I have grown to love acro yoga. This was not always the case. When I first encountered it, it really didn’t seem like it was either acrobatics or yoga. I also did not like the community around it. I tried doing it for a couple of years before giving up on it. Every so often, I would try to pick it up again before putting it back on the shelf of things that weren’t for me. A year ago, I tried it again and have grown to the point that I am currently teaching at least one acro yoga class a day six days a week. More importantly, when I stare down a block of teaching four classes in a day, the Acro Yoga class is frequently the one I’m the most excited about.
Acro Yoga compliments aerial really well. The exercises are all about pressing (chest / triceps / legs) whereas aerial is mostly about pulling (abs / biceps / lats). I also love the balance aspect and how grounding it is. The practice has also evolved a lot in the last fifteen years.
There is a communication and trust aspect that I really value and that I don’t get from just doing a solo aerial or acrobatics practice. With enough hard work and training, most acrobatics skills are obtainable. With acro yoga, no matter what you do, part of the equation is the other person that you are working with. I like that everything isn’t in my control.
Working with a partner is an amazing experience. At first, it can be maddening trying to communicate left / right / back / forward / up / down and various body parts when you are both oriented in space differently. At first things are verbalizations bordering on shouting with some flailing and lots of apologies. It’s amazing to move past that and get to where you can communicate and forge connection via subtle taps and shifts in body position. I feel like the spatial awareness and positional orienting sharpen the elusive mind / body link that is really at the heart of genuine athleticism. Having to bridge this gap with two minds and two bodies more than doubles the challenge but makes the rewards of success that much sweeter.
It’s also interesting to me in that Acro Yoga is not a symmetric practice. There are bases, spotters, and flyers and the specialization makes it more fun since there is something for everyone. Imagine a couple with a 220lbs wall of muscle guy and his 110lbs gumby flexible, but tiny, wife. There aren’t many athletic activities that they could do together with equal participation levels. Most sports / athletic activities that would cater to his power would shut her out for her lack of raw force. Dainty things that reward her petite frame would punish his bulk. Acro Yoga allows them to work together letting each one draw on their strengths and rewards the size gap.
I also like that Acro Yoga lets me dangle a carrot. I have a number of aerial yoga / conditioning classes. It’s one thing to sell fitness to people as a “do this because it’s good for you” kind of deal. It’s a lot better to have people want to do something like Acro Yoga and see how their lack of strength / flexibility / balance / coordination is holding them back. Having a goal is great motivation to work out so that one can improve their performance.
Acro Yoga on its own though is a pretty impressive workout. The hamstring stretch for the base is amazingly more effective with the weight of a person pushing down on the legs. The sheer motivation to not drop someone / not fall will cause people to extend themselves more than they would just in simple exercise. The fine grained, subtle muscle control and engagement also promotes a highly intelligent, controlled strength that will benefit people more in life than synthetic, simplistic motions like most strength training exercises. For instance, a person who is very good at Acro Yoga will be far less likely to fall when they step on a patch of ice.
Acro Yoga is also rewarding to me because I can do it anywhere. After doing aerial for ten years, I’m always saddened that I can rarely show it to anyone. I’ll be at a party and be telling someone about aerial and have to just pull out my phone and show them a video. The power of Acro Yoga became apparent to me when I was roped into going to a super bowl party this year. During the boring half time, a friend and I flopped down on the ground and started doing fairly basic acro yoga moves in our street clothes at the party. People were going crazy and super impressed. It’s also pretty inclusive since there are a lot of basic moves that you can toss any random beginner into that will make them feel like they have done something exciting and thrilling.
In fact, Acro Yoga has a nice feature that a lot of it seems a lot harder, scarier, and more dangerous than it really is. This is a wonderful way to build people’s confidence. When you take someone into a move that they didn’t think that they could do, it makes it that much easier to talk them into doing something a little bit harder. This builds confidence that over time can spill over into other aspects of the person’s life.
All this sounds wonderful so why did I detest Acro Yoga for so long?
A big part of the turn off to me with Acro Yoga was the community whenever I tried it. No matter where I tried it, it seemed like it was always the polyamorous, hippie, burning man, no hygiene crowd. Being in very close proximity with people you could smell as soon as you walked in the door had little appeal to me. There was also a very overtly sexual aspect and sometimes sexually predatory vibe to a lot of the straight men in attendance that kind of grossed me out.
When I tried getting into acro yoga ten years ago, it was also really easy. At the same time, I was taking aerial classes at circus schools and even some ground partner acrobatics classes. Acro Yoga at the time was frankly pretty dull and boring in comparison. The people also weren’t particularly strong and things would progress super slowly whenever I’d try to take a class.
Acro Yoga has grown up a lot in the interim. It’s become big enough that there is a lot of very high level curriculum and moves that are every bit as hard as the things I’ve done in the aerial world. It also is blending a lot more into the acrobatics world. The ACRO has started to become bigger than the yoga in the practice and things have gotten a lot more burly. I also do it mostly with people also doing my fitness classes so they get to the point of being strong enough to do interesting stuff relatively quickly.
A big thing for me that I enjoy about the practice is that it is at my studio and I have control over things and can set the tone. I have a high quality student base and people are respectful and have solid hygiene. I also have no tolerance for sexual creepiness and go out of my way to create an environment where women can feel safe and not preyed upon. I’ve had multiple women comment that they have not felt comfortable doing partner at other spaces for this reason. I’ve also kicked out guys for misbehaving and have no qualms about doing so. When your breasts are hanging inches above someone’s face and feet are constantly moving into private terrain, it’s pretty important to feel like you aren’t getting objectified.
All of that said, I’m super proud of building a program to a pretty high level in less than a year and look forward to the how much further we will have taken things by the end of the next one. I also genuinely look forward to bringing this practice to more people’s lives. I can’t recommend it enough!