Jenn Hipps, an FA Youth Instructor, shares ten things she loves about AcroYoga at First Ascent after finally taking the plunge despite her initial fears and doubts. Read on, then join us for an Acro class!
When I found out FA had a regular AcroYoga class, I felt every bone in my body lurch forward, ready to cartwheel in. I did gymnastics throughout my childhood and have had a crush on partner acrobatics since I was six and first saw photos in the Gymnastics DK Superguide by Joan Jackman in a bookstore. A friendly member of staff invited me to join her for AcroYoga class every week for a month. I declined each time, and eventually she stopped asking. All told, it took me a good two and a half months to work up the courage to finally go.
I was scared, not of falling on my face, but of have having a full-blown panic attack in a room full of strangers and/or in a dangerous position for myself or another person. Although 99.99% of the time, I can participate in and enjoy high fives, fist bumps, hugs and kisses with the best of them, I’m a survivor of sexual violence and sometimes experience a lot of anxiety around touch.
If I could tell my hesitant and longing self in those months ten things about AcroYoga to make her more ready to try something new, these would be those things:
1) Paula Bui, the instructor, is amazing. She is knowledgeable, nurturing, kind, and funny while simultaneously being no-nonsense. She’s a great guide for something that requires you to be so daring, deliberate, and delicate. She cultivates an intentional, fun, collaborative and safe class.
2) The structure of the class usually involves six distinct and gradual stages:
- Circle time/ Introduction (Names, if it’s your first class, and how you’re feeling in your body)
- Group yoga warm-up individually
- Calibration and conditioning in partners
- Instructors model the pose or transition you’ll be working. They demonstrate and discuss entry, exit, body placement and positioning, safety concerns and spotting.
- Group work taking turns as base (the person with the most contact with the ground), flyer (the person elevated off the ground) and spotter.
- Periodic group check-ins and troubleshooting.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
- Circle time/ debrief (How was it?)
3) In AcroYoga, you work in partnership, not just pairs. AcroYoga demands that everyone involved is attuned, attentive, and responsive to one another.It’s a practice of communication, trust building, consent, and lots of valuable checking in with each other.
Not great at communicating what you want or need? The instructors are awesome models for this too!
4) You are in charge of the challenges you choose to take on. No one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to, and you can always opt out. Opting out of one thing doesn’t mean you have to opt out of others. No one will give you a hard time about it or demand an explanation. At all times, whether basing or flying, for everyone’s safety, the golden rule of AcroYoga is down means down.
5) You’re not the only one navigating boundaries. Whether it’s a recently sprained ankle, a past trauma, nervousness about being upside-down or coming out of a long day of work, everyone else in the room is working in the body they’re in, figuring out what feels like a good challenge that day.
6) We do a lot of connections between base and flyer with feet. In the past seven months, about 75% of the poses in the all-levels classes I have done involved the base supporting the flyer with their legs and feet instead of, or in addition to, their hands. This makes sense: our legs are super strong. About another 20% involved hand/arm/shoulder connections. Approximately 5% of the poses involved hip-to-hand or thigh-to-hand connections. Personally, I tend to have some anxiety around hip-to-hand and thigh-to-hand connections, but connections with feet feel playful and fun.
7) You get to pick your partners. Because there is always a demonstration of each pose, you know what you’re getting into before you get into it. You might choose a partner because of your relative sizes. You might choose a partner because you haven’t worked together before, or, conversely, you might choose a partner because of the rapport you’ve built. There are a variety of things that may factor into who you choose to partner with for any given pose.
For me, I don’t feel comfortable with a strange man’s hands on my hips or thighs. If a given pose involves that connection, I choose a partner accordingly and remind myself I have permission to opt out at any given moment.
8) Your climbing will improve like magic. Ok, not quite like magic. It will improve like you are training your body awareness, your sensitivity through your hands and feet, your core strength and ability to shift your center of mass, your flexibility, your balance, and your creativity because you are. Look out, stemming routes, here you come!
9) In addition to being a little silly and super fun, AcroYoga is incredibly empowering. In AcroYoga, you’ll collaborate in a group with at least one person completely off the ground.You’ll be a little nervous but in good company, and together with your group, you’ll work through your mistakes and celebrate your successes. You’ll be well-supported and laugh a lot; you’ll make friends without trying.
You’ll also learn your own body and the ways in which it is strong. I’ve learned, for example, that properly grounded, my legs can hold up a person much larger than I am — with ease! That feels pretty cool.
10) As a survivor, AcroYoga is one of the most healing experiences I’ve ever participated in. The flip-side of being able to opt out whenever is that opting in is that much sweeter. AcroYoga is an exercise and practice in consent, trust, generosity and gratitude. It’s become a sacred part of my week that lets me stretch my comfort zone and flex my heart.
If you’ve been waiting in the wings to (base and) fly in an AcroYoga class like I was, I hope these ten things help quell your fears a bit.
Feel free to reach out; I hope to catch you in a class soon! ~Jenn
All-level AcroYoga classes meet at the FA Humboldt Park location on Mondays and the FA Uptown location on Tuesdays from 8:15-9:45pm. Intermediate AcroYoga classes meet at FA Avondale on Wednesdays from 8:15-9:45pm.