Acroyoga Enthusiasts Find Health and Wellness in Letting Go
By Lauren DeFilippo
Photography By Denise Cathey
Emma Ransome smiled nervously. Her partner counted to three.
Then she was flying.
Through an activity known as acroyoga, Ransome, 25, balanced in a plank position on her partner’s feet, his legs stacked beneath her hips with her weight applied evenly. Her hands, once gripped with her partner’s, peeled away to her sides and she lifted her chin.
“I innately have to trust this person in order to survive,” Ransome said.
Austinites such as Ransome get a taste of what it feels like to fly through acroyoga, an emerging discipline involving acrobatics enhanced with techniques from yoga, gymnastics, dance, cheerleading and even healing arts such as Thai massage. It can’t be traced to one creator – the practice of stacking and balancing people is an old art – but it has been innovated by different people around the world.
On a recent Friday evening in Austin, a batch of newcomers anxiously awaited a beginning acroyoga class. A few experienced students practiced tricks with the help of two partners: a “base” who lifts the flyer and a “spotter” to ensure the flyer is safe.
Austin Acro Advocates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the practice of partner acrobatics, was founded in January 2017. The group offers classes on Friday nights and hosts activities throughout the week at Zilker Park, Barton Springs, the Capitol and yoga studios around Austin.
Scott White, founder of Austin Acro Advocates, leads a weekly class at Fit & Fearless Gym. Calling the group of 30-plus people into a circle, he began the lesson with introductions.
That’s when Ransome stepped forward. She moved recently to Austin to go to school for massage therapy. She’s noticed that many in the massage therapy community are interested in acroyoga because it is an art form based on physical touch.
acroyoga started getting popular in Austin just over a decade ago. Katrina Repman owns Empowered Acro, an acroyoga school serving the Austin area. She says the “acrosphere” reflects the welcoming community that Austin has to offer and believes the art has the opportunity to thrive here.
“Our Austin Acro jams have tripled in size over the past eight years,” Repman wrote in an email interview. “And with the founding of the Austin Acro Advocates in 2017, we now have the proper organization in place to sustain future growth.”
This growth has made the acroyoga community in Austin one of the world’s largest, she said.
“This should come as no surprise, since Austin is a hub for both fitness and socialization,” Repman wrote. “Still, acro often feels like one of Austin’s best-kept secrets, and the majority of locals have no idea what it is.”
On that Friday, the class separated into groups of three and started with a beginner pose, the bird. As one would in a flying plank pose in conventional yoga, the flyer must engage the core to help the base person lift the flyer off the ground.
Ransome volunteered to be the flyer. Her eyes focused on her supine partner as he planted his feet on her waist. She reached out her hands and took his. Her body tightened and a look of determination filled her eyes.
They rocked three times, and he hoisted her into the air. She locked eyes with her partner, and then, with a smile, she looked straight ahead and brought her arms to her sides.
Ransome said the activity forced her to place all of her faith, and her weight, in her partner.
“Flying like that for the first time was one of the best feelings in my life,” Ransome said. “I was in euphoria.”
Acroyoga emphasizes this kind of connection forged through physical touch.
“Our entire community is based on physical trust,” said Repman, the owner of Empowered Acro. “Establishing physical trust as the foundation of our relationships allows us to feel more connected to one another and creates a strong sense of ‘belonging’ for practitioners in the community.”
White, the class’s teacher, was seeking solace himself when he found this community. Navigating a difficult divorce, he was left unsure who he was outside of his marriage. He stumbled across acroyoga, which helped soothe his soul.
“We help people get back into the habit of interacting body-to-body, the way we were when we were kids,” White said. “We grow out of that and it leaves a lot of us with a big vacuum in our lives.”
When it was time to end class, White called everyone into another spacious studio. The class members joined a larger circle of at least 100 people there for a Friday night “jam.” A few wore shirts that read “We Lift Each Other Up.”
These people are invested in helping each other, White said, and he has seen more and more people be helped by acroyoga.
“We keep each other safe,” White said. “We help each other heal.”