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Stretching, tumbling and cartwheeling around the globe

IT'S no stretch to say that "acroyoga" instructor Richard Baimbridge's life really rocks - from nightlife writing to hanging upside down. He talks to Sam Riley right-side up. Kung fu-kicking monk, apprentice acrobat, yoga instructor, writer and masseuse are just some of the job descriptions American Richard Baimbridge has picked up in more than 25 years crisscrossing the globe.

The Texan came to Beijing in 1999 to write about the city's blossoming nightlife and rock scene and ended up studying kung fu for a year in a monastery in Yunnan Province.

Six year later, he arrived in Shanghai and became the first foreigner accepted to train with the Shanghai Acrobatics Troupe.

In his current incarnation he teaches "acroyoga" (acrobatics combined with yoga) at Yoga Space at 35 Gao'an Road.

Baimbridge rejected the conventional world of nine-to-five work after just his first job as a young journalist at a newspaper in Dallas, Texas.

America's struggling newspaper industry resulted in the merger of his paper with a competitor, and he was out of work.

In a serious car crash shortly afterward, Baimbridge was lucky to escape life-threatening injuries. This reminder of his mortality figured in his decision to strike out on his own.

"Right around that time I kind of rejected the notion of security and any kind of connection I had with the mainstream nine-to-five world, and I never went back," he recalls.

Baimbridge, who comes from the small island community of Port Aransas, Texas, on the Gulf Coast, instead embarked on travel and music writing. He has been published in some of the world's biggest magazines.

His first gig was in Prague at Eastern Europe's first English-language newspaper, Prognosis, following Czechoslovakia' Velvet Revolution in 1989.

"It was an amazing time, it was a wonderful place to be," he says.

In Prague he learned how to speak Czech; he also speaks Spanish, French and Chinese.

After two years in Prague he went to New York to have a go at making it as a writer.

Baimbridge started writing for a heavy metal magazine and scraped to make ends meet.

"I starved for the first year, I ate like a piece of pizza a day and I struggled my way up the ladder," he says. "But you are young and in New York and you just have to suck it up. I was jumping that subway turnstile every day."

His break came when he interviewed British band Radiohead during their visit to New York on the back of their ground-breaking album "Ok Computer."

The band was virtually unknown in the US at the time and Baimbridge was the only reporter who turned up for an interview.

While no publications initially wanted the story, the phone rang off the hook in the months to come and he ended up writing for almost every major magazine including Elle, Wired and GQ.

He first took up yoga seriously as a way of dealing with the stress of meeting numerous deadlines.

During travels to Asia, Baimbridge also trained in Thai massage.

Later in Beijing he became interested in tai chi and martial arts, which eventually led him to a remote monastery in the mountains of Yunnan Province, near Dali.

He spent a year at the monastery, undertaking the arduous six-to-eight-hours-a-day training that the other apprentice monks endured.

"Every morning I had to carry a huge rock on my head up the mountain and drop it before the master," Baimbridge recalls of the training that stripped nine kilos from his already-lean frame.

"It was hardcore living, but it was beautiful to live somewhere like that. And to experience and learn about Buddhism from actually living it that way was incredible," he says.

After leaving the monastery, Baimbridge and a fellow student started a school teaching tai chi, martial arts and yoga to both foreigners and Chinese in Yangshou in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

In Shanghai, Baimbridge is one of just 120 teachers around the world who are certified to teach acroyoga, incorporating acrobatic techniques and training with yoga.

After first seeing the yoga style demonstrated in Shanghai, Baimbridge was so inspired that he sought out the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe to learn more.

He convinced the teachers in the local troupe that he was earnest and was eventually allowed to enter the normally closed and secluded world of a Chinese acrobatic troupe.

"There were 10 little girls who were five years old and they were doing one-armed balances on a stool, and then it was my turn," he says.

Baimbridge recently returned from surfing and working in Mexico and wants to continue his studies with the troupe.

Richard Baimbridge

Nationality: American (ish). I've been away a long, long time.

Age: Far too old to be doing the kind of stuff I'm doing. But if you want an actual number, I just turned 40.

Profession: Yoga Instructor, massage therapist, freelance journalist and part-time pole dancer



Pitta (Sanskrit for fire), Katha (water), Pisces.

Favorite place: The British Bulldog on a Monday night for the Quiz.

Strangest sight: An American guy robbing a McDonald's and knocking over a huge tray of hamburger buns during the getaway.

Worse experience:Getting "doored" while riding my bike at high speed down Anfu Road. We settled out of court for a cigarette and 200 yuan.

Motto for life:

"All I need is a cool buzz and some tasty waves."

Advice to newcomers:

Shanghai is an "unhealthy" place, so take good care of your body and mind. Yoga, tai chi, rock climbing, pole dancing, whatever, find something you like and make it your passion.


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