Last week, I attended the 2017 Acro Yoga festival called Divine Play -the largest gathering of Acro-Yogis in the world. The festival -taking place in the Oregon Convention Center within the heart of Portland, Oregon- boasted several hundred attendees and featured Acro-Yoga’s biggest names including the founder Jason Nemer.
I am relatively new to the practice of Acro-Yoga having just started March 2017 in Santa Barbara, California. Skill-wise, I was the least experienced person from Santa Barbara that attended. Therefore, I felt truly blessed to be able to work under the best Acro-Yogis in the world so soon into my practice.
Acro Yoga is a combination of three arts: the physicality of acrobatics, the wisdom of yoga, and sensuality of Thai-massage. Performed with one or more partners, Acro-Yoga is an art that cultivates the values of trust, self-growth, community, and balance.
Prior to starting the festival, I was given a small ribbon to tie to a wooden structure. I was to set an intention for the ribbon. They told me that that ribbon represented my intention for the festival. I took a gold ribbon and breathed my intention into it: Letting Go. I didn’t tie it to the structure. I tied it to my leg. Then I lost it. But as the weekend progressed, I did manage to do a lot letting go.
Day One. Friday October 6th, 2017
Friday was my first day at the weeklong Divine Play festival. The Friday event was organized into several day-long workshops. I chose a Thai-massage workshop. The ZenThai Shiatsu Style Massage Workshop under Matt Worley and Stephanie Glasenap.
During this session, we picked a partner from the class and took turns giving hour long massages to each other following Matt and Stephanie’s lead.
Thai massage is all about intention. Feeling and breathing yourself into your partner. Appreciating his or her presence. It is a meditative and sensual experience for both the giver and the receiver.
Matt told me that, “If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.”
After giving and receiving four hours worth of massages, I began to understand what he meant. The most important technique Matt and Stephanie emphasized was the first initial touch you place on your partner. The touch when you ground your hands and weight into the calves of your partner -feeling and adjusting your pressure by reading the expression of your receiver. It is a touch that requires a state of complete presence.
A state of complete presence is a complete awareness. When my mind and my body is completely immersed within the present moment, that is when I am most powerful.
In this state of mindfulness, I feel neither the anxieties for the future nor the depression and nostalgias from the past. The chatter of my mind is silent and the noise of my ego is tuned off. I am one with the present. I feel as one with everything around me. It was a powerful and deep experience to share this with another another human being.
But…unfortunately, I forgot to bring warm clothes to the massage. Oregon is colder than California and because you are in a state of semi-consciousness during a massage and your body temperature drops, I got really really sick over the weekend. I’m still sick a week later as I am writing this.
So, note to reader: If you ever participate in a massage class or a sound bath, bring a sweater.
Day Two: October 7th, 2017
Day two was broken up into several workshops followed by an acrobatic-improv performance at the end.
I went after the workshops that taught the basics: handstands, grips, wrist injury prevention, and transitions into handstands.
I started off strong with Jason Nemer’s -the founder of Acro-Yoga’s- handstand workshop. You know that scene from Star Wars Episode II where Yoda is teaching all the Jedi younglings? That’s what the class felt like. The grand master teaching the most fundamental of skills to the beginners.
Like the top performers of any field, Nemer stressed practicing the basics over and over and over again. Nemer told us that his music teacher who is a master at his respective craft would tell him that his favorite thing to practice was scales. It seems that when an individual reaches a master level at any particular skill, the basics does not get more boring but rather the opposite happens, it becomes that much more exciting.
I suppose this goes back and ties in to Matt Worley’s philosophy, “If you touch one thing with full awareness, you touch everything.”
True to the Acro Yoga community values of support, spotting and feedback from spotters was highly emphasized above specific technique. Spotters were required to say the words “Te tango mami/papi” ( “I got you” in Spanish) to the hand stander they were spotting. Naturally over the course of the 1.5 hour long workshop, people started to forget.
Jason Nemer was visibly pleased with those that remembered. I believe that there is a deeper meaning to Jason placing such a high emphasis on spotting over individual prowess.
It takes a community to build an Acro-Yogi. It takes trust and connection to build a community. Within a practice that has such an appeal for sensuality, an Acro-Yoga community cannot afford a toxic culture set by bad egos with bad intentions. Trust and support needs to be ingrained within the community down to the smallest detail from the very beginning.
Some other cool pieces of wisdom Nemer imparted on us.
“There is no balance without alignment. Work on alignment first, then find your balance.”
“It takes time.”
“Be positive. Be evolutionary.”
Next, I took a Liz Williams seminar learning about how to protect my wrists from injuries. I felt that potential wrist injuries are the biggest threat to my Acro-Yoga practice. To protect the wrist, you strengthen the muscles above the wrist.
I began that afternoon by working on basic transitions with teachers Davide De Censo and Susan Holland. Neat beginner level stuff I needed to refine. Those two were great energetic teachers with a lot of passion. I managed to learn how to jump into star from standing for the first time.
I ended the day with another Jason Nemer class. Following my seminar about wrist protection, I felt the natural progression would be to take a class that taught me how to strengthen my grip. True to Jason’s nature, he taught the basics. The stuff that does not go on Instagram, he said. Unfortunately, the class turned out to be a little too difficult for my skill level.
The grip basics class was geared towards intermediate and advanced yogis who needed better grips to pull off advanced moves. I walked away with great knowledge about grips but managed to pull off this bad boy.
Day Three: Sunday. October 8, 2017
Feeling confident from excelling at the basics the day before and hoping for a good workout, I went confidently into an intermediate. Burn! The technique was too much for me to handle. Teacher Nosa Edebor was an amazing however. When I approached and apologetically told him that his class too hard for me, he gave me special attention and stayed with me and made sure I got it.
Nosa Edebor is definitely a man that embodies the spirit and the values of Acro-Yoga culture. I hope to work with him more in the future as my skills progress.
My cold really started to settle in that noon. So I decided to take it easy after lunch and just chill with my friend Channing. Channing is also from Santa Barbara. Channing is cool as a cucumber. We’re both sort of rebel-ish in the Santa Barbara Acro community. So we went and slacked off together with some of the friends we made from other cities.
Then I took a butt massage seminar. I am serious. I took a workshop called Grab My Ass with Jason Caruso and Tamara Vodovoz where we learned how to give a mean butt massage while performing Acro-Yoga. It was amazing. My butt felt amazing. It was a very therapeutic and every bit as sensual and Zen-like as the Thai Massage seminar I did on Day One.
I walked away from Portland having gained a lot of new insight and wisdom from the practice of Acro-Yoga. I made friends from all over the country and met thoroughly enjoyed returning to Oregon, a place I last saw in 1999. Acro-Yoga had not even been invented yet in 1999. Life can really be interesting if you let it be.
Some advice for future AcroYoga Fest attendees in Portland.
- Bring an Umbrella. It can be sunny as California in the morning and raining by afternoon.
- FOOD TRUCKS. FOOD TRUCKS. FOOD TRUCKS.
- Bring warm clothes if you plan on doing any sort of therapeutics or massage class. Bring stuff that you would wear if you were running in cold weather.
- Need a cheap place to stay? Hosteling Northwest Portland Hostel is simply amazing in every facet. Cheap. Clean. Cool people. Kitchen. Hang out areas. Everything you could want from a hostel. I feel I would stay there even if I became rich next year just because you meet so many cool people there. There is a straight metro that leads to the festival center. I found people to hitch a ride with who where there.
- Learn how to use the Metro. You’ll save a lot of money on Uber. Portland is a very safe and the city is very organized. I suck with directions and maps and even I had easy time figuring out how to get around.
See you next year!