Acro Yoga: The Yoga of Play

Posted by in Paths Of Yoga

Our good friend, Sara Angelus, was kind enough to walk us through WTF is Acro Yoga anyway?

So what is this craze that floods social networks like instagram and Facebook feeds with pictures and videos of couples and groups of people performing tricks of balance and strength in which you can generally pick out something that resembles the “asanas” or postures that you’ve seen or tried sometime in a yoga studio?

The term “Acroyoga” itself is a relatively new term coined in the early 21st century by a coupling of a former competitive sports acrobat turned yogui, with a yoguini and Thai massage practictioner. These two started monkeying around with yoga postures and acrobatics and low and behold they came up with the term Acroyoga and branded it. However many of the postures and techniques of the modern practice go back much further in time, and across a variety of countries and cultures (Chinese and russian circus, cirque du soléi). What is practiced today as Acroyoga is a fusion of partner yoga, hand-to-hand partner acrobatics and circus dynamics, dance lifts, counterbalances, and Thai massage. It is often described in simplistic terms as partner acrobatics with the wisdom and philosophy of yoga.

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The partner/group dynamic:

Acroyoga varies from traditional yoga, as it is not, and never will be a solo practice. There are always at least two, and more commonly at least three actors. A base, who is connected to the ground. A flyer who is not, and rather connected to the base instead. And a spotter who is taking care that in the case of a fall or a necessary emergency exit no one gets hurt. The spotter also can take a second role in offering alignment cues, and encouragement to the group. The group mentality, and the collaborative essence of the practice is what makes it such a powerful community builder and a social event. In classes and “jams” or informal meetups people come to play Acroyoga (the word practice and play can be interchangeable). And really when you are flying in the air, transitioning from one pose to another on a pair of wobbly or stable feet making shapes and experimenting with asana stacked on top of asana, it definitely gets playful. Also a regular Acroyoga class will more than likely be sprinkled with games, trust exercises, and a warm up (yogic or kalestenic) and cool down usually involving some partner stretching, Thai massage or restorative yin yoga, and lots of Metta- loving kindness towards yourself and your partner or group.

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TRUST

Acroyoga calls for tons of it. You must trust in yourself and your own abilities, your partner and your spotter. With practice and clear instruction confidence builds. The more confidence within each player in the group, the easier it is to construct postures, flow through transitions, and begin to explore. Once you get the hang of it, and are balancing and juggling people from one pose to the next; or being balanced and juggled, you feel like a superhuman, with new super talents! Acroyoga may look intimidating and difficult at first, but really it’s not. It is a practice for everyone, all ages, all sizes, and all abilities! You don’t need to be a gymnast or a tiny acrobat, just a willingness to explore and play, some body awareness and technique, and a bit of flexibility. One leads into the other, and with a couple of classes or sessions you’ll be snapping shots of rad postures for your own photo gallery.

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So where’s the yoga?

Yoga in its Sanskrit definition is union, and Acroyoga is definitely in itself a practice that requires union both on an internal and external level (uniting your practice with your partners). Beyond that, having a yoga practice, and an awareness of your body, breath, and traditional yoga postures will make the practice of Acroyoga a bit easier right from the start. A strong core and an awareness of the bandhas is key in many if not all of the postures. Alignment is key. Once you have unlocked the alignment techniques the postures will come easily, and translating your solitary Asana practice onto that of another human being opens up a whole new world of yogaplay. So it’s not to say that an Acroyoga class will feel like a vinyasa class, but it does hold on to the essence of what yoga is. You will connect movement with breath, you will practice controlling the fluctuations of the mind, you will bring your awareness inward, and look for comfort and ease in the postures. Oh yeah, and those yamas and niyamas, well they come into play too. Honest self assessment and communication with your group, nonviolence and compassion, self control and control of the ego, keeping it clean (no creepers or inappropriate touch, hygiene) and a desire to reach goals without giving up, are all fundamental parts to a happy and healthy Acroyoga practice not just for yourself, but for your community at large.
So all in all, Acroyoga is a distinct movement practice that is a fusion of a variety of movement modalities and philosophy. It requires presence and participation of more than just yourself, and has infinite potential for collective creativity, exploration, and lots of laughter and fun. It’s an excellent exercise, that doesn’t really feel like a workout cause it’s so exciting in the moment, and it will help you to find more flexibility and definitely make some friends.
There’s something for everyone. Therapeutic Acro, L-basing (base lies on back with legs extended in L shape) , non L-basing, standing Acro, Dance Acro, Icarian and circus whips and pops, pyramids and mandalas… and whatever else a group of crazy movers wants to come up with while still honoring their safety, alignment principles a and physics, human connection, creative expression and play!