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The Importance of Relaxation In Acrofit Power
By Alvin Tam
When I first began training in the circus, I thought I had a strong physical background. I was 18 years old, had already run a marathon, practiced martial arts for 9 years, lifted weights, ate well, and was flexible. I thought that I would adapt easily to the circus training and excel.
I did do well – but only after putting in ten times as much effort as I thought I would need. Circus training is about taking all known physical limits and then radically blowing those limits out of proportion. When I entered the circus school, I thought that doing a handstand was a sizable achievement. I quickly learned that it was only a basic movement for the rest of my training, much like the letter “a” is to an entire paragraph. It was only the beginning.
Circus training is by far the most intense and effective exercise form I have ever encountered. It sculpts and shapes your body, drastically improves your ability to balance in any position, increases your power, flexibility and coordination – all without the use of weights, machines, or fancy equipment. Your movement becomes efficient and effective. You don’t develop extra muscles just to look good – you develop them because they help you achieve a specific move. Everything serves a purpose.
A few years ago, I was inspired by the idea of combining two complementary movement disciplines: acrobatics and yoga. In acrobatics, you develop power, speed, coordination and balance. In yoga, you develop flexibility, calmness, and awareness of breathing. The genesis of the two forms became “Acrofit Power” – a class that combines explosive plyometric exercises with the calming and meditative spirit of yoga. Since 2009, I’ve had multiple teacher certifications and hundreds of students experience Acrofit.
The Acrofit Power class begins with a centering breathing exercise called “Ying Yang Centering”. Students empty their minds of daily distractions and focus on drawing in full, deep inhalations since the ability to control and expand breath capacity is key for any aerobic activity. The next few sequences warm up the arms, neck, shoulders, and legs in preparation for the first of the acrobatic movements.
The first acrobatic exercise is called “Candle Series”. From a seated position, you roll backwards, extending legs vertically into the air, drop and roll forward, and hop into a mini-handstand. It’s a move that teaches you how to use existing momentum and gravity to facilitate the move. It’s a typical example of what Acrofit training is all about – using existing forces like body momentum, gravity, or counterbalances to make your movement more efficient and effortless. Acrofit is not about blindly pushing or muscling through a move. In advanced acrobatics, that generally results in injury, because coordination, body awareness and appropriate power, not ballistic power, is required. Correct power levels, timing, and speed are more valued attributes.
The Power sequence focus primarily on basic acrobatic moves and core strengthening exercises, like cartwheels, forward rolls, and a deceptively simple, but challenging core training routine called “Breakdance Basics”. It’s the piece de resistance of the class with five separate movements that combined, radically increase your aerobic and plyometric capacity.
We also practice a concept called “Active Resting”. Active resting is the practice of gaining maximum recovery while maintaining a posture of readiness. Typically, athletes will collapse in exhaustion after a demanding exercise. You’ll see the tired pose: hands on knees, body hunched over, heaving gasps for air. In active resting, you kneel, sit, stand, or even go into a headstand and manage your recovery in that position. You deny yourself the tendency to show fatigue and in doing so, strengthen your psychological will to continue. Acrofit, despite its unique physical demands, is a practice more for the mind, than for the body.
Headstands and child’s poses follow to bring down the pace of the class. Headstands allow you to develop balance, and internal awareness of core positioning – is your body straight, curved, piked? Highly oxygenated blood comes rushing to your head, rejuvenating, refreshing, and invigorating your brain. After another core training exercise, the class re-centers with a adapted deep breathing exercise and wrist and forearm strengthening sequence.
Following in the structure of a yoga class, you return to a state of savasana or lying down position. By lying down after a workout and intentionally calming your mind and breath, you allow the accumulated lessons of the training to integrate into your body. It’s allowing your unconscious mind to assimilate the movements by relaxing the controlling aspect of the conscious mind, and removing it from the learning process. Ultimately, movement becomes natural, spontaneous and most efficient when it becomes unconscious and instinctive.
Meditation is one of the most overlooked components of a well-rounded, effective training routine. By relaxing your body and mind before completing your practice, you are associating relaxation with training. The state in which you leave your training is the state in which you’ll enter your next one. Maximum learning, progress and physiological efficiency is best achieved in relaxed states. Acrofit Power, which demands high levels of coordination, balance, and induces increased levels of stress because of the acrobatic exercises, is best approached from a calm, focused and relaxed mind and body. I also find using my Human Touch massage chair helps me to relax in ways I could not before; it’s a great addition to the meditation I already practice, sitting in silence on my mat. My students like the benefits of using the chair and find it helps them prepare for a long-lasting, restful day. Massage should definitely be a part of everyone’s life. It’s a great investment to quell stress and live a super healthy life.
Acrofit Power is a combination of the best acrobatic exercises I learned through the National Circus School of Canada, Cirque du Soleil and the many other tours, projects, and workshops I participated in throughout my career. It’s designed to be tough enough for the seasoned athlete, but accessible for the complete beginner. It’s also not a watered-down version of acrobatic training for the general public – they are exact exercises that I practiced amongst professional acrobats to prepare for our routines. With Acrofit Power, you can expect a fun, challenging, authentic and highly unique practice.