Flying high

Alumnus discovers authenticity and community in acro yoga

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Acroyoga Steven Cummings

SUMMARY: Steven Cummings (’06, ’08M) anchors into the Orion pose with partner Gina Shiotani, an acro yoga and pilates instructor whom he met in the San Diego acro yoga scene.

By Amy Crockett (’10)

Former U.S. Army Capt. Steven Cummings (’06, ’08M) has practiced yoga on every continent except for Antarctica. But not just any discipline — acro yoga, to be exact.

Acro yoga is a movement art involving three participants: base, flyer and spotter. “I’m 90 percent base. And you can fly a lot more than you think as a bigger dude. I’m 180 pounds, and I can fly on people who I teach,” Cummings said.

Acro yoga is as much mental as it is physical, relying on trust, surrender, openness, emotional communication and empathetic bonding.

Although not as mainstream as yoga, acro yoga has risen in popularity and continues to evolve, with people all over the world practicing the art at different levels of difficulty. Cummings teaches beginner and intermediate classes, and he conducts event, workshop and festival trainings. He considers himself relatively advanced in hobby circles. In professional fields, such as Cirque du Soleil, practitioners train five to six days a week.

acroyoga Om Garden
Cummings (’06, ’08M) positions himself as base in a double backfly at the Om Garden.

At JMU, Cummings was in Army ROTC and was commissioned as an officer after graduation. He served on active duty for four years. Returning from Afghanistan in 2010 with six months left in the Army, Cummings discovered yoga in the military’s recreation program. It felt so great that he started doing it during his lunch hour, just as an extra workout. Then, every time he traveled, he would search for places to practice. “I found that I really connected well with the people who I met in the yoga studios,” he said.

In June 2012, Cummings separated from service and embarked on a solo, backpacking travel mission for three years. During that time, he earned his 200-hour yoga certification at a teacher-training institute in Dharamshala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives.

Chanda McGuffin and Sharon Fitz
Cummings (’06, ’08M) was deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months and worked collaboratively with Afghan elders and government officials.

However, the doors to acro yoga opened on a trip to Bali when he crossed paths with another traveler who had just completed her acro yoga teacher training. “I’d never heard of it. She was a tiny girl from Sweden, barely a hundred pounds, probably, and she was like, ‘I’m going to put you over my head on my arms, and you’re gonna be upside down balancing an inversion.’ I did not think she could do it. No way. At the time, it blew my mind, and that’s when I was hooked. One good, first experience — if it resonates with you — really touches on this chord of human connection,” he said.

Cummings started seeking out acro yoga wherever he could find it, a journey that eventually led him to his partner and main flyer, Gina Shiotani, whom he met in San Diego, California, in the acro-scene. They bought a quarter-acre home in the Pacific Beach neighborhood and transformed their property into the Om Garden, an acro yoga gathering space for events, private lessons and community classes.

For Cummings, the foundation of community-building was laid at JMU. “JMU had lots of outlets where you could find where your passion lies, and there’s always a club for whatever you’re into.” He discovered his tribe in the Caving Club, sponsored by professor Carl Droms. It was the perfect combination of adventuring in the wilderness, exploring new places and making friends.

Chanda McGuffin and Sharon Fitz
Caving Club, known as Madison University Student Grotto (MUSG), provides a safe and fun atmosphere for vertical and horizontal caving.

Caving gave Cummings the same untethered feeling as acro yoga. “It has that link of unmasking and allowing yourself to be free-form — who you are at your core — with other people who enable and empower that, and helping you grow into your best self,” he said. “If I took my acro experience and brought it to the people of the Caving Club, they would all love it.”

On a weekend, Cummings trains new “yogis” on the edge of a Pacific cliff or bounces down to Mexico for a retreat. On a weekday, he writes blogs, newsletters and podcasts for the WD-40 Co., applying his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English toward digital marketing. A world traveler of 78 countries, he never intended to stay in San Diego for nearly seven years, but his attachment to the acro yoga community and Om Garden means he’ll always have a presence in the city.

When asked if an acro-Antarctica trip is in order, Cummings said, “I’m gonna get there.”

Cummings’ practitioner friends, Josh Young and Lizzy Young, will host an AcroLove Teacher Training in Harrisonburg, Virginia, May 23-June 1. Follow Cumming’s acro-adventures on Instagram: @acrothornado. 

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Published: Monday, May 16, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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