Early in the day today, Jason (co-founder of AcroYoga) asked us to talk with someone in the group about what we love about acrobatics. You have to assume there is something; otherwise the thirty or so of us wouldn’t have committed five days and a least a few hundred dollars to this little shindig.
It’s an interesting question, especially if you come at it from a strictly “yogic” perspective. It’s not at all clear that yoga, as practiced in India for hundreds or thousands of years, had any kind of acrobatic component until about one hundred years ago. (Again, I’m not saying it didn’t, we just don’t have any proof that it did. For those who care, I highly recommend Mark Singleton’s book The Yoga Body) Many branches of yoga put much more emphasis breathing, meditation and the like. Indeed, there are many teachers in many schools of yoga that frown on the very athletic asana practice that has come to dominate yoga in the western imagination.
So why an acrobatic practice? For me, it’s about freedom, trust and believing in my capacity. As a young person, I got very used to defining my body by what it couldn’t do. I loved sports, but was never good enough at them to compete at a high level. My coordination didn’t really find me until I was 21 or so, and I’m still something of a clutz. I remember in a workshop very early in my yoga career describing myself as a “scrawny Irish kid” who probably will never hit forearm stand.
So, when I did hit crow, then eventually many other more acrobatic asanas, it was tremendously empowering. And every time I defy my own expectations, which has certainly happened this week, that same empowering rush kicks in. It’s also one of the most validating parts of my teaching, seeing people bust through their own barriers. (Usually, frankly, the physical ones come easier than some of the others…)
The other advantage of acrobatics as we’re learning it is that it is a community affair. Most of the handstand drills we’re doing are partner work, and all of the flying acrobatics involve at least three people- base, flyer, spotter- and often more. Yesterday we were working on standing on shoulders, and that involved groups of six and seven people, completely tuned in to making the sequence work. So there’s a well of support, literally and emotionally, that drives the work.
I think it’s safe to say that our consumer culture encourages a certain body dysmorphia in its citizens. It’s capitalism, right? If you’re body isn’t good enough, we can sell you pills/creams/workouts/foods/clothes/etc. that will make it better. And since it’ll never be better enough, we can sell you more stuff. I’m certainly not saying acrobatics can somehow solve someone’s body image issues (acrobats are certainly not immune), but they are one way to create a sense of accomplishment, of value in the body you have, which for me was invaluable. And I think yoga has created safe, smart ways to bring these poses to the body, wherever it starts.
While I’m never going to be mistaken for an NFL linebacker, many handstand attempts, and now many hours of monkey play later, I am a lot less scrawny than I was when I made that comment years ago, and more importantly, I’m a lot more in love with the body I have. And I just kind of like it.
Logistics note: I’ll be skipping a day 4 post in favor of a playlist, and wrap the immersion up sometime on Monday or Tuesday.