If your limbs long for Baldwin Beach just before sunset, you may glimpse a secondary wonder on your way to the sand.
Before the sun clocks out on Wednesdays, a group of acrobatic yogis frolic with gravity, forming mid-air poses in the grass while palm tree shadows lengthen over them. Amidst the cluster of humans, Chris Taylor, an AcroYoga instructor, leads beginners through basic poses.
“From the outside, it can look intimidating,” he says. “People think you need to be super flexible or have a partner already. However, once people jump in and are proactive about getting involved, they find all are welcome.”
Participants bend into effortless companion poses, incorporating body geometry straight from a circus. It’s somewhat nerve-wracking, imagining moving my body like a washing machine with a stranger, but I’m drawn in.
The poses consist of (at least) two participants, the base and the flyer.
“The base is there for support, guidance, and strength. They are your safety net and keep you up,” says Molly Aronson, a yoga instructor and AcroYoga attendee. “The base stays rooted on the ground and acts as the mover for the flyer, working with the two’s center of gravity to create a solid foundation for each pose.” They refer to this rooting as bone-stacking, an action which aligns the skeleton for support rather than merely depending on muscles. The most common stack is an L-shape, with torso flat and legs straight up at 90 degrees.
Where the base partner gives by bearing their partner’s weight, the flyer receives, getting lifted.
“The flyer remains engaged and attentive to their base while balancing on the other’s feet or hands,” says Aronson. The flyer works with their base’s movable foundation, learning specific wrist clasps and body tilting which assist the base in creating shapes.
Then there’s the job of the spotter, the outside influence on the movers who keeps both the base and the flyer safe. They guide, align, and sometimes catch movers when needed. Usually, spotters come in when new poses are attempted or advanced moves get introduced.
Looking around, two advanced partners move through an acrobatic sequence nothing short of magic. At one point, the flyer lands in a handstand using their base partner’s grip rather than the ground. They land it with grace and crack a smile and hug thereafter. To the left of them, another base massages their flyer’s relaxed shoulders through therapeutics. An air of deep breath envelopes them as the flyer on top melts into the base’s foundation and healing touch. Both partners problem-solve with physics in a perfect exchange of give-and-take.
“AcroYoga is a growing social group of like-minded friends who like to solve physical puzzles,” Taylor says. “I started to convince friends to get involved and created a little group to practice with. That’s what you’ll find at the jams.”
The poses fuse yoga, acrobatics, and therapeutics with the added perk of partnership. AcroYogis communicate their intentions and comfort zones then use that information for a foundation. Each participant definitely checks in before advancing forward, stoked to try a new flow together.
“The acro buzz is the ultimate high! Between the endorphins, adrenaline, and general silliness that takes place at acro jams, there aren’t many other activities that give me the same sense of euphoria,” says Caitlin Downie, an AcroYoga enthusiast.
AcroYogis practice flows while onlookers gawk at inspiring limb arrangements, some which seem daunting to attempt, but the instructors assure me that they’re all accessible, so long as both partners have proper alignment.
“Expect to move out of your comfort zone,” says Aronson, “because that’s where you best strengthen your communication skills, balance, and trust. ”
Take plank pose, but add flying like an airplane, or perhaps stacking, using the base person’s body instead of the ground for a zig-zagged plank tower. Aronson compares AcroYoga to the circus, saying the sequences create theatrical shapes, ones that captivate creativity with the body.
“It reminds me of acrobats I’d see in Cirque du Soleil,” she says. “AcroYoga actively empowers that child-like wonder of flying while also incorporating healing and playfulness… It’s a circus of friends all looking out for each other’s well-being.”
AcroYoga movements span from passive to powerfully playful. Most participants initiate their personal favorite poses or curious requests which add ingredients to the movement stew, ever introducing diversity.
“AcroYoga can be very therapeutic, with the flyer being more passive. The base can manipulate the body by stretching, twisting, and massaging. It can alternatively be very dynamic, where the flyer is engaged: Body is strong to create resistance and balance between the base and flyer,” says Melissa Rajesh, the president of Maui Acro Yoga and Circus Play.
Many AcroYogis play all the roles – whether as a spotter, base, or flyer, depending on their partners. They determine their choice between base or flyer according to each other’s size and strength. The stronger, larger partner gets the base role, then the lighter gets flyer, and the guide plays spotter.
All roles test the other’s balancing skills and strength, yes, but above all else, they exercise the ability to trust. Partners rely on assured attentiveness to stay safe in flows, Aronson explains.
Taylor says the recreational community runs on this trust, communication, and safe connection.
“By learning how to communicate our needs and boundaries with others in a supportive community, we can access those skills in the world. There is a physical exercise component as well as safe, platonic touch which is proven to improve mental states and health.”
