AcroYoga as My Practice – It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga and I am not aiming to become an acrobat

by Francis Tabin
June 18, 2015

I have been practicing Acroyoga (not Acro) for almost four years. I love it, and it is a regular part of my life. I am also an over thinker, so I think endlessly (and needlessly) about everything that I experience then relate that to everything else in my life. Needless to say, I have a lot of thoughts about acroyoga. As the practice becomes widespread, I have seen many articles and thoughts from other practitioners. This is my attempt in understanding the different approaches, needs, preferences and ideals that make up every acroyogi’s personal practice. In these articles I discuss a couple of my own thoughts that I wanted to share to the world so I can understand, teach and consider how acroyoga is and will continue to be a practice for everyone.

Is Acroyoga Yoga?

This was a thought that I have been working on ever since I went to my first acroyoga class. I went to my first class when I was on a phase of trying different types of yoga. And sometime during the class while I was falling from a cartwheel or attempting to jump up into star I thought: This isn’t the type of yoga I’m used to. This is my answer to the question of Acroyoga being Yoga. The definition of yoga is second only to love in the gazillion definitions category. Trying to see if Acroyoga fits into a certain definition of yoga almost always leads into a discussion of “what is yoga?” Bottom line is: it is not and will never be completely classifiable as most existing types of yoga. Whatever yoga you’re used to, Acroyoga is not that. Acroyoga is its own practice. It is a practice highly rooted in acrobatics, but done in a way that I can only describe as very similar to yoga, with benefits parallel to yoga’s. What is essential is that it is acrobatics practiced with the same element that differentiates yoga from plain stretching: mindfulness. The point of it being yoga or not is trivial. But the question is a persistent one, so maybe one day I’ll call it Bodybumbling just to avoid that argument discussion.

Are Acroyogis just fancy labeled acrobats?

High level acroyogis to me are very hard to find. Don’t get me wrong, there are many skilled acrobats out there, just not a lot of ones I would call acroyogis. There are a lot of acroyogis that are seemingly crossing over to pure acrobatics – which is fine, it’s a tough and exhilarating path to take- but I am just not one of them. It is the same in the sense that I practice yoga, but I have zero desire of becoming a contortionist. It is simple for me in the matter of yoga, because it has a lot of high level teachers who look like they could be contortionists but don’t teach like one. In Acroyoga, it’s a bit different. The trend has moved towards high level acrobatic tricks, with professional acrobats and performers as teachers. Progress seems to be the acroyogi moving away from the yogi. In some cases, the practitioners were never (and don’t want to be) yogis at all! Nothing wrong with that, I think every acroyogi has a wannabe-an-acrobat in them, but I make the distinction between someone practicing to be an acrobat and someone practicing as an acroyogi because I resonate more with the latter. I practice not to become an acrobat but to discover and receive all the benefits that a mindful acrobatics practice can offer(and because it’s so darn fun). In talking with another acroyoga practitioner in Chicago, I was chastised that the benefits of acroyoga beyond acrobatic benefits come naturally as you practice. He told me that they should not be forced, as it will take the fun out of it. That is true, but a good teacher should ensure that the practitioner is aware of the possibilities of the practice. That when they are playing, there are more avenues to explore and discover than just what is immediately obvious. Acroyoga is more than just acrobatics, and more than just yoga. Some acroyogis are already seeing this more, with the concepts of trust and fear often coming up when they express their ideas of acro. There is also creative expression, which I experienced masterfully with Jessie and Eugene of Acroyoga MTL. These are there, but there is so much more, and I hope to share and discover all of it as I continue my practice of Acroyoga. So there were a few things I have to say about my practice. Agree? Disagree? WTF? Comment on the thread to tell us about your practice and perspective!

12 thoughts on “AcroYoga as My Practice – It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga and I am not aiming to become an acrobat”

    1. Thank you for offering this opportunity to share and exchange our thoughts on this interesting subject that many of us will have! 🙂 I specifically welcome your critical thoughts on the trend to blur the reasonable distinction between (A)Y and “professional” acrobatics.
      I have been practising AY for over a year (with several years of previous non-professional practice in gymnastics and yoga) and have had similar thoughts ever since. Over the years, my practice of both, gymnastics and yoga, became less satisfying as both practices miss aspects that I happily found AY is able to combine. 🙂
      Some of them you have already mentioned, specifically the fun and joy aspect and the mindfulness. – Let me add some more aspects of the practice of AY that IMHO emphasize this distinction which are also additional values of AY as compared to “traditional” yoga:
      taking responsibility for a partner and accepting his/her desires and limits (respect), rendering resposibility to a partner (trust), connection and playful sensual (but not sexual) contact with a partner that you may not yet know, positive verbal/non-verbal communication with a partner, the healing effect of touches and positive communication, coordination not only of your own breath and motion but also with the partner’s breath and motion, the non-professional, aimless, non-achievement-oriented, improvizational character of the practice (“let’s try and have fun!”).
      It is needless to remind that these aspects go FAR beyond the practice AY!!! So keep on practising mindfully and joyfully and let us share the joys and benefits for a better world! 🙂
      Nameste, Walter

      1. That’s awesome, Walter! I definitely resonate with a lot of the values you mentioned, and will be writing about even more in future pieces. Thanks for reading and sharing your own ideas!

