By Claudia Cowan, ,
Published November 05, 2015
"You're not doing it. You're rocking it."
Tired of hatha or hot yoga? A new kind of partner-based practice perches yogis on one another, sending them flying above the mat.
AcroYoga is a fusion of acrobatics, yoga, and Thai massage, while using gravity to promote stretching and strengthening poses. Yogis balance on each other’s feet or hands, striking poses that look like something out of Cirque du Soleil.
Trust is a key component as well, which I can attest after recently trying AcroYoga.
According to AcroYoga.org, it also cultivates love, listening, breath awareness and balance.
The results can be transformational.
Jason Nemer, co-founder of AcroYoga, Inc. that started in 2003 in California, is one of the originators of the practice, which is now taught by 500 teachers at dozens of studios worldwide.
Some are calling AcroYoga a new "craze."
I don’t know about that. But as Nemer and a dozen other teachers demonstrated the practice at this year's annual Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco, audiences were enthralled as the pairs moved into various poses while gracefully balancing on their partner's hands, shoulders, and feet --while several feet above the ground.
Now, I have practiced yoga for about 6 years, but my traditional Vinyasa flow seemed a world away from what I was witnessing. So much of yoga is being in the moment, breathing, and balancing- none of which I felt I could do perched on the soles of a pair of feet. But Nemer had more faith, and two minutes later, I was flying.
Nemer, acting as the base person lying flat on the floor, first had me hold his hands and tip over his outstretched legs, which he then lifted up. This is called a front plank. As the flyer, I was a toddler again doing airplane, holding my dad's hands with my stomach supported on his feet. I felt secure enough to breathe, and that's when Nemer let go of my hands, and my arms went out to a T.
Now I was a teenager out of the movie "Titanic," wanting to shout, “I’m the Queen of the World.” Nemer then had me grab my ankles and go into a bow pose, challenging enough on the ground, but surprisingly doable in the air: I had more core strength and balance than I thought.
"I can't believe I am doing this!" I said as my friend and fellow yogini, Marin Magazine editor Mimi Towle, shot a few pictures on her phone. "You're not doing it," said Nemer. "You're rocking it."
He then told me to bend my legs and in a flash he flipped me upside down, his feet supporting my shoulders, and told me to hang like a bat. With gravity doing the work, and Nemer’s feet massaging the tops of my thighs, the inverted pose was incredibly relaxing. When he lowered me down, I felt invigorated and had a strong sense of mental clarity and confidence.
Nemer told me that along with building flexibility and physical strength, the massage and trust building elements can improve concentration and offer other mental health benefits, especially among partners.
He envisions using AcroYoga to build bridges among countries. Certified teachers from Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia-- and soon the first certified Palestinian teacher- will be coming together with European, Asian and American AcroYoginis at "unity festivals" to share a nonverbal form of protest.
Sure, flyers slip and fall, which is why there are usually spotters nearby. Precautions should be taken with AcroYoga, as with any exercise regimen. But if a demonstration presents itself, the experience shouldn't be missed. Nemer says the practice has "touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people world-wide." He can add one to the list.