When I met Whakapaingia Luke, we didn't shake hands. He immediately walked into the studio, dropped his bags, unrolled his yoga mat and started flying me.
His wife provided the formal introduction.
"Welcome to Koha Yoga," Sara Laimon Luke said. "We teach flying yoga, also known as AcroYoga or acrobatic yoga or circus yoga. And if any of those words sound scary, then this is for you."
What it's all about
Flying yoga is a mixture of acrobatics, partner yoga and Thai massage. One partner, the base, lies on his or her back and settle both feet on the flier's hips. The base then straightens both arms and legs, perpendicular to the ground, and lifts the flier into the air.
There are only 220 certified AcroYoga instructors in the world. Whaka and Sara Laimon Luke have been teaching together for more than three years and became certified instructors in August.
Whaka, who is a Santa Monica Rugby Club player from New Zealand, originally turned to yoga to help with an injury. Sara, originally from Pewaukee, had been practicing acrobatic yoga in L.A. for a number of years.
"I love to make people smile," Whaka Luke said. "It's great being able to put such a positive influence on people. They might not always remember my name but they'll always remember how I made them feel."
More frequent fliers
Acrobatic yoga is a somewhat new concept but it has been growing, even in Wisconsin.
"If you don't have that fear, it's pretty awesome. It's great to see how people in Wisconsin - who are, you know, more conservative, especially out in Pewaukee - love it. … We fly with big men and little women. And everyone is completely happy doing it. It's cool to break down those stereotypes of what people are," Sara said.
Nowadays, they travel between Pewaukee and Los Angeles but also foresee some workshops and retreats in the upcoming year. They plan to go to the third annual AcroYoga festival Divine Play in October and might put together partner yoga training next year.
So far, they've been to Africa, Australia and South America to introduce flying yoga to different studios and build their practice or network, called Koha Yoga. They fly with hundreds of students each time they travel, and Whaka said he has lost count of how many people he's personally flown, but it's "in the thousands, for sure."
And I was one of them.
I was terrified at first. I hadn't done any yoga since college and was certain I would somehow get a concussion. Or get embarrassed, which is worse. But I was willing to try it and dove right in.
I was tense at first, and tried to resist a few times, but Whaka chided me into relaxing.
He actually homed in on the specific parts that I held tense and would not let me grab the ground for support. After a few failed escapes, I let go. I found that once I stopped trying to help myself and dropped everything into my base, the experience changed. I began to smile, and even laugh.
They've had different reactions to this moment of surrender from their new fliers. Most smile and laugh, but Sara said she has seen a few people cry or even throw up.
"You can really ruin the experience for both people, the flier and the spotter, if you don't surrender," Sara said. "If you think you're going to help, then you have to help by not helping. It's very daoist kind of idea. You do without doing. You act without acting. You be without being. It's just that state of complete surrender, that everything is going to work out perfectly."
Before I knew it, I was being inverted, twisted, bounced and spun. I was flying like an airplane, hands free, during my last pose. This was not the intense yoga that I remember doing a few years back. Nothing hurt, and nothing seemed impossible. This was, dare I say, fun.
Everyone in my class was enjoying it, too. Some were giggling and others tightened their brows in concentration. Some had flown before but most, like me, were first-timers. Some came with a partner, and others left with new friends.
"I would say that they do not have to have a partner," Sara said. "It would be nice if they've gone to a yoga class before, but even that's not necessary. They just need to make sure that they have accurate self-assessment and an open mind."
The couple will teach flying yoga throughout southeastern Wisconsin during September; a full schedule and RSVP information is available online at KohaYoga.com. Laimon Luke also teaches aerial yoga (one person, with trapeze slings) at the Pewaukee Movement Center every Thursday and Sunday.
Upcoming AcroYoga demos
Saturday, Sept. 22:Super Fly: AcroYoga Therapeutics & Acrobatic, 2 to 5 p.m., Invivo Wellness, Milwaukee
Sunday, Sept. 23: I Can Fly: AcroYoga Acrobatic fundamentals, 1 to 4 p.m., The Lift Pilates Studio, Fox Point
Sunday, Sept. 23: I Can Fly: AcroYoga Acrobatic Fundamentals (intermediate and beginner), 5 to 7 p.m. Core Essence, Milwaukee
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