  1. Well… No. If you state that AY is an art in itself, separate from both yoga and acrobatics, then that would be a perfectly accurate description of an art that in itself can be the most pleasing that you have found. Period.
    However, you state that it is “more yhen just” either of those other two practices. This makes your personal preference for a good practice somehow “superior” to both yoga and acrobatics. To me that just sounds ignorant, offensive or hostile. Why go so far as to belittle two other practices that have inspired people to enjoy a beautiful practice that incorporates elements from both yoga, acrobatics and bodywork?

    1. Thanks for the feedback Fedde! Your comment made me reread my article to see if I did belittle acrobatics or yoga. I am still satisfied though, that all I said was that the practice is more than just yoga/acro, which shows individuality and not necessarily superiority.
      I understand though how it could be assumed as such, and i apologize if it has offended you. Yoga is something i practice and teach as much as acroyoga, and i love and follow a lot of acrobatics teachers. It’s a little funny, because in the article i find that i explicitly stated positive qualities from yoga (mindfulness) and acrobatics (the physical benefits) in order not to undermine their value.
      I actually don’t incorporate bodywork into my acroyoga practice, as it doesn’t align with the much deeper elements that my partner and I have discovered through acroyoga. These elements i are what makes me say that acroyoga is more than just a singular yoga practice or acrobatics practice. I hope to share some of these in future articles.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  2. I started slacklining several years ago, and was introduced to acroyoga through that community. I wasn’t immediately drawn to it. I didn’t practice yoga, or understand it’s overarching implications. When we had jams at the park, I spent most of my time on long lines. And yet, I was coaxed, and encouraged to keep playing. When I attended serveral workshops back to back to back, and my level of experience increased, the fun did too. And within that fun, I’ve found meaning beyond the fun itself. The trust, and connection, physical proximity, teamwork, body awareness, and compassion exhibited by the acroyogi practices I witnessed in other people’s lives showed me what was possible. Teachers are instrumental in opening up possibilities. Teachers can be friends, students, or strangers watching us practice acroyoga. And community. That ever embracing community. I’ve met more people I love in the last 3 years, than my first 28. Perhaps, that’s the best way to summarize my experience with acro yoga.

    1. Hi Joel,
      Like you I came from a slacklining background though, I was also practicing yoga. Hearing you talk about how you spent most of your time slacklining at jams is quite familiar to me. It’s funny what acro opens up and the expansion it brings once you are ready for it. Thanks so much for sharing your acro yoga experience.
      Kendra

  3. I came to acro yoga from a yoga background. At first I was very surprised how little “actual yoga” other acro yogis I’d met knew. For my husband at I it is more like a yoga practice, with mindfulness, and focus. We like the communication and trust building. Others in our group do seem more focused on stunts. As a whole, though, we all seem to appreciate the element of community within the group. Being supportive of eachother, helping eachother with goals. In my practice, both yoga and acro yoga, it has been not just about developing my physical practice but what the practice teaches me about the rest of life, overcoming challenges and fears. To look back on something I’ve worked towards and made progress encourages me that I cam do that in another area as well. I thought visvamitrasina was am impossible pose. Now I can do it. I thought I’d never be able to do star or washing machines when I started, didn’t even want to try cause I’d be too scared. But now I do them. I’m afraid of heights, so now I take an aerial silks class and practice climbing the fabric to the top. I’m not very social or out going, but now I talk to strangers.

