teach an all-levels class at Dharma Yoga in Yaletown and an intermediate class at Spartacus Gym in East Vancouver, and Goloubov often practises at Kitsilano Beach with four or five people.

      Although attendance began with a handful of students, it’s since risen to about 40 people per session.

      How it works, as Goloubov demonstrates, is that one person, called the base, lies on the floor with legs up in the air while another person becomes the flyer. The base elevates the flyer off the ground, usually using his or her upturned/flexed feet and sometimes hands or arms. A third person acts as a spotter, someone who monitors the activity to prevent injuries.

      While balancing on the base’s feet, the flyer assumes various positions, from a Superman-like flying pose to various yoga-influenced poses, such as hanging upside down with legs crossed. Goloubov says that the movements and poses particularly help to strengthen stabilizer muscles while enhancing flexibility.

      What many people may not realize is that Goloubov says this yoga can be a form of couples counselling.

      “If there are problems in a relationship, it comes up really quickly,” he says. He says that is because people have to work together as a unit and therefore must build trust, effective communication, and a comfortable environment. Accordingly, he says, anything swept under the rug, such as insecurities or buried emotions, often surfaces.

      In addition to the yoga poses, the therapeutic component enters with Thai-massage techniques, which involve stretching, pulling, and massaging various parts of the body. The base can massage the flyer with feet or hands as the flyer is suspended in the air doing poses or inversions. Alternately, the base can receive a massage; for instance, the flyer can walk on the base’s back while lying on the floor after the acrobatics.

      Moreover, Goloubov emphasizes that we’ve all done these kinds of activities as kids goofing around with others, and it’s really about the sense of play and exploration.

      “It doesn’t have to be for the circus,” he says. “It’s something you can do for life.”