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A Day with the YogaSlackers | April Anne

A Day with the YogaSlackers

by April Anne
The other day I had the honor of spending the day with two YogaSlackers (Sam Salwei and Dan Norgard) when they came to my studio to do almost 5 hours of workshops.  We were the first stop on an 8,000 mile tour that they are doing this summer.  For our studio they were leading intro and advanced acro and slackline workshops.I always enjoy their approach and teaching style: safety first, but stock full of fun!  Having done acro since last fall I personally was looking forward to the advanced acro and slackline workshops.  With that said, I did attend all 3 workshops.  During the first one they introduced the basics of acro and now have even more people addicted to this beautiful art.

The second one was the slackline workshop.  Having never even seen a slackline I was both excited and nervous to be introduced to it.  I was reassured by both Sam and Dan that yes, I would not break my arm.  So I dove in head first!

Before even touching the line we did some warm-up conditioning moves.  I love that they always include these.  Even if you don’t have access to a slackline you can work on some of the core foundations to help you.  After this we were ready to move to the lines.

We began by balancing on our knees, something that is not as easy as it seems.  Right away it becomes clear how important your breath, your drishti (focal point), and trusting yourself are to this art.  If you lack any of the 3 it becomes ten times harder.  The first 2 were a piece of cake for me to get down, it was the trusting in myself and body that was a challenge.

I tend to always short change myself, an old habit that is proving hard to break.  I understand that in doing so I can achieve anything.  But the fear of failure and getting hurt love to creep up and scream at the top of their lungs in situations like this.  Lucky for me, I had 2 amazing instructors to help me.  They were very patient with me, but also knew when to push me, which is always helpful when learning something out of your comfort zone.

With time and their coaching I was able to slowly improve with the knee balancing.  Part of the problem for me is I twisted my knee cap many years ago and it never healed properly, so where the line should sit, it won’t, so we had to figure out where it would without injury to me.  After this we worked on standing on the line.  A whole lot more intimidating, let me tell you.  But I was totally game!  The approach to this is literally playing on that edge of being grounded and falling off the line.  Again those 3 fundamentals are crucial.

With time, I was eventually able to balance a little.  Dan gave me a great piece of advice with this, he had me lift up and lean till I cam off of it it completely.  Just before you go too far there is a moment where you find that perfect balance.  The trick is to maintain that balance without falling off.  This comes with time, practice, and your muscles adjusting to it all.

We then moved on to sitting on the line.  This was probably the least scary of them all.  But again, without those 3 key elements it is hard to keep your balance.

They ended this portion with arm balances, always a favorite of mine.  If you think they are tricky on solid ground, try them on a slackline.  My biceps were complaining for a couple of days, I loved it!  Everything you do on the line uses a total yoga approach while working your muscles, body, and mind in a completely new way.  Needless to say I am hooked!  I now have a slackline on my wishlist.

They ended the night with the advanced acro workshop, which was a lovely ending to the night.  I ended up having the honor of flying on Dan, as we had an odd number of people.  (There is a base: the person on the bottom or ground, a flyer: the person balancing on them or on top, and the spotter: the person to make sure both the base and flyer are safe at all times.)  The moves they taught us really forced you to trust not only your partner but yourself as well.  The flow was beautiful, fun, creative, and challenging.

By the end of the night I was one tired but extremely happy yogi.  I had also learned a lot about myself.  How I am stronger than I usually give myself credit for (At one point that night I held up 2 grown men while being in a plank position) and how I need to really trust myself more.

We are all capable of so much in this life, but sadly so often we hold ourselves back due to fear.  We must learn to truly believe in ourselves to reach our true potential.  We must also remind ourselves to be patient, humble, and compassionate.

Before Sam and Dan left to continue on their tour, I was able to ask them a few questions.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did – here is that interview:

sam-yoga-slackers

How did YogaSlackers get started?
SAM: The stories behind the formation of the practice, people, and business of YogaSlackers are humorous and full of lots of serendipity.  It seems we were often just in the right place at the right time. Perhaps this first story illustrates it best.

 

In their work and play at the Northern Heights Rock Gym in North Dakota, Sam and Jason became quite close.  In the summer of 2004 Sam was visiting Anna in Missoula, MT.  He was car-less, and searching for a ride home.  Luckily, Sean O’Connor happened to be looking for a climbing partner to travel east. Sam hopped in and at the first rest stop Sean set up a slackline using a revolutionary simple system.  After Sam went flinging off the line for the 10th time, Sean jumped up and busted out a few moves.  One of them was Hand-to-big-toe-pose, or Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana.  He stepped down uttering the magic words, “I want to produce a photo book called Yoga for Slackers.”  Sean’s words stuck in Sam’s mind.

 

Over the next six months (Sam in New Zealand, Jason in San Diego), they each learned how to walk on a slackline.  Shortly after Sam returned to the states, the pair found themselves working at the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park, CO.  The esteemed B.K.S. Iyengar was teaching 6-8 hours of regimented asana each day, and the duo struggled a bit with the rigidity and detail of the Iyengar method.  During breaks, they’d set up a line, and after a few days they were attempting simple poses on it.  Near the close of the conference, a media intern snapped a picture of what was perhaps the first conscious display of yoga on a slackline: Warrior I (virabhadrasana 1), Tree (vrksasana), and Hand-to-big-toe (utthita hasta padangusthasana).  The intern ran one of the photos on their blog, and a month later it appeared in Yoga Journal.

 

Within weeks, Yoga Journal had received several emails asking where we taught this unique practice, and wondered if adan-yoga-slackers DVD and slackline kit was available.  So there we were, with people asking for instruction, media, and merchandise before we’d even understood what we had.

 

The rest of the story involves too many episodes to tell here.  There were run-ins with the law, frantic 2 AM anchor building sessions, illegal high-lines, barbed wire, many nights in the dirt, accidents, and discoveries.  We had sold out workshops, and many more where Tommy Caldwell could have counted the participants on one hand.  But we loved every minute of it.  In 2005 we enlisted Tad, a long time friend from NHRG and a recent film school graduate, who we convinced to buy a $5000 camera and fly from Orlando to LA to help with the creation of a slackline DVD.  As fate would have it, our car (and everything we owned) was stolen the day before we were to start filming our DVD, so we enlisted the help of 17-year old Paul Cassedy.  We took him out of school (with his parents permission of course!) for two weeks, lived on a boat, and fumbled through the process of making a movie.  With the movie complete, things shifted.  Holding the first completed DVD in our hands and reading the title, “YogaSlackers: Slackasana – the art of slackline yoga,”  the whole thing became more real (and surreal).  We were professional slackers.

 

Suggestions for newbies?

DAN: My biggest advice for newbies is don’t get frustrated.  It takes some time to master the basics of slacklining.  When the line is shaking like mad and you can barely stay on it for more than a couple seconds, the key to remember is taht this is when your body is getting some of the most benefits from slacklining.  All that shaking is your body absorbing information on how to balance and your muscles learning on to stabilize.  Plus you need to remember, your doing yoga on a 1 inch piece of wedding, so cut yourself a break.

Where can people find out where you guys will be appearing next?
SAM & DAN: 
 The best way to keep up with us is on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/yogaslackers) or our website: www.YogaSlackers.com Any other info or tidbits you care to add?
DAN:  If you are still having trouble staying on the line, the best thing to do is find a friend to sit on the line for you, while you practice.

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