As Taylor speaks, across the grass I overhear a lady investigating an old injury with her AcroYoga partner, providing a perfect example of communicating her needs. She narrates modifications for each upcoming pose, aiming to avoid discomfort. “Safety is huge,” Taylor adds.
Injuries or other factors (such as pregnancy or low blood pressure) should be vocalized before beginning. That way, instructors can recommend safe poses or modifications to maximize the effectiveness of your practice. AcroYoga jammers welcome all, but also notes the need for body awareness for success.
“It’s common for a beginner to go to a jam, work with an experienced base or flyer, then go home feeling successful only to wake up injured. It’s best to start slow, work on your individual strength and flexibility on a regular basis, then show up to acro workshops and jams to learn. And always have a spotter!”
To really get the most out of AcroYoga, Taylor also recommends attending a workshop for familiarity before participating in a free-flow jam.
“New comers should expect to feel wiggly and wobbly at first, but the more they practice, the easier it will become.”
While the greater community of acro is founded on principles of accurate self assessment, Taylor adds that there’s potential for injury within any physical movement practice. Because of this inherent risk in acrobatics and circus art, it’s essential to take beginner classes for foundations. AcroYogis should always warm up with easy movements and progress to more advanced movements slowly. Downie agrees.
“Don’t just try anything you find on YouTube without working progressions and definitely use spotters.”
According to Taylor, these initial workshops help solidify the basics of Acro along with its principles of muscle tightness, bone-stacking, and communication of partner needs.
“If you want to get a good foundational understanding and feel proficient to navigate a jam, that’s where to start.”
Aronson says the AcroYoga workshops helped amplify her routine yoga practice.
“The challenge of adding another person opens an encyclopedia of new asanas [poses]. Each asks your body for something that maybe you’ve never worked with before, by yourself. There are several small stabilizer muscles that are getting tuned and calibrated for the first time in AcroYoga,” Aronson says. “It can be a lot on the body, especially if proper alignment isn’t introduced first.”
Taylor shares his first experience with AcroYoga, when a friend picked him up into a pose called folded leaf about six years ago.
“I had a sensation of weightlessness and it was a transformational experience,” he says.
He felt a connection to his body along with trust in others which he’d not witnessed before his trial-and-error with AcroYoga. He says newcomers can skip a lot of the error aspect if they seek a practicing community to share the ropes at the forefront.
“When I was younger, I had a lot of self-confidence issues and body-shame causing me to be disconnected from, and distrustful of, my own body. This first moment of AcroYoga became a catalyst to allow me to view myself differently.”
Following his story, he tells me about the start of AcroYoga itself. The community was introduced around 1999 and more formally in 2003 when Acroyoga Montreal was founded by Eugene Poku and Jessie Goldberg, he says. He took his first class with Melissa Rajesh and Doug Meehan, two founders of the Maui AcroYoga scene.
Rajesh, his teacher, grew interested in AcroYoga back in 2013, but couldn’t find a community outlet for learning on Maui. Hence, she and her kin took to the web and experimented their way through poses until finding confidence in their movements. They found more people learning on the north shore and quickly made steadfast playmates. Chris met the group from there and blasted into community engagement.
Since, the momentum picked up, and these days the community hosts regular workshops with the many certified AcroYoga teachers residing on island. They host jams every week in Pa‘ia, Kihei, and the Upcountry Farmers Market.
For body-aware folks ready to attempt AcroYoga at a jam, Taylor recommends coming with a mat and a pre-digested belly. He says using proper padding is key, as is choosing an area free of pesky hard objects which might create discomfort for the base.
To get the most out of the jam sessions, be mindful and flow into some warm-up poses and then introduce yourself!
“The Maui AcroYoga community has the best weirdos you’ve ever met. Everyone feels so completely free to be themselves and is always encouraging to newcomers,” says Downie.
To that, Taylor warns, “You may start to dedicate more and more time to this hobby – it’s a bit habit forming. We now have four times a week that we get together and practice on Maui.”
Pick out your favorite yoga pants and join in on a weekly jam.
“Look for others sitting around and see if they’d like to play. I recommend finding something simple to work on first to calibrate with the other person. Get a little practice pod started,” Taylor concludes, welcoming me to begin.
Maui Acro: AcroYoga on Maui
Wednesday, 7:30-9:30pm at 808 Gymnastics, Kahului. $18
Friday, 4:30pm-Sunset at Waipuilani Park, Kihei
Saturday, 9:30-11am at Upcountry Farmers Market
Cover design by Albert Cortez. Photography by Florencia Bertolini, featuring Chris Taylor as base and Luz Vazquez as flyer