5 Ways To Communicate Better in AcroYoga (and Life)

When I first began AcroYoga it was simply a new hobby.  A new way for me to make friends and a new method to move my body.  But I quickly found myself a part of something bigger.  I was learning more than just poses and flows, I was learning new ways to communicate.  Through AcroYoga we become part of a global community, and I’m now lucky to have friends from all over the world.  Even though at times we don’t share a semantic language, we always share a somatic language.  A shared language of movement that transcends borders, nationalities, and cultures.

With that said, there’s still so much magic in spoken language.  Words hold wisdom and power that shape our everyday lives.  After all, the people you are closest to likely speak the same language as you.  Here I’ve outlined a handful of techniques you can incorporate not only in your AcroYoga partnerships, but in your everyday connections.  I truly believe these techniques are useful in so many aspects of your life.  I feel this confident because my personal relationships have benefited greatly from what I’ve learned through the AcroYoga community.  It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how these techniques are beneficial outside of AcroYoga– but either way I hope you find something useful here!

1. What Do You Need From Me?

One of the most essential concepts that will take your training to the next level, is that communication should be a two-way street!  If while struggling to nail that beautiful pose you saw on Instagram you notice you’re the only one giving feedback– first take a moment to acknowledge that being self-aware is a skill of its own– then remember to ask your partner:

“Is there anything you need from me?”  

This simple question can drastically change the dynamic in your training partnerships. Sometimes we attempt the same skill over and over without actually changing anything, so it’s also good to ask:

“What are we going to do different this time?” 

Not only will you hopefully unlock something new in subsequent attempts, but most importantly you are engaging in a dialogue.  You are both responsible for co-creating a dialogue where each partner has an equal voice.

2. The "Shit-Sandwich" Technique

We want to be efficient with our words, but at the same time it’s important to deliver your feedback kindly.   Simply put, not only are some people sensitive to the words we use when speaking with them, but your feedback will almost always be better received if your message is framed in a positive way.

Here’s where we can employ the “shit-sandwich” technique.  Start by offering positive feedback–something that’s working well.  

“Your line in that shoulderstand was excellent!” 

Then offer your evolutionary feedback.  That’s a fancy way of saying something you think your partner could improve upon.  It’s important that you give a specific detail about what your partner can do to help you, not just tell them their technique was shit.  Here’s an example:

“But if you could relax your shoulders and hollow a little more, I’ll have a much better hand connection–and I think we’ll both feel even more stable.”

Finally, end with something positive again.  This reinforces what’s working well, and doesn’t leave your partner’s mind hanging onto a negative thought.

“I’m loving your enthusiasm, we’re improving a lot!  Let’s try it again!”

Of course, this is just a template and isn’t a rule by any means.  Usually it’s enough to offer positive feedback then evolutionary feedback, and you can get back to trying that mono-reverse shoulder-stand you’ve been working on.

3. Reinforce & Reassure: "I've Got You!"

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we find it easy to ask for what we need.  We ask our partners to straighten their elbows or to hollow more, but it can be nice to hear what’s going well in addition to what needs improvement.  For example, you can be in the middle of flying a 4-Step with a newer base, and be able to reinforce good behavior quickly and easily, letting your base know exactly what they should keep doing.  Helpful statements like:

“Nice straight elbows!” or “Good job keeping your legs at 90!” 

However, the most profound thing I’ve picked up in my acrobatic career as a base are these three simple words:  

“I’ve got you”

Trust is obviously a huge component of AcroYoga.  I’ve had so many flyers say they appreciated these words as it reinforces our connection when needed most, especially when fear or danger is involved.  So when your flyer is six feet in the air, balancing upside down on your sweaty hands, sometimes all they need to hear are those three simple words, “I’ve got you” Those three words can mean the difference between sticking that hand-to-hand, or relying on your spotters (you’re using spotters right??)

