Acro yoga offers a unique workout at The Movement Collective in Meriden

MERIDEN — Every Friday night, John Thorpe and his partner, Natasha Nixon, host acro-yoga classes at The Movement Collective. This form of partner yoga involves two or more people where one person poses on the hands and feet of the other person.

However, Thorpe said the lessons learned and the conversations had while in class can go beyond the four walls of the 290 Pratt St. location.

“There’s just so many important conversations that I’ve had with people in the community that relate back to things way outside acro,” he said.

How does it work?

Acro-yoga has three roles for people – base, flier and spotters. A base lies flat on their back with arms and legs straight out. The flier then climbs, sits or stands on the base’s hands and feet while one or more spotters surround them. From there, the base and flier create a fluid transition between skills and stretches, known as a “flow.”

“The base can often lead the flier by putting their limbs in different positions, becoming the platform for the flier,” Thorpe said. “But, then, the flier is really controlling the movement by changing the shape of their body. There’s a lot of weight shifting and balancing and being calibrated with your partner to feel what’s going on.”

Each week, the class learns a new flow or practices specific skills taught by Thorpe and Nixon. Thorpe demonstrates the full movement before breaking down the foundational roles that the base, flier and spotter play and how their bodies should move through the flow.

The lessons and skills practice are structured in ways that can accommodate individual skill levels. There is also some equipment, such as foam rollers, that can be used to support a base’s back or legs.

“We’re breaking it down in a way where people that have never done acro before can come in and they can just work on one of the foundational poses that’s involved with this trick,” Thorpe said. “We’re essentially showing different flows, different tricks, different skills, and then we’re breaking those things down to the most foundational level so everyone can access them.”

After the demonstration, the class breaks into random pairs or groups of three to attempt the skill while the instructors walk around to help wherever needed. The group members rotate their roles throughout the practice session so that everyone has a turn basing, flying and spotting. However, Thorpe emphasized that no one is ever forced to try a skill they don’t feel ready for.

Regular attendee and occasional substitute instructor, Gianna Razza, explained that most individuals will focus on a specific role, either base or flier. But, since the teams can rotate their roles, they better understand how each person plays part in the skill’s success or (safe) failure.

Razza learned to base and fly simultaneously when first introduced to the activity in 2017. This knowledge allows her to experience the skill from different perspectives to learn and identify what she needs to adjust to complete the skill safely and successfully.

“As someone that knows how to base, you understand how the flying works and vice versa. Now, you’re like, ‘I’ve noticed that when I’m basing, my flier does this and I don’t love that or I do like that,’” Razza said. “Then, as a flier, you can tweak yourself to what you felt as a base and it goes the other way too.”

Razza added that spotting is one of the most important roles in acro-yoga. A spotter acts as support pillar and is there to help the flier if a skill starts to fail.

Typically, a spotter will hover their hands near the flier’s arms, legs or torso, depending on the skill they are working on. Razza said spotters would ask for the base and flier’s consent before placing their hands on them to stabilize or catch them. This open communication as the skill is performed fosters trust and a sense of safety.

“Spotting is also a skill and it’s difficult and hard. It’s also really important,” Razza said. “A lot of people don’t realize how important spotting is because [the spotter] is responsible for making sure the skill succeeds or fails. And if it fails, it fails safely.

Who can do acro?

Thorpe said anyone could pull off these skills regardless of strength, flexibility or size. Acro focuses on strengthening the muscles needed to execute a skill rather than overall strength, “you’d be surprised everyone can really do a lot of different things that they never thought they would be able to do.”

For example, Andrew Gonsalve said he was easily picked up by his former instructor, Sasha Krushnic, at his first acro-yoga class. Before he knew it, Gonsalve was hanging upside down, propped up by Krushnic’s feet.

“I was just laughing my head off and it was so much fun,” he said. “It was like good medicine for my soul and it made me feel a lot better.”

Gonsalve takes any opportunity to fly that is thrown at him, even if it’s scary.

Due to his size, Gonsalve primarily bases and loves being able to help their partner complete a skill they’ve been working on for a long time. His favorite is hand-to-hand, where Gonsalve’s partner does a handstand on his hands.

“What I love about [acro] so much is that it takes you out of your head and puts you right into your body,” Gonsalves said. “All you’re doing is feeling, being present in the moment, focusing on the safety of yourself and the other person and trying to accomplish the skill safely.”

Consent and connection

Since acro is a touchy sport, Razza said consent is an ongoing conversation in and out of class. She explained communicating how a person feels during the skill is crucial to the safety of all participants because it ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Razza said questions such as – “is it OK if we work on this pose? Are you OK with my hands on your hips?” – creates a safe environment for everyone.

Respecting your partner’s boundaries and comfort levels is also important in establishing trust between the acro community members. The conversation on consent and boundaries is one of the many reasons the Connecticut acro community is so tight-knit, Razza said.

“You grow so close with these people and you do so much with them,” she said. “You reach boundaries, that and you start doing skills, and you start doing things that you never really thought was possible.”

Razza added that Thorpe’s gym has been essential in building up the acro community and is seeing more and more new faces every week.

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