New yoga studio teaches students to fly
Ryan Earls lies on the ground with his legs up in the air to support his partner, Lillian Jacobs. As she attempts to distribute the weight of her body on his feet, she gasps, lets out a few screams, a few laughs, and eventually becomes still. It takes a lot of trust to allow someone else to hold you several feet off the ground. But that’s the goal of Urban Ashram Studio: to build trust and a stronger sense of community. “At a typical yoga studio, you do yoga on your mat, and you leave,” says Earls, the owner of the studio, which opened on Wall Street earlier this month. “[Here], you’ll come into the studio, get off your mat and build connections with complete strangers.”
“We want to bring more spice to town,” says Lyle Mitchell, who teaches at the studio. That spice will come largely in the form of AcroYoga, a type of yoga that combines partner acrobatics, Thai massage and yoga therapeutics all in one, according to Urban Ashram’s director, Lillian Jacobs, who is also a certified AcroYoga teacher.
Through AcroYoga, Jacobs says, participants will laugh, they will sometimes fall, and they can have the opportunity to fly (or at least balance in midair). “AcroYoga is a big community builder,” she says. “It builds strength, and it gets you out of your shell.” A typical AcroYoga pose requires a base, flier and spotter. The base often lies on the ground and supports the flier with his or her feet and hands. The flier has the potential to move into a variety of different postures, while the spotter watches and makes recommendations to improve form and balance. It is also the spotter’s job to make sure the flier gets down safely. Not all AcroYoga activities require the participant to go up against gravity. Other exercises include trust-building games (with two feet on the ground), partner stretches and Thai massage techniques that are meant to foster connection among participants. The studio offers an Open AcroYoga Jam every Sunday from 2-5 p.m. All are welcome, regardless of experience, and it isn’t necessary to bring a partner. While there is no set price for the weekly event, donations are accepted.
In addition to AcroYoga, the studio offers another unique yoga class: slackline yoga, the practice of balancing and doing yoga poses on a thin strip of nylon or polyester webbing — think of it as a tightrope walk without the death-defying heights. According to Mitchell, who teaches slackline yoga, the two practices make for a good partnership. “With both [slackline and AcroYoga], we have to put effort into relationships,” he says. “Slackline calibrates your balance, so you take care of your own stuff and deal with your personal work, which means you’re a stronger partner [within] your AcroYoga relationship.”
The AcroYoga classes will not only benefit the individual, but also, Earls hopes, the larger Asheville community. “Asheville is big on community and grassroots,” he says. “That’s the core foundation of AcroYoga, so there’s a good synergy between the two.” According to Mitchell, there are people in Asheville who are interested in acrobatics and AcroYoga, but the community is somewhat segmented. “With Urban Ashram we’ll be bringing that into one focused space and bring together the splintered communities, as well as introducing it to new people,” he says.
In addition to these nontraditional classes, Urban Ashram also offers classic yoga courses, but in its own funky, offbeat way, says Jacobs. “[Urban Ashram] will be a high-energy, playful place,” she says. “We want it to be a fun, vibrant community mecca.”
Mitchell, Jacobs and Earls met for the first time in Bend, Ore., at an AcroYoga training. The three decided to open a studio of their own in Asheville, and Jacobs relocated from Los Angeles for the opportunity. “It takes a lot of trust for us to go into business together, and it takes a lot of trust to hold someone in the air,” Mitchell says.
Adjoining the yoga studio is Seven Juice Bar, also owned by Earls. Seven Juice Bar is a sort of sister business to Urban Ashram, says Mitchell, who manages the juice bar in addition to teaching yoga. The business has been serving juices, tonics and elixirs since it opened in March. The juice bar and the yoga studio complement each other well, according to Jacobs. “You can extend your practice off the mat,” she says. “It’s about taking care of your body and your mental health.”
The name, Urban Ashram, was inspired by the Sanskrit word meaning a spiritual home to rejuvenate, and the studio is meant to be a gathering place for the yogis and AcroYogis of Asheville, says Earls. “I’ve always thought of an ashram as a remote location where you need to travel to, to make a pilgrimage,” he says. “And once you get there, there’s an incredible source of knowledge. We’re taking that and making it accessible to the city. We’ve seen what Acro has done for us and we want to share that with everyone else.”
Learn more about Urban Ashram Studio and course offerings at urbanashramstudio.com.