By Alexandra Keenan. Alexandra is an Ottawa writer and editor at alexandrakeenan.com. She’s a sucker for novelty and she loves seeing people build communities in unexpected ways.
It’s Monday night and ten near-strangers are playing Airplane in a Westboro fitness studio.
Anyone who remembers the giddy exuberance of playing that game as a child—one person pretending to fly while perched on another’s feet—can imagine what it’s like to do Acroyoga. “Acro,” as enthusiasts call it, is a form of partner acrobatics fused with a hint of yoga, and it’s easier than it sounds.
I came to this Monday-night class looking for a fun alternative to the gym. It’s beginner-level and the participants range from nervous first-timers to confident veterans who have been practicing for a whole month.
After a few trust-building exercises we play with variations on the Airplane (it’s actually called “Bird”). Then the instructors demo what looks like a gravity-defying assisted backwards somersault, clearly intended for bodies much stronger and more flexible than my own. Despite my doubts, minutes later I’m hanging upside-down and kicking into a pike (whose hamstrings are these?) before landing gracefully on my feet.
The magic is in the mechanics. Our instructors, Amelia Johnson and Dan Newell, guide us through the hand and foot placements, when to engage our muscles and when to relax. We work in groups of three or four and try out the different roles: base, spotter and flyer. A few poses devolve into helpless laughter, but after a few tries we’ve just about nailed them. There are moments of shared amazement as we realize what we’ve accomplished. I leave the class with a pleasant adrenaline rush.
Amelia speaks enthusiastically about how Acroyoga has changed her life since her first pose at Burning Man in 2011. At the time she had no yoga experience and couldn’t touch her toes, but practicing Acro motivated her to become stronger and more flexible.
Amelia defines Acroyoga as “a physical practice of balancing people on people, fostering play and exploration” and “a co-creative experience” in which people connect with each other across differences in style, skills and limitations. As a side benefit, she says that her communication and negotiation skills have improved through her Acroyoga practice.
Later I chat with Sophie Latreille, artistic director and project leader at the Ottawa Circus School. She teaches beginner and intermediate Acroyoga and hosts twice-weekly “jams” (freestyle Acroyoga meetups). Sophie discovered Acro in 2010 while travelling in the United States, then began practicing with a friend and building the Acroyoga community in the National Capital Region.
Sophie compares Acro to a puzzle that people figure out together. “It brings a group closer,” she says. “People kind of break down these walls that they have and get much more comfortable with each other.”
For those who are nervous about trying Acroyoga, Sophie and Amelia have a simple message: just give it a shot! They prioritize safety and teach poses progressively, ensuring that students are comfortable with the basics before upping the difficulty.
Amelia adds that Acroyoga is more accessible than people think. She’s taught all ages, from children to seniors, as well as people with injuries and other physical limitations. No yoga or gymnastic experience is necessary, although moderate physical fitness helps.
Above all, she says, it’s about having fun. There’s a reason why Acroyogis call their practice “play”.