Acro Safety Guidelines
How to Cultivate a Safe AcroYoga Practice
Acroyoga is a pinch of yoga, with a partner for spice. A dash of acrobatics, and a sprinkle of bone stacking. Mixed in a binding agent of compassionate communication and trust. Put all this together with accurate self assessment and you have a great recipe for a safe Acroyoga practice. Safety is key in any high risk activity that consists of one or more individuals, and yes, this includes Acroyoga. I believe we can minimize risk and maximize safety by listening to our bodies and following a few simple guidelines.
- Equal 3 Part System
- Accurate Self Assessment
- Conscious Warm-ups
- Compassionate Communication
- Calibration and Progression
I’m going to explain what each of these points mean to me and how they contribute to Acroyoga safety. I have come to these conclusions through my own Acroyoga practice and by learning from the acro community. Safety is a fundamental element of a healthy Acroyoga practice! I would like to encourage as many people as possible to be safe.
Equal 3 Part System
I like to view the Acroyoga practice as a 3 part system. Made up of a Base, a Flyer, and a Spotter. All 3 parts equal in value, and necessary to beginners and practitioners progressing forward, by challenging their edge of comfort. The Base/Flyer relationship is often the focus when training Acroyoga. However, it’s an “active Spotter” that’s helping to create a safe environment. It’s in this safe environment the Base and Flyer can cultivate trust. Working together as a unit, the Base/Flyer/Spotter combo provides endless opportunities for creativity and expression.
What’s an “active Spotter” you might be wondering – let me explain. When I say “active Spotter” I mean a Spotter who knows how to spot what’s happening. They communicate with the Base and Flyer the necessary details to safely spot the transitions unfolding. It’s a Spotter who is in close, arms up and ready, involved with the mechanics of the pose. An “active Spotter” is prepared if a Flyer is falling, there to catch and soften the landing, because they care about safety. An “active Spotter” is so important, their willingness to fully participate can be the difference between the Base and Flyer trying something new safely, or not! Viewing the Acroyoga practice as an equal 3 part system, helps ensure safety by encouraging all parties to be present.
Accurate Self Assessment
It’s important to be honest with yourself and make accurate self assessments. Some things to consider when entering an acro practice is “How am I feeling?” “Am I tired?” Check in with yourself before and during your practice. It’s respectful to your body as well as to the others practicing with you. When your muscles fatigue, your response time slows and your ability to make rational decisions is challenged. It’s okay to take a break or say “No, I’m not feeling it today.”
I recommend that when you choose a Spotter, they be bigger in size than the Flyer. In most cases it’s a good idea for the Base and Flyer to be same size or the Flyer be smaller than the Base. There are some poses that work when the Base is Smaller than the Flyer, some counter balances for example. In short, be size appropriate for a safe and healthy Acroyoga practice. It’s not worth risking injury trying to Base someone who is 50 pounds heavier than you in something you are still learning. Build and refine technique with smaller or same size Flyers, to have a solid foundation. With a solid foundation you can start to approach the seemingly impossible, where size difference is not as much of a challenge.
Conscious Warm Ups
It’s easy to get excited and rush into an acro practice without stretching or warming up. Unfortunately that’s exactly how injuries like strained muscles and torn ligaments can occur. We all want to stay safe, so let’s get warm with some solo or partner exercises before we play. Squats, partner push-ups, hallow body rocks, flashlights, v-ups, and cartwheels are just a few of the warm-ups you can do to wake up your muscles and get your blood flowing. Roll out your joints and do some basic stretching to get your lymphatic fluids moving. Listen to your body – What does it need?
There’s nothing wrong with busting out a couple of Asanas before your acro practice. This could highlight areas in your body that need attention, and gear you towards specific warm-ups to target those areas. Treat your body to a conscious warm-up, listen to the areas asking for attention and breath into those areas to release tension. A good warm-up can reduce your chance of injury by increasing your range of motion, your flexibility and strength, as well as your alertness. Thus allowing you to be present and in the moment.
Communicating is a major role in maintaining safety during an Acroyoga session. Having compassion in your communication skills help allow all parties to get their needs met and feel comfortable participating. Clarify to your acro partner and Spotter the pose you are doing as well as the exit strategy to create a “connection of understanding”. Many injuries occur simply because there is confusion about the exit strategy. In some cases Flyers and Bases get hurt, because the Spotter is unclear on how to spot something. Let’s learn from the community and each other, to take the time to express ourselves with clear compassionate communication.
We want all parties knowing what’s going on, and if you find yourself unclear – ask questions. If you find yourself already in a pose or transition and feel unsafe or unclear, say “Down”. This is a direct way to communicate the need to stop and reset. It is important that all parties respect the request “Down”, because it builds on the “connection of understanding” and stimulates trust. Trust is a serious gift, and honoring that gift keeps you involved and helps create a safe connected acro practice.
Calibration and Progression
Diving into a standing hand-to-hand or L-basing a foot-to-foot with someone you just met, is scary and dangerous. Try saying “Hello” first by L-basing bird or shoulder-stand. You want to get to know your acro partner, see how they feel in simple poses. See how you connect and flow there, calibrating timing and communication, to build trust. Establish a strong foundation to work towards whatever your edge is.
Calibrating in acro is like shaking someones hand and having a conversation, before you go dancing. You get a feel for the person, a sense of where they are in that moment. Even if it’s someone you have worked with in the past, everyone is capable of having an “off” day. It’s great to check in….. say “Hello”.
As you move forward in your practice, remember it’s not the final pose, but the journey to get there that is important. Learning and training progressions along the way is vital. It helps break down poses and transitions, creating stepping-stones for success as you train towards your final goal. For example, a great way to train for standing hand-to-hand is for the Flyer to handstand on the Bases ankles. Learn and incorporate intelligent Progressions into your acro practice, to help create a safe acro experience.
I know several people who have suffered from injuries during their acro practice in the last couple years. These injuries and many others have stirred the topic of Safety lately. To be honest I’m glad the subject of safety is coming up, because it’s an important topic. Injuries can occur in any level of Acroyoga, but if we work together and incorporate these Safety Guidelines into our individual practice, we can help minimize risks as a community.
My intention in writing this blog is to offer some ideas on what you can do to have a safe Acroyoga practice. I want to see everyone advance in their abilities safely, and continue to grow together. To spread the awareness of safety, leading by example, one Base ,Flyer, and Spotter at a time. I want to thank all the teachers and practitioners who hold safety as an intimate part of their practice. Thank you for helping to teach and remind me how important safety is.