The Yoga of Trust: Counterbalance

It’s all about finding balance.

Learning to move with and be moved by someone else is an amazing experience, and much easier than you think. There’s more to partner yoga than just pretty shapes and flashy Instagram posts. Don’t worry about how it looks—bring awareness to how it feels. 

In this series, Daniel Scott—yogi provocateur and ambassador of trust—offers valuable insight on how to best share your movement practice with ease, accessibility, and fun. Want to try Acro? Daniel and his fiance and acro partner Lauren Matters are teaching at both Wanderlust Stratton and Wanderlust Whistler this year. 

When it comes to partnership, it comes down to a simple choice: Work together or fall apart. Making that choice, however, can often be much easier than the actual follow-through. If AcroYoga is the yoga of trust, consider the elegant art of counterbalance as the mastery of both active communication and listening—physically, verbally, and beyond. Here are a few simple steps to help you (and whomever you work with) learn to navigate gravity like a boss!

Exercise 1: Forearm Stacking and Proper Grip

Less “holding on” and more “perfect fit”—proper hand placement ensures a comfortable and sturdy connection with our partner, allowing us to move and be moved with greater ease. Practice lining up the arm bones through your own hands first before trying with someone else.

  •      Start with hands in Namaskar
  •      Left fingers rotate away, right fingers towards your nose.
  •      Wrap left fingers around outside of right palm, right fingers between the thumb and forefinger.
  •      Raise elbows in line with wrists.

From here, try finding a long line between your elbows through your wrists. Feel the knuckle line of each hand melt into the connection point of the opposite palm. There should be a small bubble of air between the hands: Relax your fingers and find your bones. Drop your elbows and switch directions.

How funky is your chicken?!
How funky is your chicken?!

Exercise 2: Supported Standing Plank

Standing plank is a long, energized line from your stacking your shoulders above your heels through your hips (vertical bonestacking). Use the same forearm line to start supporting someone else’s weight through our own body (horizontal bonestacking). 

  • Extend your arms with palms forward (zombie-style) towards your partner: One of you with thumbs in / fingers up; the other with thumbs up / fingers out.
  • Step one foot back at a time, leaning weight forward through your partner and down through your legs.
  • Don’t push into your partner, pour weight into the floor through their bones.
How far can you step away?
How far can you step away?

Now try leaning away and balancing plank with your partner:

  • Keep the arms extended towards your partner, hands locking onto wrists: one with palms down, the other palms up.
  • Maintain a long line from shoulders to heels as each partner steps one foot at a time towards the other.
  • Don’t arch or round the lower back—just LEAN weight away from the core through the shoulders.
How far can you both lean your shoulders past your heels?
How far can you both lean your shoulders past your heels?

Exercise 3: Stick-in-the-Mud

You’ve found your plank line, now let’s play with range of motion. One partner stands with arms crossed, the other behind them rocking a solid warrior stance (one foot forward with knee bent, the When placing hands on your partner’s back, spread the fingers wide and use them to support weight—this takes pressure out of the wrists.

  • When standing in plank, spread your toes and use them to stay connected to the ground—this ensures you don’t slip and slide!
  • Ask your partner to give you their weight by leaning back into your arms. When they do, keep your elbows extended and wait a few breaths before introducing movement. This allows each partner time to get acquainted with what’s about to happen
  • Experiment with moving your partner from three different regions, as show in the GIF below:  Arms (elbows), Legs (knees), Core (Torso).
How can you make this ride as smooth as possible?
How can you make this ride as smooth as possible?

Exercise 4: Standing Cat-Cow

Once you’ve mastered sharing weight, the next step is mirroring your partner’s movement. Start in a supported standing plank while leaning away, and begin to add some cat/cow spinal movement into the mix.

  • Cat: Chin and tailbone tucks, spine rounds
  • Cow: Chin and tailbone lifts, spine arches
  • Add a little squat into the mix to make things interesting!
  • Keep the arms fully extended and use your weight to support your partner, not muscle.

Smaller people need lean away more, bigger partners less. Try stepping closer to your partner to adjust the amount of leverage by leaning your shoulders back past your hips.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall—who’s the lightest of them all?
Mirror, Mirror, on the wall—who’s the lightest of them all?

Exercise 5: Mountain and River

At this point, you’re well on the way to becoming counter-balance ninjas! From here, we’re going to use gravity for two things: 1) finding a deep stretch and 2) having fun while making shapes!

  • Start with a single-arm standing supported plank while leaning away (ie: right wrist grips right wrist)
  • One partner is the Mountain—take a sturdy warrior stance with shoulders above hips, head above shoulders. Your job is to stay grounded and support your partner’s exploration of movement. Firmly grip your partner’s arm with your free hand.
  • The other becomes the River—begin to slowly lean weight away from the mountain and explore how you can use gravity to access different parts of your body. Move with the breath, and make each transition smooth and fluid. Take a few seconds to really explore each position you find.

This is not a tug-o-war! Every body is different—work with your partner, not against.

How can you make this exercise about your partner?
How can you make this exercise about your partner?
Advanced variation: River, can you take a foot off the floor?
Advanced variation: River, can you take a foot off the floor?

Exercise 6: Single Arm, Single Leg

This. Is. Not. Easy. It’s not hard, mind you, but it does require a modicum of skill and sensitivity. If you’ve come this far, you should have both. Take a look at the gif below and make it happen!

Wait for it… Wait for it...!
Wait for it… Wait for it…!

Most importantly: Go slow, and remember to have fun! Remember, this is about trust-building and deepening your practice. Great Instagram photos are just a bonus.

danielDaniel Scott is yogi provocateur offering a fresh alternative to the traditional “yoga voice”. His classes are a lively mix of balance and improv, strength and flexibility, breath and body. With light heart and open mind, Daniel focuses on moving into postures, not through them. A globally renowned ashtanga-vinyasa teacher and Certified Level 2 AcroYoga instructor, Daniel enjoys barefoot running, street art, good coffee, large quantities, and great qualities. Deeply dedicated to sharing in the immense journey from self-conscious to self-aware, Daniel Scott strives to answer the ever-present question: Are you moving or being moved?