AcroYoga: learning to fly

“If this is your first Acro yoga lesson, it has been a bit of a baptism of fire,” said Jaqui Wan, the AcroYoga teacher who had just put us through two hours of trying to do things we didn’t know our bodies could do.

It turned out that in fact our bodies couldn’t really do these things, just as we had expected. We watched in awe as some of the more experienced AcroYogis flipped each other around – or “manhandled”, as Jaqui called it.

I had tried AcroYoga only twice before, and the first time was a very short experience, but I fell in love with it at first flight, so to speak. 

What is AcroYoga?

AcroYoga is usually done in pairs, although when you are learning you also need a third person, the spotter, to make sure no injuries occur. The other two people are the base and the flyer.

The base lies on his or her back on the floor and balances the flyer on their feet, legs extended up in the air at a ninety degree angle. The easiest position sees the flyer balancing on the feet just above the hip bones, holding onto the base’s hands and extending the body into a plank (see picture below).

AcroYoga base flyer
Me and Valentina learning to fly!

I was on a rock climbing trip in Todra Gorge in Morocco in December with my climbing partner Valentina. While there, we met a group of people who were on a climbing and AcroYoga holiday. We were impressed by the shapes they were throwing on the yoga mat in the sunshine, but had no idea what it was they were doing.

“It’s Acro yoga,” said a tall French man, as he noticed our fascination. I had never heard of it. Later that day, a lady in the group asked us: “Do you want to try flying?” Well, who would say no?!

It turned out she was Melanie Lo, a well-known AcroYoga teacher based in Paris, and of course she was spending her holiday…doing more AcroYoga! Turns out it is just as addictive as climbing.

She gave me and Valentina a small taster of what it was like to be the flyer. And it was absolutely divine!

The learning process

When Melanie based us, it seemed so easy and effortless. It turned out to be much harder when we went to our first lesson back in London, determined to fly again.

Suddenly, we were practicing handstands and trying to shift weight around while balancing in the flying position. And basing…turned out to be a true feat of stability, strength and balance. But as soon as an experienced AcroYogi joined us to show a few tricks, everything suddenly seemed to fall into place.

The second class I went to, I invited a male friend with me to an AcroYoga class, who had only ever done normal yoga once. I don’t think he was quite prepared for what Jaqui was about to throw at us! But if I’m honest, neither was I.

Instead of learning the basics of flyer-base balance, in this class we went straight into a move called ‘tick tock’ – see YouTube video below. Essentially, it involved the base flipping the flyer around on their feet to balance on one side, then the other, and back to a piked position, hanging with their head down. 

As a flyer, if you are working with an experienced base, I must say it is not so hard, especially if you have done anything like gymnastics, circus, or even climbing. It is all about knowing where your centre of balance is and not being afraid to tumble around a little.

As a base, it is very different (or so I could tell from what I saw, as I didn’t actually try basing myself this time). It takes a huge amount of control to balance a person in a precarious position on just one of your feet, and constantly shift that balance from one foot to another! 

For my friend, who had never done anything like this before, it certainly was a baptism of fire, as Jaqui had called it. 

AcroYoga jamming

What he doesn’t realise is that he definitely dodged a bullet the following week. I turned up to the Monday night lesson to find only one other person there, apart from the two teachers. 

So we jammed. Yep, we had an AcroYoga jam. That’s when experienced people get together and practice stuff. Hard stuff. And this was my third lesson ever! I think, all things considered, I did pretty well, even if I say so myself. But if that was nor being thrown in at the deep end, I don’t know what is!!

For anyone trying it out for the first time, I warn you now it will be a shock to the system, even if you are very experienced at other types of yoga. But the feeling when a move finally clicks is indescribable! And watching the frequent flyers and bases do their thing is mesmerising and inspirational. 

Places to do AcroYoga in London

The only classes I have been to are with Jaqui Wan – check out her website here. She is a fantastic teacher and a very bubbly person, so you will have tons of fun. 

Her classes are:

Monday 6.30pm-8pm

Location: Reva Yoga, near Brooadway Market, East London
Price: £15 drop-in/£12 concessions/£44 for 4 classes
Facebook event can be found here

Sunday 6.30pm-8.30pm

Location: British School of Shiatsu-Do, Finsbury Park
Price: £15 drop-in/ £75 for 6 classes, can be shared with partner

Details of all the AcroYoga classes going on in London can be found on this Facebook group, and by signing up to the mailing list

Jamming is also a common practice for the more experienced AcroYogis, and there are a lot of jams going on in London. Further information about them can be found on this Facebook group.

Lesson structure

The lessons usually last 1.5-2 hours.

They start with around 20-30 mins yoga-based warm up, which focuses on the areas of the body that will be used a lot during the AcroYoga part: wrists, shoulders, core, balance.

Then comes the fun part: AcroYoga! Jaqui is very open and receptive to her students’ wishes, so the shape of the lesson often depends on what the students want to focus on. However, you can usually expect some handstand work and a lot of base-flyer exercises, usually conducted in groups of three, with a spotter. 

At the end of the Sunday night lesson the group goes to a nearby Japanese restaurant, so this is also a very social thing to do. The food is to die for. Could you resist chestnut ice cream and green tea ice cream after two hours of hardcore AcroYoga? 

One thing my friend pointed out is that you will get pretty close and personal with people in this class – whether it is hanging down with your head in their crotch, or grabbing their bum to stop them from toppling out of a balance. That just comes with the territory!

As he described it: “AcroYoga demands a lot of touching of newly met strangers. Get ready for intense hand holding, supporting of hips, limbs in armpits, and if you’re like me… accidentally putting feet into breasts.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself!

If you go to a class, or if you are a converted AcroYoga lover, please share your thoughts with me here!

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