“Hmm, acro-yoga… I first saw that in the US when I was there in 2014, and I thought it was stupid.”
-Andy Court, acro-yoga enthusiast
We’ve all seen them in the campsites. Barefoot, probably wearing stupid pants, armed with slacklines, yoga mats and at least one ukulele and/or didgeridoo.
During my time in the Cape Town climbing community, I have encountered many of these strange creatures. In fact, the more climbers I meet, the more people I find that partake in some form of flow/balance/cirque art.
Flow Arts – “a variety of movement-based disciplines including dance, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation”
Movement/Balance Arts – includes movement and balance based activities such as slacklining, highlining and acro-yoga (acro-yoga stands for acrobatic yoga, and involves two or more partners working together to perform specific moves)
Cirque Arts – acts used in contemporary circus such as juggling, unicycling, trapeze, and ariel acrobatics (including the use of ariel silks and lyra hoops)
It’s almost impossible to be a rock climber and not be roped in to trying at least one (but probably more) of these weird and wonderful activities. It can, however, be hard to take them seriously. So, what is it that draws rock climbers to these “hippie” art forms?
The obvious place to start was to talk to Andy Court, resident Cape Town climber and coffee enthusiast. You may recognise him by his duct-taped North Face down jacket, mismatched socks, and majestic dreads.
I met Andy through the UCT Mountain and Ski Club, in which he runs the climbing portfolio. Besides being a crazy strong climber and one of South Africa’s best highliners, he is an expert in all things ridiculous. Past exploits include drunk acro-yoga at the Montagu Rock Rally party, eating a sandwich on the waterline over the De Bos campsite swimming pool, and rigging a massive rope swing on a shipwreck
I can’t begin to understand the strange inner workings of Andy’s mind, but I’m going to try.
It seems that what drives Andy is connections; connecting to nature, his own body, and other people.
Despite thinking that acro-yoga was outrageously stupid the first time he saw it, he is now a regular acro-yogi, and has introduced many climbers to the sport. I chatted with him about what makes it so special, and we both agree that it’s really, really fun. But more than that, he says, “It’s also a nice connection with someone. It’s kind of like dancing… making your two bodies move in a certain way.”
Andy is certainly not alone in this thinking. Kahla “the adorable dirty child” Hackner, gave a near-identical answer when I asked her about her new-found passion for acro-yoga (a passion that has only developed recently, since meeting Andy). Kahla has been doing gymnastics since she was an actual adorable dirty child, and draws a common thread between gymnastics, climbing and acro-yoga.
“Acro-yoga is incredible because it’s everything I love about gymnastics… but you’re doing it with another person.”
Andy and Kahla having an acro-yoga session at the Rocklands Highline Meeting (Photo credit: David Whitaker)
Kahla also points out the wonderful sense of community that is present among climbers and acro-yogis alike.
“The acro-yoga community, I find, is so chilled and free-spirited, and down to earth. And you learn from each other, and you want to help each other, and that’s how I find rock climbing because it’s like team work, even though you’re solo. Everyone helps out, gives you beta, and you work together to solve problems.”
This sense of community is put into practice in Park Play Sessions, “a monthly gathering of the Balance / Flow / Cirque / Movement communities held at Keurboom Park, Claremont, Cape Town”. These “Sessions” bring people together, not only to enjoy testing their skills, but to share knowledge and learn from each other.
I can say from personal experience that the best way to learn how to do acro-yoga, slackline, or even climb for that matter, is just to ask. Everyone has to start somewhere, and no one is going to mind showing you the ropes!
(In case you really don’t want to look like a total noob, here’s a handy little how-to guide to get you started on the slackline!)
Park Play Sessions are run by Donna Kisogloo, who started out in juggling, then moved to unicycling, and continued on to dabble in a variety of different art forms. Donna has a passion for flow and movement arts, and hopes to share this passion through the Park Play Sessions.
It’s hard to talk about these activities without sounding like an obnoxious hippie, but there really are some great things to say about the balance/movement/flow/cirque arts, especially in relation to climbing.
The most obvious connection is the physical demands that these sports place on your body. You need intense focus, precise technique, and a certain level of strength. You need to be completely aware of what your body is doing and how your muscles are working together to enable you to walk a line, power through a climb, or perform an acro-yoga move.
Following on this, you need to get your mind right. When Andy was explaining the experience of walking on a highline, he told me, “It’s all a mental thing, you’ve got to get in your mind that you can walk a highline before you can do it.” I think this definitely applies to any sort of physical challenge, particularly climbing. If you start out with the mindset that you’re going to fail, you probably will.
But it seems like further than the physical and mental aspects of these pursuits, what it all really comes down to is the experience of connecting with something or someone. You need to feel connected with your body in order to perform the movements and push through when it feels like you can’t. You need to feel connected to your surroundings, whether that means attuning yourself to the rock you’re climbing, or the wind swirling around you as you walk a highline. And, most importantly, you need to connect to the people around you.
Work with your acro-yoga partner, trust that they’re going to support you. Listen to the people that are cheering you on as you walk a line (whether slack or high). Believe that your spotters will protect you when you’re bouldering, and that your belayer is keeping you safe on a climb.
It all comes down to trust, support and connection.
So, the next time you spy a group of these strange hippie folk, try taking a leaf out of their book.
And get yourself a pair of ridiculous pants.
Featured Image: Emily Wedepohl