Acro-yoga challenges students with counterbalance and poise

Saturday’s workshop introduced students to the many fun and challenging facets of acro-yoga. Grace Flaherty/Photo Editor.
Saturday’s workshop introduced students to the many fun and challenging facets of acro-yoga. Grace Flaherty/Photo Editor.

Sitting in Currier ballroom on Saturday morning, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. A man introduced himself as Scott, a woman introduced herself as Cathy and the pair informed us that they would be our teachers for the morning. Once more people arrived and we had all signed our waivers (always a sure sign of a good time), Scott and Cathy introduced the group to acro-yoga, a type of partner yoga we would be learning that morning.

To start our workshop, we played a few games to get our bodies moving and to loosen up a little. Once the games were over, it was time to start really warming up. Despite knowing it was a partner class, I hadn’t come to the workshop with anyone, deciding instead to take the chance to make a new friend. My partner and I grabbed each other’s forearms and leaned back while squatting to introduce ourselves to the idea of counterbalancing, which, as we would soon discover, is a key principle in acro-yoga. We also warmed up our cores with combination leg lifts and crunches with our partners. So far, so good.

Our first acro-yoga move was the “interesting chair,” where one partner was a “base” and held the entirety of the weight of the other partner, who was called the “flyer.” and sat on the base’s forearms. It was definitely weird to be so physically close and have to trust someone I had just met, but it was also a good way for us to get to know one another. We then moved on to the “king’s throne,” which was our first aerial move. The flyer sat on the base’s feet and was lifted into the air. At first, I was nervous –  was my base going to be able to hold me? Was I going to drop my flyer? What would it be like to sit on someone’s feet, balancing midair? Thankfully, I didn’t fall, I didn’t drop anyone (well, not really) and there was always a spotter there, just in case.

The moves slowly but surely increased in difficulty, often building off one another. From the king’s throne, we moved into a position where the flyers were curled up in balls on the bases’ shins in the air, and either straightened their legs and grabbed their toes or did splits. This one was fun but definitely hard to get exactly right – there were a lot of moving limbs and a lot of balance and concentration required. Being the flyer was not too difficult, but I found that as the base, it took a lot of effort to make sure that the flyer didn’t fall, especially because of the added pressure of our having just met. I didn’t want to let my partner down, so to speak, this early in our acquaintance. Next, we added in headstands, but not the typical yoga headstand. Once flyers were on their base’s shins, they would put their arms in a tripod position and slowly get lowered by the bases until their heads were on the floor. Then, the bases would use their hips and hands to put their flyer into a headstand.

As scary as it sounded and as intimidating as it looked, I was excited to try it. It was a weird feeling to be in the air (although not too high off the ground) and have very little control over what was going to happen next. If you were really good (and had core muscles), you could hold the headstand and put your legs in various positions, but that was totally optional.

While we were given a few minutes to rest and eat some complimentary fruit, some students in the workshop who had taken acro-yoga before began to do more advanced tricks. I stood and watched in amazement at the coordination, trust and strength that these partners presented. Although their tricks looked just one level or so above what we were doing, I knew that they must have taken a lot of practice to get right.

My favorite part of the workshop came towards the end when we got to do a “flow,” a concept I knew from traditional yoga. A flow is a series of movements that, well, flow into each other and look very impressive when done right. Our flow was to consist of a handful of the moves that we had learned, with a focus on counterbalancing, trust and strength. The flow started with a simple counterbalance move that established a sort of baseline. Then we moved into the chair, then a move in which the flyer was positioned on the base’s shins, then into the headstand.

The next move, a twist on the classic “birdie” using momentum to swing back and forth, was also fun. Birdie was what I usually thought of as an airplane: Bases puts their feet on the flyers’ hips, lifting the flyers horizontally into the air, so that they look like a bird or an airplane. For the back and forth movement of the next part of the flow, one partner was the flyer in the birdie, and as that person was let down, the other partner would roll up and become the flyer.

In the flow, you could do as many birdie cycles as you wanted, but you had to save some energy because there was still one more move: the “flag.” Bases were positioned with their knees on the floor, while the flyers put their left feet in the bases’ laps, hooked their right feet around the bases’ necks and both partners leaned back. The bases’ left arms helped stabilize the flyers’ feet around the bases’ necks, and the flyers leaned in diagonally in a position that is normally hard to balance in and is made even harder with a partner. This was the ultimate counterbalance and proved very challenging, but (as with the rest of the moves) when it worked, it produced an awesome feeling of accomplishment.

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