However, with great power comes great responsibility.  It should be obvious, but don’t say you’ve got them when you in fact do not have them.  The magic of those three words will quickly fade away.  

The inverse is also valid and powerful.  Flyers, if you need that extra encouragement in the middle of a skill, don’t be afraid to ask!   

You got me?!?”

You are not just training an acrobatic skill— in that moment you are instilling in your base an important and useful concept!

4. Assume Best Intentions

Have you ever read a text message and immediately assumed the other person’s tone was aggressive or meant to hurt you?   But it wasn’t until later after speaking with them in person that you realized you totally misinterpreted their tone? 

When it comes to communication, you can either assume your partner has good or bad intentions.  I would argue it’s best to always assume the best of intentions, until it’s absolutely clear that the other person really is speaking distastefully.

AcroYoga is now an international community, with people from different cultures and backgrounds that you likely will come across at classes and festivals.  Suffice it to say, some people simply have different styles of communicating, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are being offensive.  

The concept of best intentions should especially be applied when it comes to receiving evolutionary feedback from your partner.  Strive to be more open to accepting feedback, without feeling like you need to justify or explain yourself.  Ideally we should strive for more clear, concise, and gentler ways of speaking to each other, but it’s important to realize not everyone has the same style of communicating.

5. The Power of "No"

“Yea, I guess I’ll fly that.  Sure, I’ll take some leg love.  Yes, I’ll spot that trick.”

We say ‘Yes’ so often in AcroYoga that we sometimes forget that it’s also possible to say ‘No’.   This concept is one of the most important ones listed here, because there are so many implications for those who say ‘Yes’ when they really mean ‘No’.  I’ve been guilty of it and I’m sure you have too.  Despite our best intentions, peer pressure does exist in AcroYoga.  The expectation is to always be happy and willing to fly, base, or spot—sometimes at the expense of safety and self-preservation.

So, when is it acceptable to say ‘No’?

Always!  The Power of ‘No’ has ZERO limitations.

If you don’t want to fly, spot, or base something—you don’t have to!   For me, it felt weird at first to say no to people, especially when they’re buzzing with energy and are so ready to try something new and exciting with you.  You feel like the bearer of bad news and a buzzkill.  But I promise you, once you grow comfortable with the idea of saying no—you will feel a sense of extraordinary power!   Power to be 100% true to you– your body, your mind, and your energy.   

Also, everyone involved will be safer with honesty.  If you don’t know how to spot a skill– be honest!  It’s a learning moment for you and your flyer and base will appreciate it.  I’ve seen falls and injuries happen when someone is tired or frustrated, but they begrudgingly say yes to keep playing.  That’s when playtime can turn dangerous, so it’s best to be honest with each other.  Remember, you can always just say ‘No’.

6. BONUS - Communicating Using Technology

Oh, and one more thing— since we’re all addicted to our phones, we might as well try to use them more effectively when we communicate with others!

Ways to communicate with another human being:

In Person
Video Call
Phone Call
Audio Message
Text Message

Of course, you can’t always be available to meet in person or even to take a phone call.  But, I urge you to attempt at least one thing different:  

Start sending audio messages instead of text messages!

As someone from the USA, I was surprised to find that all my Latin American friends would send audio messages (mostly using WhatsApp) instead of text messages.  I’ve since started doing the same, and the results are amazing.  Audio messages are more personal in a way that really is special.  You can hear the tone in someone’s voice, sense their emotional state, better understand the message, and be able to respond with more clarity.  Text messages leave too much to the imagination and just feel so much less human.

It’s the same reason video calls are better than phone calls– it’s a matter of fidelity.  You receive more sensory input (facial cues, gestures, etc) which allows you to better process the information, so that your output (words & ideas) are more attentive, informative, and purposeful.  Plus, evolution has afforded us the tool of the larynx (voicebox) which is capable of a much higher rate of output than your fingers.

So give it a try!  Once you start receiving audio messages back, I guarantee you’ll feel more connected.  

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