Flying Free with Acro Yoga

One of my earliest memories is of lying with my belly on my dad’s feet, my hands in his, and “flying” for what seemed like hours on end. He’d lift me into the air – it always felt impossibly high – and I’d pretend I was Peter Pan, able to soar above the clouds.

As we grow older, our opportunities for flying are relegated to air travel. If you’ve flown any major airline lately, you’ll agree that this experience is far from liberating. But there is another way to feel airborne and free, and it comes in the form of a new yoga practice called Acro Yoga.

According to the website of San Francisco-based AcroYoga, the organization that created the practice, Acro Yoga “blends the spiritual wisdom of yoga, the loving kindness of Thai massage, and the dynamic power of Acrobatics. These three ancient lineages form the foundation of a unique new practice that cultivates trust, connection and playfulness”.

It certainly sounds like play. There are two forms that make up an Acro Yoga practice. The first resembles what I used to do with my father. Working with a partner, one person forms the “base”, becoming a source of strength, stability and trust. The other person is then able to perform supported backbends, handstands and other tricky poses (for example, imagine doing dhanurasana, or bow pose, while balancing your hips on your partner’s feet), all while sustaining a feeling of utter freedom and possibility. Partners switch places, giving both people the opportunity to experience total trust and surrender.

There’s also an element of play in the second form of Acro Yoga, which looks much like an acrobatic act. Partners get a flow of movement going, whirling through precarious-looking poses. It may appear daunting, but Acro Yoga’s proponents swear that it is an equal opportunity practice. In an article for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, instructor “Lux” explains that the only trait necessary for successful Acro Yoga is good communication:

“The ability to put you and somebody else into these postures requires two or more people to really communicate well to find ease in this practice… It’s also important to be conscious of your body in space, and to share awareness of what your body can do with your partner.”

Yoga can be a solitary exercise, and for some people, that’s what makes it accessible. We live in a culture where people don’t touch unnecessarily; besides the occasional abrupt handshake, we allow very few people into our personal space. Acro Yoga forces you to get up close and very personal with your partner, who is in most cases a virtual stranger. Besides practicing poses that require a great deal of trust for this stranger, you’ll incorporate massage into the session, thanking him with your touch for the strength and honesty he offered you. The massage element of the practice not only helps muscles become more pliable and ready for complicated poses, but also provides an emotional bond for greater trust and communication.

Besides being a fun, different way of utilizing yoga skills and getting a good workout, this type of yoga may help you see yourself in a whole new light. Instructor Tim Seiwerath tells the Post-Intelligencer that Acro Yoga offers an empowerment seldom seen in other forms of yoga. “”People don’t understand that yoga is not just about flexibility, it’s about strength and empowerment — and that’s brought up very quickly in Acro Yoga for sure.”

So the next time you’re yearning to fly, skip the long security lines, delays and baggage fees, and seek out an Acro Yoga class in your area. Your body and mind (and wallet) will thank you for it.

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