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October 17, 2018

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The yoga practice that combines exercise, acrobatics and play

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Acroyoga — the partner-based practice you’ve likely seen while scrolling your Instagram feed — is much more than a picturesque social media trend. Inspired by acrobatics, traditional yoga and other therapeutic modalities such as Thai massage, acroyoga boasts a growing community of practitioners around the world, as well as an active ensemble here in Las Vegas. “Typically, yoga is an internal, solo practice, but acroyoga is external and social. It’s playtime for adults, and play is releasing,” says Eric Hebard, founder of Body Shrine, an acroyoga studio in the Valley. Though the poses can look intimidating, this experimental practice offers an array of benefits.

How it works

For each pose, there are typically three to four participants.

1. The flyer: The person who’s balanced in mid-air, twisted up like a pretzel or on top of someone else. The flyer uses strength and balance to create the elevated part of a pose, while his or her partner lends a stable base to facilitate it.

2. The base. The base is the foundation of the pose, on which the partner is able to take flight. Basing requires the individual to “stack” his or her bones and remain steady to support the flyer.

3. The spotter(s): While spotters aren’t usually included in the photos you see online, they’re an integral part of the practice. Their job is to keep both the flyer and the base safe and to assist throughout the pose. Depending on experience level, there are typically one or two spotters present.

How does it compare with other types of yoga?

Where to find acroyoga in Las Vegas

• Body Shrine, 4970 South Arville St.

• Check out the Acroyoga Las Vegas Facebook group to find information about upcoming jams and special studio classes

• Talk to your current yoga/exercise studio and ask if it offers any one-time or specialized classes

• Camp EDC will offer acroyoga sessions throughout the festival weekend

Do you need to show up with a partner?

Nope. You can bring a partner and/or friends or you can go stag and expect to make new friends along the way.

Traditional yoga dates back thousands of years, involves a set number of poses and is often a solitary activity with an emphasis on regulated breathing. While there are many types of yoga, the majority of them remain rooted in the same practice. This is only partially true for acroyoga.

“Acroyoga cross-trains yoga and acrobatics, but it’s not locked in traditional yoga,” Hebard said. “There’s much more improvisation and room to create.” The influence of traditional yoga is evident in acroyoga poses—many of which incorporate recognizable positions—but the experience of acroyoga is more akin to partner gymnastics. When Hebard says it’s playtime for adults, he means it.

Benefits

The obvious benefits include: exercising with friends, doing something out of the ordinary and taking impressive photos to share later. There are also deeper avenues of benefit that are unique to this partnership practice:

1. Skin-to-skin contact: For many adults, physical touch is typically reserved for sexual partners, but acroyoga challenges that construct. The practice lends itself to developing a physical intimacy with others that is platonic, safe and playful. Remember being a kid and horsing around with your friends? Acroyoga is akin to that feeling.

2. Trust building: In line with close physicality, establishing trust is a powerful component of the experience. After all, you’re either holding someone up, being held yourself, or spotting your teammates to ensure they don’t get injured. “It’s a progressive learning environment and we work as a community to keep it safe,” Hebard says. “Some people develop trust slowly and ease into it over time, whereas others are able to trust right away. All comfort levels have a place in the practice.”

3. Communication: Practicing acroyoga requires ongoing, mindful communication. Because the poses can be disorienting and each participant experiences the poses differently, practicing different communication styles is key. Further, the process requires participants to evaluate how they speak to others while working toward a common goal—even when frustrated or unsure of the outcome.

Who can practice acroyoga?

Pregnant women and people who are injured may want to talk to a doctor before practicing acroyoga. Hebard also notes that people who are hesitant about human touch and/or physical boundaries should be cautious as well.

There are no hard and fast guidelines, but most people can enjoy acroyoga if they’re in a safe, method-based environment. Because acroyoga emphasizes teamwork, it’s a fluid process that requires individuals to adjust for their partners throughout the practice. This makes the experience personal and customizable for all participants. “It’s much more accessible than most people think,” Hebard says. “There’s no such thing as a perfect body or perfect situation, so I recommend that people simply show up, commit and see what happens.”

Acroyoga and social media

Acroyoga is a relatively new practice, so the acroyoga community has relied heavily on social media throughout the past decade for promotion and to connect like-minded individuals. “Before there were classes, there were instructional videos on YouTube,” Hebard says. “Once those caught on, more people began seeking out teacher trainings and started connecting on Facebook, and it grew from there.” There are two studios in the country focused only on acroyoga, and one of those is in Las Vegas. There also are several yoga and exercise studios in the Valley that offer special classes on a rotating schedule, and/or resident acroyoga instructors. The acroyoga community hosts regular “jams,” wherein large groups of people show up and practice together in a nonstructured environment. Anyone can participate in jams, regardless of experience level, but taking classes can help people familiarize themselves with the practice.