New Paltz Flying High

Photo Courtesy of New Paltz Rock Yoga

Participants at NP Rock Yoga can soar with a little help from their friends in their monthly “Flying Yoga” classes.

The partner-based yoga sessions have their roots in AcroYoga and circus yoga, while incorporating elements of Thai yoga. “Flying Yoga,” led by instructor Lana Heintjes, consists of one person becoming a “baser” and one person becoming a “flyer,” according to Julie Ewald, owner of NP Rock Yoga.

The first hour of the two-hour session focuses mainly on partner stretching.

“You go in deeper and it feels so good,” Ewald said. “We give people time — it’s about balance and proper alignment.”

Heintjes said she became interested in AcroYoga because of student interest. After organizing a class taught by AcroYoga instructors for SUNY New Paltz’s Yoga Club, Heintjes took a three-hour class, studied AcroYoga online and participated in an acrobatic immersion in California with the creators of AcroYoga, Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein.

While she hopes to become certified in the future, Heintjes said she currently has the blessings of Nemer and Sauer-Klein to teach her own blend of AcroYoga under a different title.

Heintjes acknowledged the difficulty of “Flying Yoga,” although she said newcomers are welcome to participate.

“There is a beginner series and then it gets difficult very quickly,” Heintjes said. “In the lifted butterfly, which we teach all beginners, the base has both hands and feet on their partners. More advanced poses have just legs or hands.”

The sessions are currently working toward the flying positions through a safe, gradual process.

“The foundation is the most important,” Heintjes said. “We’re learning positions that makes this safe. In basing, the feet are stacked directly above hips, knees straight. In flying, the feet are hanging down, so there’s leverage. That’s really important, so they don’t fall off.”

The introduction of “Flying Yoga” to the mix of classes began in late fall 2012. Unlike the other classes offered by NP Rock Yoga, the “Flying Yoga” sessions are taught at normal room temperature.

Heintjes said she tries to bring a lighthearted feeling to her classes, sometimes playing a song to break up the intense, serious mood.

“I hope they feel a sense of community, trust and play,” Heintjes said. “I want them to feel relaxed and excited at the same time.”

Nicholas DePalma, assistant to Heintjes, started learning AcroYoga two years ago by watching online videos of AcroYoga with friends.

“Your body can work well with another body,” DePalma said. “You’ve got to figure out how to make this possible.”

DePalma traveled to the city for an intensive yoga session with Sauer-Klein. After he graduated college, he traveled through Europe and spent time in Amsterdam with the AcroYoga community. DePalma said he enjoyed seeing how the instructors created safety and trust.

During the “Flying Yoga” class, people start out in a circle. They hold hands or place a hand on someone else’s knee.

“It gets people used to touch,” DePalma said. “They think, ‘okay, touch is something you accept in this space. This is a stranger’s hand and we’re here.’”

According to DePalma, although some people bring friends or partners, people are encouraged to come alone as well. The class splits into groups of two people, and then three people, to accommodate everyone.

“You really surrender to this group of people. You trust,” DePalma said. “You think, ‘they’ll do it well, and I’ll do it well.’”

DePalma emphasized that partner yoga is about counterbalancing the body. The partner poses complement each other, such as one person doing a backbend and one doing a forward fold.

“It’s an awesome adventure,” Heintjes said. “It’s about creating a lot of community and making awesome friends.”