What is the difference between Acroyoga & Acrobatics?

We often get asked, “What is the difference between ‘Acroyoga’ and ‘Acrobatics?'” This is a question that comes up a lot within the acroyoga community, as well as from newbies and interested observers. And it is something practitioners could do well to reflect more on ourselves, because there may not be one easy answer.

Acroyoga is a young and developing movement form. Its earliest pioneers started defining and refining it around 40 years ago, and while the roots of acroyoga run deep, the form as distinguishable from other forms, is still discovering itself. TrainMovePlay entered into this ongoing conversation about four years ago, and here’s some of our thoughts…

Some distinctions we’ve heard others make

  • Physical Height: We have heard other practitioners and teachers define Acroyoga as poses and transitions that happen with a base who is lying down (this is called “L-basing”) while they consider standing poses and transitions (termed, “I-basing”) to be Acrobatics. (See our blog post on “Jargon in Acroyoga” for more details on commonly used terminology.)
  • Level of Difficulty: We’ve heard others draw lines determined by the level of difficulty, with easier poses considered Acroyoga and more difficult ones labeled Acrobatics. This distinction seems to contain an underlying assumption that Acrobatics is inherently more challenging than any form of yoga.
  • Yoga Asana Correlation: We have also heard it explained that if there is a correlative pose in yoga asana, than it is Acroyoga, but if it has no yoga counter-part it is Acrobatics. For example Tripod Headstand in yoga asana may correlate to Star in Acroyoga.
  • Performance Goal: Lastly, a fairly popular distinction seems to be based around the performance goal of the practitioner: One who practices for oneself, for his or her own growth and physical and mental fitness, is practicing Acroyoga. While someone who trains for performance in a circus, cheer, gymnastics, dance, or variety setting is practicing Acrobatics.

These distinctions are all opinions we have come across in various acroyoga and acrobatic communities and have influenced our thinking and our approach. We would add one key point that we believe makes a difference in our own practice and in our teaching.

Intention is everything.

For us, its not the pose nor the level, the experience of the practitioner, the venue nor the community, but the mindset that defines Acroyoga. Our teachers, Jessie Goldberg and Eugene Poku of Acroyoga Montreal, who began combining dance, yoga, and acro into a novel form in the 1980’s, describe it this way on their website, www.acroyoga.com:

“Acroyoga is acrobatics with a yogic consciousness. The essence of acroyoga is being in the moment in balance with another.”

We believe that the distinction between Acroyoga and Acrobatics is not something you can see from the outside, but something intrinsic to the approach and internal to the practitioners. Another thought from Jessie and Eugene:

“It is called acroyoga because yoga is ½ of the equation. Yoga can help us when the ego starts to take over and we start obsessing about our future greatness and prowess and lose sight of the moment or why we are doing acroyoga.”

With this in mind, we can imagine that one can be training high level, high difficulty poses that have no clear yoga asana correlative, and training for a performance, but still practicing Acroyoga because the intention revolves not around the goal but around the process and the focus remains on connectivity to a partner, to the breath, and to the present moment. There is a balance in communication between partners and they attempt to meet both physically and energetically in a space where they are giving and receiving in equal measure. We can also imagine a scenario where the pose is very close to the ground, something that most beginners learn, and has a clear yoga asana counter-part. And yet if the intention revolves around the obsession of “getting the trick,” and boosting the ego, this person is not, in our view, practicing Acroyoga. He or she may blame, criticise or abandon a pose or a partner when things aren’t working smoothly in favor of an easier working environment, a more aesthetic routine, or quicker results. He or she may get fixated on mastering one element rather than exploring a greater range of movement opportunities.

This is NOT to say that one movement form or intention is better than the other. Many incredible and inspiring performances come from the Acrobatics world and, of course, we would not have the young Acroyoga field without the long and exciting history of Acrobatics to draw from. However, we do see a distinction in the mental and energetic approach.

How do I know if I’m practicing Acroyoga or Acrobatics?

Because we consider the distinction internal to the practitioner, it is not always clear whether you are signing up for a weekend training in Acroyoga or Acrobatics. And, of course, even though everyone around you is practicing one form, you could be engaged in the other. But we find that there are some common characteristics for communities of each form. For example, if the community encourages training with one partner and in one role, usually small women flying and large men basing, we tend to sense a more acrobatic focus. Results generally come faster when you work with a steady partner and gravity and raw strength are generally more on your side if the base is larger than the flyer. There tends to be an attitude of “everyone has a specific job to do,” and those specifics are the same no matter who your partner is. If the community encourages multiple partners and training in multiple roles, we sense a more acroyoga focus because part of the yogic mindfulness includes connecting to other people from a variety of perspectives. There also tends to be a general attitude of inclusion. If the community encourages a drilling, “train it ’til you make it” approach, we feel a more acrobatic vibe, because the pose/stunt/trick becomes the central goal. If the community encourages a feeling that the process of exploring your own capacities and expanding your movement patterns are more important than the finished product, we sense a more acroyoga vibe. Again, we try not to impose hard lines on other individuals or groups, but rather assume that any given movement pattern can be trained in any environment with or without the yogic component.

Further considerations

  • Can one practice Acroyoga in a Acrobatics workshop, or vice verse?
  • Can one partner be practicing Acroyoga while the other is practicing Acrobatics?
  • Can the performers be engaged in Acroyoga while the audience watches Acrobatics?
  • Can one be practicing both at the same time?

These are interesting questions and we would love to hear your opinions! How do YOU distinguish Acroyoga from Acrobatics? What do you call the form that YOU practice and why?

Comment below or contact us at TrainMovePlay.com to share your thoughts.

We have purposely limited this conversation to these two forms. In a future blog post, we’ll attempt to distinguish Acroyoga and Acrobatics from other forms like Acrodance, Partner Yoga, and Contact Yoga.

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