Flying High with AcroYoga

Wellbeing Tips
December 2, 2016

Move over, trust falls. Trust flight has arrived, in the form of AcroYoga. Defined as a mix of acrobatics and yoga, AcroYoga is actually a combination of yoga, meditation, massage, acrobatics in the form of balancing on another person, and strength training. Dive in to discover what an AcroYoga class is like, and why it’s beneficial for both body and mind.

There’s no doubt that the new fad of AcroYoga provides plenty of physical health benefits, but it’s also unique in that it helps you connect to other human beings for a mental and spiritual boost too. Sonia Peltzer and Casey Stroud, co-founders of a wildly popular Los Angeles-based AcroYoga school called Yoga Squirrels, describe the new fitness phenomenon as a blend of “the spiritual wisdom of yoga, the loving kindness of Thai massage, and the dynamic power of acrobatics.” They explain that “these three ancient lineages form the foundation of a unique new practice that cultivates trust, connection, and playfulness.”
The concept of partner flying puts the Acro in AcroYoga, and it manifests itself in the forms of therapeutic flying and acrobatic flying. There is no flying solo in AcroYoga. Therapeutic flying requires two people working together, one as the base and one as the flyer, while acrobatic flying requires a three person team: one person acting as the base, one as the flyer, and one as the spotter. The base primarily lies on their back and supports the flyer with their legs and arms, while the flyer explores a variety of yoga poses and the spotter keeps everybody safe.
Beginners learn therapeutic flying first. According to Peltzer and Stroud, “Therapeutic flying is an inverted aerial massage. The base supports the flyer with their legs as the flyer hangs passively. The base uses gravity, stretching, and sensitive touch to open the flyer’s upper body. When the flyer comes down, they do massage on the base’s warmed-up legs. The session is complete when both partners have given and received, based and flown, inhaled and exhaled.”
More advanced students evolve into acrobatic flyers, which requires more advanced levels of strength, technique, and trust in your base and spotter. Peltzer and Stroud explain that acrobatic flying “allows the flyer to invert into asanas such as shoulder stands, handstands, and deep back bends. The base creates the foundation for the acrobatics, the flyer trusts and dances through the air, and the spotter makes sure this all happens safely! These practices build a playful, strong community that can help us all realize our true potential.”

Since AcroYoga requires students to be both base and flyer, it demands a level of comfort in physical contact with a person you may be meeting for the first time in class. This form of yoga is like the ultimate trust fall exercise, except that instead of falling, you are flying. This promotes a deep level of faith in your partner. In the process of supporting or flying, you also build strength and learn to breathe properly. In some of Peltzer and Stroud’s classes, cardio conditioning drills and gymnastic-based partner exercises are included, which involve using one another’s body weight instead of dumbbells for strength training.
The popularity of AcroYoga around the world has increased at a lightning speed over the past few years. Peltzer explains that the practice is so beloved at this particular moment because most folks are living a very isolated existence, primarily interacting online or a with virtual community, which leaves them yearning for in-person connection. She also emphasizes the AcroYoga fun factor. One of her favorite parts of teaching is seeing a student’s first flight. It’s thrilling to witness a person’s transformation from fear to flight, from tentative to suspended upside down on another person’s feet.
AcroYoga is about support, connection, and trust, and it has something to offer everyone. In LA, Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd drop in to learn the practice, but AcroYoga is also used to foster trust and healing in jails, orphanages, families, and schools. Peltzer even taught the practice in a refugee camp earlier this year.

Some AcroYoga classes, workshops, and retreats around the world are conducted outside, where fresh air and beautiful landscapes help to enhance the spiritual component of the practice. Yoga Squirrels is offering a New Year’s retreat to Joshua Tree, CA that combines AcroYoga with rock climbing, a perfect compliment since both disciplines rely on strength, balance, and trust.
AcroYoga allows you to connect to your own physical power and to other human beings at the same time. If you are open to new fitness adventures, this is one flight you won’t want to miss.