In acroyoga, you will learn about your partner in more ways than you can imagine. By Estelle Low
Working out with your partner is always a good idea. Photos: Jasper Yu
A couple who sweats together, stays together. That’s what I think, when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship.
After all, going through a tough ordeal – like exercising – together has been shown to foster stronger bonds.
It’s been hard, trying to find activities to do with my husband over the last few years.
We used to do long jogs when we were dating, so as to spend more time in each other’s company. Afterwards, we would talk about our dreams and such over a hearty meal of prawn mee or char kway teow – the two dishes I craved during a long run.
After we got married, those frequent jogs were whittled down to just once a month, or every fortnight if we were good. Soon, those jogs gave way to evening yoga sessions for me, and night cycles for him. We found new interests, and new people to hang out with, which is a good thing. But our shared time definitely took a hit.
And then we had a kid.
Ever since, my life has largely revolved around my daughter. Going for an evening run or yoga sesh just can’t override the pressing need to be with her after a long day at work. I want to catch every milestone I can, and spend as much waking time with her as possible so she will grow up knowing her mum is always there for her.
The hubby? I had been neglecting him for a while. His existence kind of faded with a baby in the picture, though everyone says it’s important to still do things as a couple to keep the marriage alive. We had just celebrated our eighth year together, with nothing more than an exchange of gifts and kiss on the lips.
Then this happened. I was asked to try out acroyoga with Gavin (my husband) for a story. Doing yoga poses in mid-air with someone supporting you sounded fun, so I said yes. Surprisingly, my risk-averse hubby agreed without question.
Acroyoga is like couple therapy
We turned up at The Yoga Mandala, a yoga teacher training academy that also offers yoga classes to the public. Our instructor was Jessica Sinclair, co-founder of the studio. She’s one of the few in Singapore who’s certified to teach acrovinyasa, that is, acroyoga done in a flowing sequence that’s typical of vinyasa style.
Currently, acrovinyasa classes are held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at The Yoga Mandala.
“Acroyoga is essentially about taking the practice from earth to air. Besides core strength, it’s a lot about trusting and communicating with each other,” Jessica explained.
Gulp. Could I trust Gavin to support my weight? Even after being together for so long, we still encounter many instances of miscommunication that lead to arguments. Would we survive acroyoga?
Jessica led us through warm-up exercises to stretch our wrists, quads, lower back and hamstrings. Basic yoga poses like forward fold, locust and plank were included as well.
Simple stretches before doing acroyoga poses.
And then it was show time.
“It’s going to be easy, don’t worry! All my students have been able to do at least one pose in 15 minutes,” Jessica said when she saw me exchanging panicked looks with Gavin.
In acroyoga, there are three roles: base, flyer and spotter. The base lies on the ground, supporting the flyer who needs to balance. The spotter guides the base and flyer to adopt good form, and makes sure the flyer lands safely in case of a slip.
Typically, the larger-sized person takes the base position, while the lighter one is the flyer.
First pose on the list: Front bird, where the flyer is in plank pose, supported by the base’s arms and legs.
Jessica Sinclair shows how to do the front bird pose.
Jessica demonstrated by being the base, and me as the flyer. I was to clasp her outstretched hands in a firm lock. She then positioned her feet on my pelvic points, and asked me to lean towards her. Without a flinch, she moved her feet towards the ceiling, taking my weight with her. Instinctively, I engaged my abdomen, lower back and glutes to hold myself together. Pointing toes helps, as it activates the thighs and improves stability.
When it was Gavin’s turn to replicate the move, my palms started sweating. There he was, the love of my life, about to give me a lift that could make or break my life. I prayed, and sent him mental messages to give it his best shot.
Placing his feet on the right part of my body was crucial. Too high, and I would be in pain, possibly spurting out the contents of my stomach. Too low, and he would lose the pivot point, which means I would fall easily.
Supporting the right part of the body is critical for good balance.
We tried a few times before getting the hang of it. Then came the balancing part.
Arms and legs should be extended as much as possible.
As Gavin lifted me off the ground, we were a bunch of wobbly limbs. One moment I was leaning too much into his hands; another, my body was tilting backwards, threatening to slide off. Thank goodness for Jessica, who was constantly by my side to lend support.
What was going on?
Acroyoga is also a bit like sex
As I found out, communication is key. Whenever Gavin slightly pointed or flexed his toes, I felt my weight shifting drastically. And when he didn’t fully extend his arms to support mine, I felt like I was crashing onto him.
Jessica taught me to say "more toes" if I wanted him to flex his feet, and "less toes" if I wanted him to point his feet. For acroyoga to work out, we had to talk.
One of our many attempts to do the front bird pose.
Stacking, an acroyoga term that refers to the alignment of bones, is crucial to ensure good balance in acroyoga. That’s also why some yogis like Jessica are able to base men who are more than double her weight.
Once his limbs were in an optimal position, everything fell into place. I could even release my hands, in a free bird pose!
We successfully did the free bird pose!
I felt empowered to try more poses, with Jessica around of course. It’s not advisable for newbies to do acroyoga without an experienced spotter.
The next challenge: Shin-to-mountain pose.
From the front bird pose, I would have to shift weight and place my feet – one by one – on Gavin’s shins to get into a standing position. That turned out easier than expected, with me talking him through it.
Communication is necessary in acroyoga.
It sounded something like this: “I’m going to shift weight to my right first, and step with my left foot. Okay. Now for the other side.” There was no room for misunderstanding. One wrong move, and I stood a high chance of toppling, or hurting myself.
When his knees started to spread out, I found myself saying calmly: “Bring your knees closer together. Yes, that's good.”
That did the trick. Gavin quickly obliged, staying as still as possible to keep me stable.
The shin-to-mountain pose was easier than I thought.
The rest of the session went on smoothly, as we learnt to adapt to each other's bodies, understanding our muscular imbalances and moving in harmony.
In his words: "Acroyoga sounded intimidating at first, but I quickly realised it's about giving and receiving. With every move, your partner's body reacts and adapts. As the base, it's important to provide both stability and assurance to the flyer. We developed a newfound connection, both physically and mentally. Plus, a new level of interdependence and trust."
Now if one session of acroyoga could make us so appreciative and open towards each other, imagine what wonders it would do for our relationship if we practised regularly!