“If you see people doing Acro Yoga in the park literally anywhere in New York City, and you ask, ‘Where can I learn this?’ You’re going to hear ‘Warrior Bridge.’”
Sean Langhaus, 27, has done a lot more than creative a communal space for yoga, martial arts, and meditation in his studio down by the South Street Seaport. He’s sparked a local movement that has become so popular over the past two years that it requires a larger studio space—and additional basement studio space—to keep up with demand.
Meeting somewhere in the matrix of yoga, martial arts, acrobatics and Thai massage technique, Acro Yoga is exactly what it sounds like, and is just as fun and breathtaking as it looks.
“We’ve seen about 1,000 new people walk through our doors over the past six months just for our Acro Yoga classes,” he said. “If you see someone doing Acro Yoga in the park or anywhere else in New York City, and you ask them, ‘Where’d you learn to do that?’ There’s a 99% chance they’ll tell you ‘Warrior Bridge.’”
Langhaus, who has lived in the loft directly above the Water Street studio for the past five years, is actually lengthening his commute to work by opening an even bigger space on the Front Street side of the building. He can’t cross the roof to get there — his landlord already said no — but what he can tell you is everything you need to know about this incredibly movement that’s found it’s way into our backyard from small pockets of England, San Francisco, and Montreal.
Tell me a bit about your own personal Acro Yoga journey.
Sean Langhaus: I started this “movement journey” with martial arts and fitness in college at the University of Delaware, and when I moved back to New York City to work a corporate sales job, I very quickly found that I was a lot more interested in what I was doing after work: yoga classes and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I enrolled in yoga teacher training with the intention of leaving my job to teach, and it was during that training that I was introduced to Acro Yoga. So I started teaching it to anyone who came into the studio, and when I met Gary Snyder, our martial arts director, and we opened Warrior Bridge, we knew we had to include it.
I remember how you introducing me to the concept, after one of your regular yoga classes…I barely knew you, but you caught me on my way out and said, “Hey, wanna fly?”
SL: Yeah, that’s literally how I ask people, especially the people who come up to us when we decide to just lay down a mat in Union Square, or Washington Square Park, or at Times Square. They’ll ask me, “How do you do that?” And I’ll say, “Here, I’ll show you.”
I freaked out a little at first, but in a good way, and I remember leaving and feeling like I had done something so amazing I’d never experience anything like it again. I was so glad I trusted you to just loop me in and out of some very tricky, elevated positions.
SL: People often think, “That must take so much coordination and so much balance” but honestly, almost anyone can do it. It takes a very minimal amount of body awareness to do the basics. If you can follow instructions and understand simple body queues, you can do it.
Is it realistic to think anyone can walk in off the street and do Acro Yoga, even with no prior yoga practice whatsoever?
SL: If you can hold a plank pose or a headstand for 30 seconds, that would be helpful, but not necessary. Some flexibility is also useful. In short, it’s not required. There are ways to work around it, mainly as a “base.” Of course, if you have a recent injury, it’s good to tell the teacher you’re working with so you can be best supported.
What are the spiritual, physical, and mental benefits of doing Acro Yoga?
SL: Physically, you get stronger, you learn to balance, and you learn how to move with another person, which can be novel to a lot of people. Mentally, some of the biggest benefits are trust and communication, and teamwork. Spiritually, you learn to find balance between doing this high-energy acrobatic activity while cultivating the restorative, healing component of the practice.
Are people ever hesitant to literally take other people’s lives into their hands?
SL: It’s very empowering to the “base” to see someone trust you, and to realize you’re strong enough to be able to lift someone, even if you walked in there thinking there’s no way I can do this. To be able to hold someone up in the air and leave them there, that does a lot to you. As a “flyer,” that trust in another person is also very empowering.
Also, we always have someone working as a “spotter” on the team to help you feel safe and at ease. They can usually see when there might be some tipping or a fall before it happens, things you can’t see from within the pose itself. The spotter is a pretty integral role within the practice.
Is there a lot of tipping and falling during class?
SL: Oh yeah, definitely. Especially if it’s your first time. Since I’ve done it so much, I can foresee when the fall is going to happen, and I’ll just put my leg down. So I’ll “fly bird” on anyone. I’ll let someone put their legs in the air and jump right into a shoulder stand on their feet.
How would you describe the energy in the room?
SL: It’s definitely high-intensity, some people are eager, others are scared…There are a lot of different emotions.
Are there any reactions during or after class that have really surprised you?
SL: Multiple people over the past few months have told me that I’ve changed their lives, and it’s almost uncomfortable to hear. It’s a big deal! These aren’t even just young people, they’re people in their late 40’s. Everyone has different reasons as to why it’s changed their lives, but it has.
When you practice in public, is it essentially like you’re creating your own tiny playground for adults?
SL: Definitely. Someone recently hashtagged a photo #AdultOnsetAcro. We don’t see super young people like teenagers, mostly people who have already graduated college.
You’ve really built a community-within-a-community down here.
SL: To be honest, I hang out with very few people I don’t know from our Acro classes or Acro Yoga Jams. Last night, people stuck around until 11:00 PM, when I had to kick them out. The citywide Acro community has really rallied around us.
Is there anything else people should know before they start to come back from their “summering” and repopulate your studio space?
SL: Just know that you don’t need to come with a partner. It’s not couple’s yoga. It’s a community practice.
Helaina Hovitz is an editor, writer, and co-founder of Headlines for the Hopeful, a news site dedicated to positive news stories about people making a difference in the world. She is also the author of the forthcoming memoir After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey Through Darkness to a New Beginning. She has written for the New York Times, Teen Vogue, Salon, Newsday, xoJane, New York Observer, and others. She is a contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post, Recovery.org, and is the NYC Guide Editor at The Daily Meal. Visit her at www.HelainaHovitz.com