Many people who practice the ancient art of yoga do this for its health and psychological benefits. Besides keeping muscles flexible and healthy, the practice is a means for finding inner tranquility for many. As with every exercise regimen, however, some take this activity beyond what one would see in a typical yoga class at the “Y.” Practitioners of “Acroyoga” fall into this group.
According to Wikipedia, Acroyoga is a physical practice which combines yoga and acrobatics. Practitioners feel that Acroyoga provides physical and mental health benefits. In addition to the exercise and strength building aspects of Acroyoga, the partner balancing can improve concentration and the massage elements can provide stress relief.
Wikipedia notes basic Acroyoga requires three participants. There is a “base,” which is the individual who has the most points of contact with the ground. Often this person is lying on the ground with the entire back torso in full contact. This enables both the arms and legs to be ‘bone-stacked’ for maximum stability and support of the ‘flyer.’ The main points of contact with the flyer are the feet and the hands. The final element is a ‘spotter’ who has a view of the partners and make sure the flyer lands safely.”
Needless to say, any exercise which combines the stretching of yoga with the balancing of acrobatics is more vigorous than many traditional yoga practices and this may lead to more injuries.
Meet the Father/Daughter Yoga Enthusiasts
Yoga industry sources note there are more than 30 million men and women in the world who practice yoga on a regular basis. One of these is Dr. Isador Lieberman, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute. His passion for this workout encouraged his daughter Dani Lieberman to not only actively practice yoga but to become a well-respected teacher for both yoga and Pilates.
Together, this spine specialist father and yoga instructor daughter offer unique insights into the challenges and benefits of Acroyoga. In a recent phone interview, both offered thoughts on this demanding workout.
Combining Acrobatics and Yoga – Is This Dangerous?
“As with any athletic or recreational endeavor, Acroyoga can be safe or unsafe,” Dr. Lieberman noted, “It depends on one’s skill level, on how they are coached and the training process. I think the combination of acrobatics and yoga can be very dangerous in inexperienced hands.”
“I’ve seen some injuries, where people have tried these awkward balancing positions on a chair or ball and they have fallen and injured themselves. I’ve also seen well-trained yoga practitioners do it and it’s like a ballet.”
Does Dani Lieberman practice Acroyoga?
“Not really,” she laughed. “I have ‘trust’ issues and it takes a lot of trust and relaxation to be able to depend on your ‘base.’ I don’t enjoy being off the ground.”
“With this practice, you have to have a lot of trust in your partner, whether you’re the base or the flyer,” she said. “The person who is the flyer must have complete relaxation and the base must be a strong, sturdy base. It can be difficult or easy, depending on your training, strength and calmness. For certain poses, it can be a little overwhelming at times.”
What Types of Muscles are used for Acroyoga?
“Before you even talk about muscles, conditioning or strength you have to have the flexibility and agility,” Dr. Lieberman noted. “If you’re going to bend yourself into a ‘pretzel” as a flyer you have to have that flexibility. The same goes with the base position. It is critical that you are agile enough to get into that base position. Some people can do this and some can’t.”
“As for the strength aspect, most of this involves the core, back and leg muscles,” he said. “There is not much upper-extremities muscle involvement. You really have to know what you doing. These moves can be likened to a circus act. So, you’ve got to be in good shape.”
What Back Injuries Might Result?
“A fall would be the most likely injury,” Dr. Lieberman noted. “Anyone who falls out of the flyer pose can injure their neck, their lower back, stretch the ligaments, or tear them, tear the muscles or break the bones.”
“There is also a possibility of the chronic, repetitive strain injuries,” he said. “Doing the poses with the wrong positioning, or putting the joints in an improper alignment can strain or stretch the cartilage or the ligaments.”
“As for the spine, disc herniation is a potential injury,” he said. “With the twisting or ballistic movements, one can generate a herniated disc in the neck or the lumbar spine. This can lead to other more substantial issues, particularly nerve injuries.
What to Look for in an Acroyoga Instructor?
“Finding these instructional resources is a big issue, “ Dani Lieberman said. “You could hope for the best in a class situation, but you are never guaranteed to have a good class or a teacher who has a good fluid understanding of what you should actually be doing.”
“To find a good teacher, you need to find someone who has a certification,” she said. “There are not many Acroyoga certifications. Most (instructors) are circus professionals – regular circus and Cirque du Soleil. These performers clearly have a fluid understanding of how to do these ‘tricks” and poses but even they can’t assure you of any safety. The studio will be insured, but you are never assured of safety when there are 20 people in a class.
Mental and Physical Benefits
“The mental focus is critical for this type of yoga,” Dr. Lieberman noted. “You really have to concentrate on maintaining your position and balance. Excelling at these will help with all sorts of day-to-day things.”
“This is very much like Tai Chi,” he said. “We recommend this to our elderly patients to help them prevent falls later in life. If you’re good at Acroyoga as a young person, your balance is going to be better when you get older.”
“This is also a rigorous workout,” he said. “You work hard with an Acroyoga session. People don’t realize the amount of energy you expend, keeping all of your muscles at the right tension to balance the other person and yourself. It’s a tough workout – mentally and physically.”
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