Go With The Flow, Honey

Forget regular date night activities. A session of acroyoga will help you and your spouse develop trust and a newfound connection.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Forget regular date night activities. A session of acroyoga will help you and your spouse develop trust and a newfound connection.

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A couple that sweats together, stays together. That’s what I think when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship.

After all, going through a tough ordeal – like exercising – together has been shown to foster stronger bonds.

It’s been hard, trying to find activities to do with my husband over the last few years. We used to do long jogs when we were dating, so as to spend more time in each other’s company.

Afterwards, we would talk about our dreams and such over a hearty meal of prawn mee or char kway teow – the two dishes I craved after a long run.

After we got married, those frequent jogs were whittled down to just once a month, or every fortnight if we were more free.

Soon, those jogs gave way to evening yoga sessions for me and night cycles for him. We found new interests, and new people to hang out with, which is a good thing. But our shared time definitely took a hit.

And then we had a kid.

Since then, my life has largely revolved around my daughter. Going for an evening run or yoga sesh just can’t override the pressing need to be with her after a long day at work. I want to catch every milestone I can, and spend as much waking time with her as possible, so that she will grow up knowing her mum is always there for her.

The hubby? I had been neglecting Gavin for a while. His existence kind of faded with a baby in the picture, though everyone says it’s important to still do things as a couple to keep the marriage alive.

We had just celebrated our eighth year together, with nothing more than an exchange of gifts and kiss on the lips.

Then this happened.

I was asked to try out acroyoga with my husband for a story. Doing yoga poses in mid-air with someone supporting you sounded fun, so I said yes.

Surprisingly, my risk-averse hubby agreed without question.
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You can count on me

We turned up at The Yoga Mandala, a yoga teacher training academy that also offers yoga classes to the public. Our instructor was Jessica Sinclair, co-founder of the studio. She’s one of the few in Singapore who’s certified to teach acrovinyasa – that is, acroyoga done in a flowing sequence that’s typical of vinyasa style.

Currently, acrovinyasa classes are held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at The Yoga Mandala.

“Acroyoga is essentially about taking the practice from earth to air. Besides core strength, it’s a lot about trusting and communicating with each other,” Jessica explained.

Gulp. Could I trust Gavin to support my weight? Even after being together for so long, we still encounter many instances of miscommunication that lead to arguments. Would we survive acroyoga?

Jessica led us through warm-up exercises to stretch our wrists, quads, lower back and hamstrings. Basic yoga poses like forward fold, locust and plank were included as well.

And then it was showtime. “It’s going to be easy, don’t worry! All my students have been able to do at least one pose in 15 minutes,” Jessica said when she saw me exchanging panicked looks with Gavin.

In acroyoga, there are three roles: base,  yer and spotter. The base lies on the ground, supporting the  yer who needs to balance. The spotter guides the base and  yer to adopt good form, and makes sure the  yer lands safely in case of a slip.

Typically, the larger-sized person takes the base position while the lighter one is the  yer.

First pose on the list: Front bird, where the  yer is in plank pose, supported by the base’s arms and legs.

Jessica demonstrated by being the base and me as the  yer. I was to clasp her outstretched hands in a firm lock. She then positioned her feet on my pelvic points, and asked me to lean towards her.

Without fiinching, she moved her feet towards the ceiling, taking my weight with her. Instinctively, I engaged my abdomen, lower back and glutes to hold myself together. Pointing toes helps, as it activates the thighs and improves stability.

When it was Gavin’s turn to replicate the move, my palms started sweating. There he was, the love of my life, about to give me a lift that could make or break my life. I prayed, and sent him mental messages to give it his best shot.

Placing his feet on the right part of my body was crucial. Too high and I would be in pain, possibly spurting out the contents of my stomach. Too low and he would lose the pivot point, which means I would fall easily.

We tried a few times before getting the hang of it. Then came the balancing part.

As Gavin lifted me off the ground, we were a bunch of wobbly limbs. One moment I was leaning too much into his hands; the next, my body was tilting backwards, threatening to slide off. Thank goodness for Jessica, who was constantly by my side to lend support.

What was going on?
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We need to talk 

As I found out, communication is key. Whenever Gavin slightly pointed or fiexed his toes, I felt my weight shifting drastically. And when he didn’t fully extend his arms to support mine, I felt like I was crashing onto him.

Jessica taught me to say “more toes” if I wanted him to fiex his feet, and “less toes” if I wanted him to point his feet. For acroyoga to work out, we had to talk.

Stacking, an acroyoga term that refers to the alignment of bones, is crucial to ensure good balance in acroyoga. That’s also why some yogis like Jessica are able to base men who are more than double her weight.

Once his limbs were in an optimal position, everything fell into place. I could even release my hands, in a free bird pose!

I felt empowered to try more poses – with Jessica around, of course. It’s not advisable for newbies to do acroyoga without an experienced spotter.

The next challenge: Shin-to-mountain pose. From the front bird pose, I would have to shift weight and place my feet – one by one – on Gavin’s shins to get into a standing position. That turned out easier than expected, with me talking him through it.

It sounded something like this: “I’m going to shift weight to my right first, and step with my left foot. Okay. Now for the other side.”

There was no room for misunderstanding. One wrong move and I stood a high chance of toppling or hurting myself.

When his knees started to spread out, I found myself saying calmly: “Bring your knees closer together. Yes, that’s good.” That did the trick. Hubby quickly obliged, staying as still as possible to keep me stable.

The rest of the session went on smoothly, as we learnt to adapt to each other’s bodies, understanding our muscular imbalances and moving in harmony.

In Gavin’s words: “Acroyoga sounded intimidating at first, but I quickly realised it’s about giving and receiving. With every move, your partner’s body reacts and adapts.

“As the base, it’s important to provide both stability and assurance to the  yer. We developed a newfound connection, both physically and mentally, plus a new level of interdependence and trust.”

Now, if one session of acroyoga could make us so appreciative and open towards each other, imagine what wonders it would do for our relationship if we practised regularly!

What to expect at your first acro class

You don’t need a yoga background to do acroyoga As long as you’re in good health and have no existing injuries, you are fit to do acroyoga. Of course, having a certain amount of core strength will help you nail the poses more easily.

You don’t have to show up with a partner No worries about being solo. There’s usually a good number of students who attend the class alone, so you’ll get to pair up with them. Your instructor will make sure everyone has a buddy, or fi nd an assistant to join in.

You won’t just be subjected to one role In your first class, you will learn how to be the base, flyer and spotter. With proper techniques in place, a lighter person can base someone heavier without difficulty.

You will be able to check at least one acroyoga pose off your list Most beginners start with the front bird (plank) pose, which Jessica says can be easily mastered in 15 minutes at The Yoga Mandala.

You’ll need to focus a lot Yoga trains the mind to be present, and so does acroyoga. In fact, you’ll need to tune in even more because every pose involves someone else. It just takes one misstep to fall or hurt yourself and your partner. Keep listening to your instructor or spotter’s cues, and pay attention to your partner’s performance.