Yoga Styles 101: An Introduction to Acro Yoga
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These days, social media is full of pictures with people in circus-like Acro Yoga poses that might seem impossible to nail without years of practice.
In reality, Acro Yoga is not reserved for acrobats or advanced yogis. Beginners can take it up too. Besides, it’s a wonderful way to connect with your life partner, friends, family, or new people.
This new and refreshing yoga style is indeed dynamic, powerful, and technical. But it’s also playful and creative. By lifting your partner into the air and through therapeutic flying, you defy gravity and find your freedom. You are able to spread your wings and let go of your fears.
Nonetheless, many people think you need to be crazy strong to lift another person or to perform various poses while being lifted. That is not exactly the case.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at Acro Yoga, find out what makes it different from other styles, what are its benefits, and why you don’t need to be an advanced practitioner to take it up.
But first, what is Acro Yoga?
Image credit: Omshanti
Just as its name suggests, Acro Yoga, also written as one word – AcroYoga – is a combination of acrobatics and yoga. Simply put, traditional yoga is blended with acrobatics and Thai massage techniques in one flowing sequence.
It is an advanced form of partner yoga, which uses gravity and body weight to promote strengthening and stretching, while exploring various movements in a new dimension.
The focus on partnership and trust is greater than in other styles of yoga. In a playful environment, people build a safe and empowering community in which they receive the support and encouragement they need to tap into their true potential.
Acro Yoga is generally considered a more vigorous and challenging yoga style. It is dynamic and powerful, with lots of inversions and an emphasis on trust and compassion.
» READ MORE: Yoga Styles 101: An Introduction to Vinyasa Yoga
History of Acro Yoga
Although the roots of Acro Yoga can be traced back to the traditional forms of yoga, the oldest account of this style dates from 1938, when T. Krishnamacharya, also known as the ‘Father of Modern Yoga”, was filmed while giving a demonstration together with a child.
In the 1980s, a style known as AcroSage was developed by Benjamin Marantz, using therapeutic transitions and inverted flying postures.
However, it wasn’t until 1999 that the name Acro Yoga was first used, when Eugene Poku and Jessie Goldberg established AcroYoga Montreal (AYM). AcroYoga International (AYI) was founded in 2003, in the USA, by Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein.
In the last two decades, the style grew in popularity, with schools and Acro Yoga retreats springing up all over the world. Being such a fresh form of yoga, it has a lot of potential. Unlike other traditional yoga practices with fixed exercise systems, there are numerous pose combinations and a lot to experiment and have fun with.
Elements of Acro Yoga
Acro Yoga classes are typically broken down into three parts: a yoga flow, solar practice, and lunar practice.
In Acro Yoga, there should be three people participating in a pose:
- The base (or lifter) is the person that lifts and has the most contact with the ground. The base is the foundation of the pose;
- The flyer is the person being lifted by the base, and is usually elevated in the air;
- The spotter provides support for the base and the flyer, ensures they’re safe, and helps to improve the form along the way.
The session starts with a gentle warm-up to help you connect with yourself and get in tune with your body. This can include a few basis yoga poses and some sun salutations.
Then, you connect with others (your partner or the group) as you go through various acrobatic techniques, such as lifting your partner and being lifted in the solar and lunar parts of the session.
There are two key parts of Acro Yoga:
The solar practice is the dynamic and more demanding part. Both partners are engaged in creating shapes and flowing movements. It is technical, playful, and powerful. By committing to this practice, you gradually build the strength and awareness required to hold and move through each pose.
During this partner flow, both the base and the flyer stretch, move, improve their balance, and build trust and compassion.
The lunar practice is the softer, therapeutic part of Acro Yoga, which focuses more on massage and healing. It can also be described as an inverted aerial massage.
The base is the giver and the flyer is the receiver. The base moves the flyer around, helping them stretch and twist, massaging them through the process. The receiver hands over control and hangs passively while receiving massages and gentle stretches.
The lunar practice has therapeutic benefits for both the giver and the receiver. For the latter, it benefits the lower back. Usually, both partners take turns in each role.
Benefits of Acro Yoga
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It’s safe to say that all yoga styles promote a wide range of physical and mental benefits. But unlike most forms of traditional yoga, in Acro Yoga the main focus is on the physical and emotional connection with others.
It teaches practitioners to build strong partnerships, with the added therapeutic benefits of the inversions, massages, and deep stretches that are involved in the process.
Here are some of the main benefits of Acro Yoga:
Builds trust and strong relationships – By trusting and empathizing with your partner, you promote self-love, as well as learn intuitive communication and to respect each other’s boundaries.
