Open up to curiosity, trust, and play with AcroYoga.
Though we gather in community to practice, most of us go it alone on the yoga mat, except for the occasional hands-on adjustment or quick partner pose thrown into the mix. But more recently, groups of yogis have come together to practice AcroYoga, a combination of interactive Cirque du Soleil–like acrobatics and partner yoga. The form was founded in 2003 in the San Francisco Bay Area by Jason Nemer, a yoga teacher and acrobat who represented the United States at age 16 in the 1991 World Championships of Sports Acrobatics in Beijing, and Jenny Sauer-Klein, a yoga and circus-arts teacher. The two met at a party and stayed up all night talking about a practice that would combine what they loved the most: the playful and whimsical qualities of acrobatics with the more grounded and practical aspects of asana. Just two weeks later, they taught their first AcroYoga class together at the San Francisco Circus Center. And it caught on, first with their friends, then within the Bay Area yoga community, and now, just over a decade later, internationally, with an estimated 500 teachers who have gone through a 15-day intensive training and with 200,000 practitioners in more than 39 countries.
The appeal, say AcroYogis, is that the practice teaches us how to trust, something many adults struggle with. This form of yoga isn’t about performing or showing off: It’s about becoming completely vulnerable, in trust with a yoga partner, and discovering that sweet spot of opening up to curiosity, freedom, and play. There are at least three people involved in each maneuver—a base on the bottom, a flyer on top, and a spotter to prevent any falls—so yogis must rely on each other to execute a pose. The flyer must trust the base in order to ascend into the posture. The base must be confident and stable, and trust the flyer to land the position. And both the flyer and the base must trust the spotter to keep them safe. All of these leaps of faith build community and connection. “Trust is an investment,” says Nemer. “With it, you create an emotional bank account with the people you practice with, and as that grows, your relationships grow.”
In this way, AcroYoga really does merge its two arts, becoming a physical, yet introspective and insight-offering practice. “Everything can go really well by yourself on the yoga mat, but interacting with other people challenges your mindfulness practice,” says Nemer. “Partnership is one of the most beautiful ways to see how well you can stay in your center while interacting with others.”
Enticed? Learn a classic AcroYoga sequence from Nemer that begins with Plank on Plank and ends with the AcroYoga version of Bow Pose. All you need is a mat and two other people who are ready to trust and enjoy the practice. As Nemer says, having fun is the correct alignment.