Go inside the growing world of AcroYoga

Sitting outside a gray cinder-block building with steel bars over the windows, I could hear the constant hiss of highway traffic in the distance. Once I entered Denver’s Kompound Training Center, however, the hiss was replaced with excited voices echoing off the walls, mixing with music from a small stereo.

Thirty people, paired off in twos and threes and dressed in tight, stretchy clothing, were gathered on workout mats, performing an AcroYoga “jam.”

“A jam gives people a time and a place to work in community on things they’ve been learning,” Jen Cameron, certified yoga and AcroYoga teacher and founder of Flight Club, says. Though other gyms specializing in AcroYoga continue to pop up in the metro Denver area, including Circus Collective, Cameron believes hers is the first.

Five years ago, after attending AcroYoga workshops in Boulder, Colorado, Cameron began teaching jams in the parks around Denver, hosting two a week. Back then, there were four to five attendees per week; now her biggest jams — still hosted in parks as well as the gym — draw as many as 60. Twenty to 40 people attend each of her indoor classes weekly.

“The culture draws honest, open people. We are a welcoming community,” she says.

Group AcroYoga pose during a jam at Cheesman Park, Denver.
A group AcroYoga pose during a jam at Cheesman Park, Denver. Photo: Courtesy of Jen Cameron

A few minutes earlier, during class, Cameron and her assistant, Brent Risting, instructed us in the basics of AcroYoga, which is short for “acrobatic yoga.” The activity requires three people: a base, a flyer and a spotter.

After warming up for about 15 minutes, we’d broken into groups to mimic poses presented by the instructors. One pose is the front plank, where the base, who is lying on their back with upright, extended arms and legs, supports the flyer hand to hand and face to face, with their bare feet pressing against the flyer’s pelvis.

Before we started flying, Cameron taught us the safety word “down,” meaning “stop.”

Ryane Duffey practicing an inverted pose during a jam. Photo: Chris Van Leuven

“Wow, I’m in the air! This is awesome,” my partner, Sam Namemyi, said as third member Steve Kluchin held her up and I spotted. To spot, I held my arms around Namemyi, but wasn’t actually touching her. This way, I could keep her from falling onto Kluchin.

Like me, it was Namemyi’s first class, but it was Kluchin’s 10th month of practice.

Namemyi discovered AcroYoga through Facebook group posts. For example, there are collectives in New York City; Berlin; San Diego; Austin, Texas; Oahu, Hawaii; Des Moines, Iowa; and Portland, Oregon. She also saw people performing jams in parks around Denver.

“It’s basically taken over all my free time,” Kluchin says. “I made a ton of friends; it’s a very social activity. [And] I’ve lost about 16 to 20 pounds since I started. I feel more in touch with my body and stronger and healthier.”

In addition to being social and fun, AcroYoga improves muscle tone, stretches the body and improves kinesthetic awareness.

Janet Guenther (in striped tights) practicing an AcroYoga pose.
Janet Guenther (in striped tights), practicing a pose. Photo: Chris Van Leuven

Kluchin, from Austin, has spent the past several weeks traveling around the country visiting acro communities to escape the Lone Star State’s heat. “I attended AcrOhio [AcroYoga Ohio] this past weekend and the New York AcroFest in the beginning of August,” he says.

The partnership and trust required here reminded me of climbing on ropes or bouldering with others in the gym. Even the word “spot,” used when bouldering, means the same thing as it does in AcroYoga.

During both the class and the jam (with the jam drawing a dozen more people), climbers intermixed with yogis. This included Janet Guenther, whom I recognized from the Boulder climbing scene. After moving to Denver a year ago, Guenther says, she found that AcroYoga provided the community she relates to, making city life more inviting.

“AcroYoga and climbing are symbiotic because both of them are activities where you use your body to solve problems and [learn to] trust your partner,” she shares.

Stepping back into the jam, Kluchin, acting as a base and lying in an upright L position, with Namemyi spotting, had me lean backward from a standing position to perform a backbend. It was reminiscent of the trust game I played in camp as a child.

Ryane Duffey completing an inverted pose during a jam.
Duffey completing an inverted pose during a jam. Photo: Chris Van Leuven

His feet pressed against my butt, and soon he was suspending my full weight in a back-fly pose. Bending my spine over like a rainbow, blood rushed to my cheeks as my face directed toward his. I felt his toes reposition on my hips and he asked me grab his ankles to complete the pose.

As my back stretched, I relaxed and felt the therapeutic benefits of the pose. I also recognized the trust and vulnerability between my partners and myself.

“This is awesome,” Namemyi told me as the jam came to a close. “The energy, how people are playing around and how everyone is supporting each other.” I asked if she planned to return to the class and she replied with a bright grin.

“Now more than ever, face-to-face interactions are important,” Cameron told me after class. “We’re disconnected and plugged into things instead of people.”

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