Acro Yoga also teaches partners to address conflicts head-on. Through opposing forces, the push and the pull, you find power through counterbalance.
Improves communication skills – Efficient communication is key to a successful Acro Yoga practice. All three participants (the base, flyer, and spotter) need to constantly communicate how they are feeling, how they are aligned, and what their intentions are. This ensures a fun and safe practice.
Your partner’s safety, as well as your own, depends on your ability to read each other’s body language and cues without much discussion.
Better concentration and focus – Yoga requires you to focus and be present. Even more so, in Acro Yoga you must be fully immersed in the pose, since even the slightest misstep can hurt both you and your partner.
Builds strength – Acro Yoga is a full-body workout that strengthens the core, legs, arms, and chest.
As a flyer, you balance your own body weight, which translates to calisthenics conditioning. You are performing pressing exercises like handstands, planches, L-sits, and planks in various angles.
As a base, you hold your partner up, which translates to weight exercises, such as bench presses, overhead presses, or leg presses, with the added challenge of holding an actual person that has a moving center or gravity and is more difficult to control.
Therefore, Acro Yoga has a strength component that can’t be ignored. That said, it doesn’t mean that you need strength in order to start practicing it. You’ll build it over time.
Strong core – In order to hold or move through the poses, as a base or flyer, you must have an engaged and stable core. While keeping a neutral spine, you should be able to move fluidly through different positions.
Improves body and spatial awareness – You must be aware of how your body is aligned with your partner’s. Both as a base or a lifter, the joints should be properly aligned in order to optimally bear the weight. You’ll learn to be aware of and control your center of gravity. Last but not least, you’ll learn when something’s wrong, when to adjust, and when to stop.
Relieves stress – Having fun in a playful environment, while being present and focused, is deeply relaxing. In the lunar practice of Acro Yoga, as the receiver, you surrender while stretching and letting go.
Boosts confidence – The more you commit to the practice, the more progress you’ll experience. By nailing a pose you never thought possible, you build confidence and self-esteem. Acro Yoga also helps overcome certain fears, such as the fear of falling, of turning upside down, of being lifted in the air, of trusting someone to lift you, and even of lifting someone else yourself.
» READ MORE: Yoga Styles 101: An Introduction to Aerial Yoga
Who should practice Acro Yoga?
Acro Yoga may sound intimidating at first, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it (other than certain medical conditions).
You don’t need to have any yoga background in order to do Acro Yoga. In fact, beginners may find this style more playful, as opposed to the traditional forms of yoga that could seem too serious.
There are numerous classes for beginners that start from scratch. As a beginner, you’ll swap roles and learn to be a base, a flyer, and a spotter, so that you can understand all three perspectives. As you continue to practice, you might find that you enjoy a certain role more.
Acro Yoga appeals to long-time yogis as well, who are interested in a different style, a new challenge, and the awesome benefits of the massage part of the practice.
And of course, Acro Yoga is particularly appealing to those who’d like to work with a partner and improve their relationships.
It doesn’t matter what fitness level, age, size, or weight you have. Strength does come into play, but if you’re working too hard or straining your muscles too much, then you must be doing it wrong.
Acro Yoga relies on bone stacking. Muscles can get tired fast, but bones do not. As long as your bones are lined up and are properly aligned with your partner’s, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh. Therefore, with the right technique, a light person can successfully lift a heavier one.
Do I need to bring a partner to an Acro Yoga class or retreat?
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Perhaps the most common question about Acro Yoga is whether you need to come with a partner at the class or retreat. The answer is no. At Acro Yoga classes or retreats, there are usually a lot of people that attend solo and the teacher will make sure to pair each student.
In fact, Acro Yoga is a great way to meet new people and chances are you’ll swap partners during the session. Even if you come with a partner, you’ll probably end up working in larger groups at some point.
Some pieces of advice
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Because it is more physically demanding than other forms of yoga, and because proper alignment is very important, Acro Yoga can lead to more injuries. Therefore, proper warm up is essential before moving onto the partner flow.
Always practice with a spotter you trust. Not only will this third person ensure that both the base and the flyer are safe, but also enable communication and help figure out the poses and correct alignment.
Pregnant women should avoid Acro Yoga because the feet of the lifter (base) press into the groin of the flyer.
People who need to avoid regular inversions due to high blood pressure or heart problems should also avoid this style.
As a base, if you have too much instability in the sacral joint, you should check with a qualified teacher to see if it’s safe for you to practice.
If you’re unsure about any pre-existing medical conditions that could make you unfit to practice Acro Yoga, please consult your healthcare professional.
Interested in other playful and exciting yoga styles? Go on an aerial yoga retreat that will take your practice to new heights!