    1. Kendra and Francis

      sugarsnoodle, I love how you and your husband have made AcroYoga a mindful practice. It’s inspiring the many ways the practice has translated into your life. Thank you for this insightful share.~Kendra

  4. Interesting post, I like the analogy of a contortionist deciding to teach yoga. There are definitely many legitimate acrobats now moving under the increasingly-popular AY “brand” and immediately becoming gods to all the AY followers. I come from an acrobatic background (for performance, largely) and some people have asked me about my “acroyoga”, haha – and I don’t consider it to be that. But it’s getting well known and people are using that word for any partner acrobatic work.
    I think some of the overlap can be a bad thing, as when I see low-level AY practitioners having a go at standing hand-to-hand and other fairly high level stuff, because they’ve seen their favourite supposedly-AY hero doing it. But they don’t realise that those guys didn’t learn that through “AY”, they have years in gymnastics or cheerleading or something like that. It seems that on social media any respectable AY person needs a quick luck shot of some kind of standing hand-to-hand (which collapsed 0.1 seconds later), which in my mind is a bit odd.
    I find AY (as I’ve experienced it) to have no recognisable Y component (rather like you said) except that the people who do it tend to be Y-type people who also do a lot of Y and enjoy that community. Some people coming from A also enjoy it as relevant cross-training and I’ve learned a lot from it to take back to my A, in terms of technique and also a general approach to training. Worth trying if you like either A or Y, even if (like me) you prefer doing them separately.

    1. Hey John, thanks for the comment! It is great to see a perspective coming from the “A” side. I do see acroyoga as a variant approach to learning acrobatics that makes it more accessible. I also love how to a trained eye, most of the pictures on social media lack technique (I cringe at most of them when i see bad form or what you call a “luck shot”). You mentioned some things you’ve learned from acroyoga that you took back to the acrobatics training. I’d love to hear some of them if you wouldn’t mind sharing! Thanks Again!

      1. Sorry, typo – “a lucky shot”, but yes you know what I mean. Blurry feet is the biggest giveaway, haha.
        For me, AY has been helpful because I’m actually not very well suited to acrobatic pursuits (structurally and physiologically) and I also got into the game quite late (i.e. after puberty!). Most or all of the people I find in gymnastics centres around here are ten years younger than me and, frankly, have no clue how they learned what they know… because they were simply too young at the time and it wasn’t a conscious process. By the time they could think independently they already had an excellent foundation and acrobatic “vocabulary” far beyond what any adult can hope to learn, and so they usually have no understanding of the challenges facing adults and newcomers.
        For example, as a male over 6ft with normal shoulder mobility, when I’m in a handbalancing class led by a 4ft 11 female who started gymnastics at age 4 and has shoulders made of rubberised steel, I do sometimes wonder how well she can relate to the barriers and problems I may be facing.
        However, I have also met very talented (essentially meaning ideal genetics for acrobatics + an early start for their training, normally in childhood) people who are in fact good at training useless adults like me, and though they will have never directly experienced my own problems they’ve worked with enough adults and are intelligent enough to give useful guidance and help.
        Anyway, what I’m getting at is that AY tends to attract a base of Y people, usually adults, and usually with little or no acrobatic background. It seems that all the celebrity AY teachers are gymnasts in disguise, which (as mentioned before) could be seen as a little bit deceptive, but in real life the only AY teachers I know are Y teachers who’ve learned a bit of AY as an adult and so can much better relate to the problems we face and understand that we pretty much have our final body structures and proportions and have to live with them and find safe and realistic things to train for.
        It’s all just so different to training children, for lots of reasons. The AY I’ve been exposed to here has been quite sensibly paced and OK for adults, with an emphasis on making things easy and efficient + acknowledging the importance of restoration and recovery. Things we all kind of know but sometimes forget if constantly exposed to the more “hardcore” branches of acrobatics, especially the circus world which is very hard going and generally trains people until they break.
        A few technical pointers for specific moves, as well, have been very useful – things that a gymnastics or circus person just wouldn’t see or think about. However, I think lots of AY and Y people may find much to learn from other A disciplines, in the same way. Just while keeping a grip on themselves and not falling in too deep, into something that might do more harm than good. One example, I recently worked with some AY people who’d done Y for years but could never managed headstands, and after a few weeks of specific drills and training in a rather non-Y manner, they had decent headstands and variations which they could take back to their Y.
        I don’t like L-basing (I find it very uncomfortable) so never did much before but since being exposed to AY I’ve obviously seen hundreds of very inventive L-based positions that I had never imagined myself. I’m not interested in many of them in their own right but lots present excellent ways to prepare for and simulate standing poses, even H2H and so on. So I now use some with new fliers in my circus work, which lets them learn things much faster than trying to go straight to certain standing poses. For example, shouldn’t a flier be comfortable on an L-based bird or star before doing it overhead? Makes sense to me to build components on the ground and then pull them up together into bigger moves later one. Seems obvious, but in other A disciplines that wouldn’t be thought of and you’d just hammer away at the final move and probably not get anywhere. With adults it’s so helpful to have as many small steps as possible.
        Lots of other crossover thoughts, but I’ve rambled enough! haha

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