Photo by Chris Casella

Allow your body to take flight

Community, and building a better one, is something Columbus has always strived for – bringing light to new neighborhoods, new concepts to old restaurants and now an emerging fitness trend that’s looking to help create better personal relationships between active residents. Introducing acroyoga.

While it may not be entirely new to the yoga scene, acroyoga is fairly new to the capital city. It combines the athleticism of acrobatics and yoga while providing elements of Thai massage. Since it is partner-supported, it relies a lot more on communication with those around you, offering a much better connection between yourself and others as you quickly build and maintain trust in order to achieve picturesque poses.

Carrie Ingham, an instructor with Life Energy Yoga, discovered acroyoga while living in Boston. She quickly fell in love with the community it created amongst different types of athletes who came together to “play,” the common term for practicing acro.

When Ingham moved to Columbus, the practice was nowhere to be found so she started the Columbus Acro Play group, which meets regularly in Schiller Park. The workshop-style setting is open to anyone; experience level is assessed at the beginning of the class and basics are introduced. Classes allow for a lot of flexibility, so if you want to try a new pose you just saw online, an instructor will help you break down the pose and teach you bit by bit to make sure you’re able to do it without injury.

“It’s really available to all body-types and levels of experience” Ingham said. “I had a lot of guy-friends in Boston who weren’t yogis at all who got involved with acroyoga from jujitsu or just different martial arts.”

In acroyoga you have three roles – the base, flyer and spotter. The base is the individual on the ground, or bottom, who provides the stability for poses and is often on her back in acro. A flyer is off the ground in the given pose, while allowing gravity to take on some of the workload. A spotter isn’t always necessary but is helpful in difficult poses or to ensure extra safety for beginners.

Core and chest strength are essential aspects for flyers since those areas of the body are where the majority of the pressure will be during poses. Basing will improve hip, hamstring and ankle/foot strength.

“I’ve seen a lot of men improve drastically in their hamstring and their hip flexibility just from playing, and it doesn’t feel like work. You don’t feel like you’re putting effort into it, it’s just fun,” Ingham said.

Once a duo gets comfortable, inversion becomes a big part of play. Inversions can increase energy and improve circulation, core strength and balance.

“In a standard yoga class, whenever you’re doing inversions you’re combating gravity, but when you’re suspended on someone else’s legs or even in aerial yoga you have gravity working for you,” Ingham said. “You’re getting more traction and circulation to parts of the body without having to support your own body weight,” Ingham said.

After you’re able to master the basics and move to poses with inversions, you can reap the benefits of Thai massage. Once a base can successfully extend his legs to a 90-degree angle with a flyer hinging at the hip crease, the base can take their shoulders and move the flyer to stretch out the spine, much like the benefits from inversion, which gets traction in the spine and allows space between the vertebrae without compression.

“Being in nature is a huge part of it. We’re open to being in a studio, but being outside is ideal when the weather is good,” Ingham said. That’s the true spirit of acroyoga – a group of active enthusiasts, playing in the sun, becoming a community.

The best place to find out more about Columbus Acro Play is through the Facebook page, “Columbus Acro Play,” where they regularly discuss upcoming meet-ups.