Deborah Crooks is a California-based writer, singer-songwriter and performer. She has…
If traditional yoga practice leads a practitioner closer to a concept of oneness with all, acroyoga puts it into practice immediately. A relative newcomer to the yoga lineage, acroyoga is the love child of Jenny Sauer-Klein and Jason Nemer, two Bay Area yogis who share a life-long passion for the physical realm. These two teachers bring extensive backgrounds in circus training, acrobatic competition, meditation and yoga study to the mat and define AcroYoga as “a unique new practice that cultivates trust, connection and playfulness”. Combining elements of traditional asana, Thai massage and acrobatics, acroyoga is all of these things and more.
Fundamental to acroyoga is practicing in contact with others, not just the mat, the body and the self. A recent Intro to Flying Yoga workshop began in a seated circle where breath work was immediately linked with physical contact with those sitting adjacent. Connecting is the key. Jenny and Jason led a series of partner flow movements, followed by “flying” – where one person becomes the base and the other becomes the flyer. Within minutes, the group dynamic became like a private yoga session, with Jenny and Jason offering continual adjustments – and a little impromptu bodywork for good measure. Far from the yogi in the cave, this was the yogi in community, and perhaps most of all, a return to play.
When they met in December of 2003, Jenny and Jason quickly realized that their common backgrounds provided fertile ground for something new. “We went ‘Let’s play,’” Jenny remembers. “So, I flew him. Then, he put me up in a hand to hand and I was blown away. We looked at each other and went omygod. We hung out for hours and hours.”
“The joining of the acrobatics and yoga was electric from the beginning,” Jason recounts. “The longer I did acrobatics the more I came to believe that anything is possible. Yoga became a way to express and explore my acrobatics with deeper spiritual connections. It did not take many jam sessions to know how much we loved to play together.”
“We have a long history of being in our bodies in different disciplines,” Jenny says, who has also studied with Cirque du Soleil artists. “The way we teach is based on our own practice, and based on what feels the best in our bodies.”
In January 2004, they began teaching at the Circus Center in San Francisco. Then, in February, they offered a special Valentine’s Day partner’s workshop which sold out. Now the two are flying – via airplane – all over the world to teach and have added several teacher trainings to their itinerary.
On the surface, the practice of acroyoga might resemble a contact dance class rather than a yoga class, with partners balanced on one another’s feet and hands. However, the benefits are analogous to traditional asana, with an opportunity for both deep focus and profound openings.
“With flying, you receive all the benefits of an inversion without the effort. You don’t have to worry about any compression,” Jenny says. “The spine is in a full final elongation. And when you start doing twists it gets really deep.” They call it Anti-Gravitational Spinal Elongation.
“Acroyoga therapeutics is a technique used to relax the flyer,” Jason explains. “The flyer is receiving all the many benefits of an inversion and the whole time is totally passive and relaxed.”
Beyond the inherent physical therapy, there are emotional benefits to acroyoga, as the mirror of partner is ever present.
“It’s about trusting and surrendering to someone else,” Jenny says. “Flying is a fast-forward. It pushes you past many things faster because it has so many immediate requirements. When you are balancing someone on your hands, you cannot think about anything else. It takes a lot of discipline to stay present.”
“acroyoga can be very therapeutic, and the effectiveness is directly related to the degree that the partners can communicate their truth,” Jason says. “From this place the partners can relate to each other with compassion and loving kindness.”
With so much partner work, one’s attention, commitment and resistance are mirrored immediately. It is a practice in relationship to self, to other and to all, in real time. “The trust aspect makes the emotional body open and the physical body open,” Jason says. “When we get deep with one person, even five to 10 minutes, you have a transmission.”
At the core of acroyoga, however, is the deep appreciation Jenny and Jason have for joyful play. “If you get upside down and feel supported, the playfulness comes back,” Jason says. “When I traveled to Europe the first time, we had language barriers. But as soon as we got in the circle…people want to get back to that space of enjoying feeling connected.”
The duo continues to augment their own exploration with anusara study, and they count Shiva Rea, Dharma Mittra and Sianna Sherman as influential teachers. Based on the international response to acroyoga, the couple embarked on world tours, encompassing much of Asia and Europe. “I see this as a vehicle for promoting peace and learning to relate,” Jason concluded. “When people learn how to trust one another and communicate their needs and work in community.”