Acroyoga: The Art of Interdependence
I’ve always thought that the mat taught me lessons to take into the world; kind of like growing up in the church. All the standing up and sitting down, old-timey language, and surroundings of people in their “Sunday’s best” (be that behavior or attire) was supposed to be the framework by which to live my life. Anyone who has grown up and taken stock of their faith can attest to bringing insight gained in the secular world back into their understanding of the weekly sermon. They can not remain mutually exclusive. Yoga has come full circle for me in the same way the past year with my discovery of acroyoga.
Strength and independence have been the backbone to my identity since the first day I walked into kindergarden and was confused by my peers’ tears and pleading with their mothers not to leave them alone. The same thing happened at 17 when I left my mother for good. I felt a certain pity listening to my friends lie to their mother’s as to why it was my name was coming up on the caller ID. “Mindy has her own line.” I did in fact have a separate telephone line from my mother- at a separate address in a separate county. Ten years after leaving my mother’s home, I leave my mother land and immerse myself in life as an expat in Korea.
“You’re too strong.” This was hurled at me in the midst of an argument by my Korean boyfriend. This outburst of frustration was borne out of many months trying to figure out how to gain space in my life. This spoke to the nuance of bridging a wide cultural gap between gender roles in Korean and American society. He doesn’t remember this fight. I, on the other hand, haven’t been the same ever since. His temporary frustration brought into question the very core of my identity built over many years and countless struggles- some my own fault, some put upon me. My norms were set against a contrasting cultural backdrop, and all of these things that unknowingly defined me began to reveal themselves. “Strong, independent woman” is a sort of mantra I had subconsciously absorbed growing up in the States. When did I become so obsessed with being independent? More accurately, when did needing someone become akin to social leprosy?
My reaction to this comment were two-fold: 1. I saw him as weak. If I was strong, by his own admission no less, logical deduction leaves him as weak. 2. I had to carry us. He used the word “strong,” a positive word; an empowered word. Had this fight happened between two Americans, “strong” (good) would have morphed into “dominant-controlling-bitch” (bad). Therefore, the problem must lay with him. Strong as I was, I now had the added burden to carry what had now been revealed to be a “weak” person.
Yoga is roughly translated as union. That could be esoteric or as accessible as you make it. Maybe it starts with learning to keep the breath and movement synchronized. We’ll save merging ego with universal consciousness for another time. In acro, this synchronicity, this union, between the two partners is critical for establishing any sort of practice.
There’s an expression that you shouldn’t “top from the bottom.” In acro, the roles are reversed but the sentiment is the same: essentially, the submissive role can’t back-handedly exert the dominance. I’m folded in half, perched upon my partner’s feet like a book opened to the middle and placed over a railing. I’m a mere foot and a half at best off the ground, but falls are scary regardless of how high. Everything in my body goes tense under the misguided notion that the more tension I take on, the more I lessen his load, and by proxy, the more control I can take. I’m given one instruction: as the flyer, don’t try to control the balance with my hands. There is the tiniest of jolts as my partner settles in. I instinctively freak, assuming he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, this moment rhyming with so many others that ended in explosive arguments. I slap my hands against the mat to not only catch me- to save us. Overstepping my bound in that fraction of a second, he had to catch me and reset himself to keep us both balanced.
Balance is a delicate thing. Managing on my own is challenging enough. Striking balance between two people, on the mat or in the world, how is the divorce rate only 50 percent? Growing up, I was too “strong” to divulge into wedding day fantasies. Against my best intentions, I wasn’t immune to fantasies of love. My ideal scenario: two partners constantly working to be the best versions of themselves. In this perfect moment of our best selves coming together, we can do more than we ever imagined. This is what we want to believe watching Briohny and Dice (aka: “Bryce,” aka: that hot Equinox acroyoga couple) perform mind-blowing aerial stunts backed by a soundtrack of face-melting guitar solos.
This was my mistake in that simple acro balance, my mistake in that original argument, my mistake in my world view mostly up until now: interdependence is not the mathematical average found between two people assuming opposite roles of independent and dependent. Being less weak didn’t make me strong and vice/versa. It took awhile for me to realize that relinquishing control isn’t the same as losing control and didn’t make me weak/lazy/dependent. I couldn’t do his job for him, and he couldn’t do what he needed to without me granting him the trust and space to do so. The true metamorphosis of my strength lay in allowing myself to be carried.
I’m still a strong person. I still like identifying myself as such. It’s comfortable. However, I have begun peeling back my negative connotations from dependance and weakness. They have their place. We need each other, not only to survive, but to thrive.
Life doesn’t stop on the mat. It continues. Yoga is not a dance. Yoga is not a performance. It is a practice that keeps us unravelling our selves. The falls and missteps are as much part of the practice as nailing that one move that’s been hours of practice in the making. Even so, we return. We try again. And again. And again; totally aware that trust lay in two bringing their best to the mat but sometimes that best translates as pulling back to allow another to pull forward. If that isn’t the greatest analogy for union- matrimonial or otherwise, I don’t know what is.