A deaf and blind man has found a unique way of connecting with his hearing wife -through YOGA.
Andrew Cohen, 31, has Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which means he is visually impaired, profoundly deaf and has balance issues.
But despite that, the software technician and his wife Kelly Brittingham, 30, decided to take up acroyoga – a combination of acrobatics and yoga – last year.
Most people new to the practice – which relies heavily on flexibility, strength and technique – communicate verbally, but in Andrew and Kelly’s case that isn’t an option.
In ordinary life the couple would chatter in sign language instead, but with acroyoga that isn’t an option either because they need to use their hands.
As a result, they must rely on touch to ensure they have exactly the right body part in the right place at the right time and have trained themselves to “feel the flow”.
The couple have devoted hundreds of hours to learning and fine-tuning poses in their apartment and their local studio, with Andrew as the base and Kelly as the flyer.
The couple, who married in 2013 after meeting at a camp for the deafblind, have also traveled to scenic spots around the US to pose for photos in nature.
Kelly, a support service provider living in Round Rock, Texas, USA, said: “I think people are surprised when people learn Andrew is deafblind.
“They’re like, ‘How are you guys doing that?’ He can’t hear or see so everything is based on touch and trust.
“It all comes down to being able to communicate with each other, not through talking but through movement and feeling the flow.
“At first it was hard. For Andrew and I, his balance was one of the biggest challenges.
“We also had to learn how to communicate without signing and relying on body language.
“The first move we learned, which is called bird, took us a month. You have to put the feet of the base on the pelvis of the flier and they push you into the air.
“For most people it takes a couple of hours.
“It made me nervous. It’s difficult when you are with someone who has never done it and is deafblind, but it was exciting when we managed it.
“We built upon that and little by little have become more advanced.
“I think it’s down to working together.”
Andrew added: “My particular kind of deafblindness causes me to unable to hear at all. I can see the world only through a pinhole.
“I was also born profoundly deaf. You could put me beside a rock concert and I will sleep through it.
“Another thing about my deafblindness is I have no balance. I am like a pinball machine.
“It is a lot of work to balance my wife or others as a flyer. I can detect whether the fulcrum feels good or not. I can adjust to the flyer or the flyer can adjust to me.
“The simple fact is verbal and visual cues aren’t needed to communicate to your partner. It is purely tactile. You feel and adapt to each other.
“It creates another level of empathy and connection between us.”
At first, Andrew and Kelly would practice for two hours every night. They later began professional classes and now devote around six hours a week to honing their skills.
The couple, who met at a camp for deafblind people in Maryland, have mastered various poses, including a 180 degree twist.
Kelly added: “It’s awesome. It’s great exercise, it’s fun and it’s team-building.
“It has definitely brought us closer together – not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too.”
Follow them on Instagram @kellybrittingham
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