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AcroYoga: The Yoga of Play
by Carolyn Cohen


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AcroYoga is a fusion practice combining the lineages of Yoga, Acrobatics, and Thai Massage. By design, AcroYoga invites people from all walks of life to come together and find strength, support, and greater ease with the help of partners; and the practice is acclaimed for its intelligent structure and profound impact. The beauty of partnered practice is that it offers a source for safe connection, sustained by trust, communication and playfulness. Classes begin with a warm-up vinyasa sequence and partnered stretches, which prepare the duos for “partner balancing” or “flying”. Also often included are inversions, arm balances and beginner to advanced acrobatic training. Classes finish with guided Thai Massage instruction. 

Increasingly, we’re encountering more stress, less support, and less healing touch than that of our ancestors. The great Indian Sage, Krishnamacharya (teacher to Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S Iyengar) knew the importance of having a playful nature, and in silent film circa 1938, can be seen balancing his young students, “flying” on his feet. "Flying" is at the core of the AcroYoga practice, wherein the base partner supports the flyer on his or her feet. Flying is a balancing act of yin and yang, accomplished through principles of bone-stacking rather than muscular strength, making it accessible to people of varying sizes. Reminiscent of childhood days playing ‘airplane’, the base lays with their feet lifted perpendicular to the floor, while the flyer balances on the base’s feet. Flying is categorized into therapeutic and dynamic flows. Within those categories, one can fly in various directions: forward, backward, twisting and side-bending. In fact, most asanas performed on a mat may also be experienced in the air, often with increased accessibility as one’s relation to gravity shifts. 

Therapeutic flying focuses on massaging and stretching the flyer. Similar to inversion tables or gravity boots, hanging upside down on a partner’s feet allows the flyer’s spine to elongate using gravity, allowing the space between the vertebrae to increase. Anatomically speaking, therapeutic flying differs from other inversion methods; as the flyer’s femur bones root into their hip sockets, releasing the sacrum and entire spine, they also receive simultaneous massage – what could be better? After the flyer touches down, they thank their partner by offering a few simple Thai Massage moves to benefit the low back and legs – thus completing the cycle of giving and receiving, honoring and accepting, inhaling and exhaling.

For thrill-seekers, circus aficionados, ex-gymnasts and the like, dynamic flying is an empowering, exhilarating practice, which builds upon the trust and communication generated earlier in the class. Dynamic flying utilizes strength, balance, control, and timing to execute fluid, stunning sequences that seem to defy gravity. A quiet hero in the mix is the spotter – always at the ready with support and safety for both partners.

So is this for you? Consider that AcroYoga believes that there are no strangers, just people we haven’t met, thus classes and workshops are open to solo participants, meaning that you do not have to bring a partner in order to attend. You just have to be willing to make new connections, listen to your body, and breathe. New students of AcroYoga often find themselves hooked on the ‘feel good’ factor, the fun, and the feeling of connection. A frequent comment post-class: “This looked hard, but the techniques and the support made it easy!” AcroYoga as a practice is also applicable to life: we are stronger together than we are alone.



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About the Author

Carolyn Cohen operates a holistic healing arts studio in Lambertville, NJ offering yoga, bodywork and wellness. In 2004, she collaboratively developed the AcroYoga practice in California, facilitating trainings and retreats worldwide. For more information visit carolyncohen.org.







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