The MisFits Give Acro-Yoga a Try

Lenny Bernstein, the new MisFit columnist for The Washington Post, starts his new job with a surprise lesson in acro-yoga for him and fellow MisFit Vicky Hallett. Video by Fan Bu/
By Vicky Hallett
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We have a winner! The new MisFits co-columnist is contender No. 3, the Michelob-bottle-shaped marathoner -- and we can now reveal his name: Lenny Bernstein.

Usually when you win a contest, you get a trophy or a medal, or maybe a gigantic cardboard check. But what was the first thing we gave our MisFits champ? A fright.

To get acquainted with my new pal, Leonard Bernstein, I walked him over to Flow Yoga Center in Logan Circle, where he promptly turned crimson. (No, it wasn't because I was teasing him about his famous name. But for the record, he does enjoy "West Side Story.") Turns out the 50-year-old father of three -- who goes by Lenny -- had never done yoga, dislikes stretching and envisioned a nightmarish scenario involving forced toe-touching.

Lenny's breathing may have stopped briefly when I clarified that I was actually putting the two of us in the capable hands, and feet, of Vanessa King (, an impossibly flexible lady who teaches acro-yoga, a combination of yoga poses, Thai massage and circus stunts. The general idea is that one person lies on the ground and holds a partner aloft as he or she "flies" through a shifting series of positions.

You know how your parents used to raise you above their tummies and pretend you were Superman? It's like that. Except now, the hero is adult-size, which makes things a bit more complicated. And requires some warming up. "Acro develops a greater sense of what yoga is: union," King explains.

"Everything we do is with at least one other person," she adds. That includes the starter activities, such as standing back to back with arms hooked and having one person bend forward so the other's feet dangle off the ground. Or, sitting as a group in a circle, facing out with our legs spread in V's, each of us leaning on the thigh of the next person. Somewhere in the middle of that "cuddle puddle," as it's known in acro-ese, Lenny's nervous chuckles transformed into genuine laughter.

That was happy news for me, because he was about to learn how to hoist me into whale pose. I stood next to his head and leaned back so he could place his feet on either side of my spine, and then King coached him through grabbing my ankles and lifting me up. I was airborne.

Considering he's a guy who has never done yoga before, Lenny certainly picked up the concept of a mantra quickly: "Don't drop Vicky. Don't drop Vicky. Don't drop Vicky." But despite our mutual fears for the worst, I was flying on the first try, and Lenny was comfy enough to make cracks about how he'd explain this to his wife. (For the record, she's a psychologist who always prefers when Lenny's in training for a race because exercise relaxes him. I was figuring she'd thank me when the calming qualities of this practice kicked in.)

But then King suggested I fly Lenny.

Let me repeat that.

She wanted us to switch positions so I was holding a guy six inches taller and more than 50 pounds heavier in the air. Maybe she didn't remember that Howard, my former MisFits partner, always made fun of my lack of upper body strength. More likely, she didn't care.

After all, King pointed out that she (with a striking resemblance to a lithe forest sprite) was able to fly her partner, Joel Mehr, who co-owns Pete's New Haven Style Apizza in Columbia Heights. (No offense to Joel, but he looks like a dude with a fondness for dough and pepperoni.) So there I was, lying down, nervous about breaking my new partner less than an hour into the job, when I borrowed Lenny's mantra. And it worked. I was shaky, he was stiff, but we were legitimately flying -- briefly.

King says that in every acro-yoga class and workshop she has ever run, virtually all of the students surprise themselves by accomplishing things they never thought possible. Of course, those things wouldn't be possible without the help of a trusty partner and a playful attitude. Luckily for me, with Lenny, I have both . . . again.

And I think Lenny, who confessed in his MisFits pitch that the only activity he was good at was "running forward in a straight line," may have found something else he can do.

"It didn't feel like lifting weights. And the stretching stuff was great," he marveled to me on our way back to The Post. When I mentioned that D.C. Yoga Week ( is May 3-9, with free and $5 classes he might want to check out, he didn't laugh.

So our Leonard Bernstein isn't a composer. But looks like he has the makings of a pretty good poser.

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