For those of you that have ever watched the Cirque du Soleil performers as they gracefully transition from pose to pose in the long silk hammocks and thought to yourself — “I’d like to do that” — I have good news for you: Now you can.
Aerial yoga uses the support of a soft, silk hammock to allow you to further explore, refine and hold traditional asana — both in the air and on the ground. The hammock also serves as a tool for balance so you can dig a little deeper into the postures, or try new poses altogether that are otherwise reserved for gymnasts or circus artists.
I also found that I was able to get into inversions that felt safe for my spine, but that also allowed me to maintain these upside down postures for an extended period of time.
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced student, this new form of yoga allows anyone to experience the sense of freedom that comes from defying gravity. And because you are elevated, also work every muscle in your body in a way that you can’t on the mat.
Want to give it a whirl? Read on to learn about two variations of aerial yoga: AIR® and Unnata.
As I entered my first aerial class, I was a bit intimated by the large hanging silk hammocks, but instructor Jenny Sherry immediately put me at ease as she helped me set up my mat. (I soon learned that the mat goes directly underneath the hammock.)
She started by warming up our spine with hands through the fabric for variations of cat/cow and lateral sways. Before I knew it, I had one foot on the mat and the other in the fabric for a good deep stretch!
We then moved through a Vinyasa-like flow that uses the hammock to hold traditional asana.
The class is broken up with some intense core and barre work, so be prepared to sweat!
Back in the hammock, this time we were hanging from the ceiling in full inversions. With both my feet and hands off the ground, hanging in a backbend, I felt an incredible lightness, while stretching and floating through the air suspended by a silk hammock.
Perhaps it’s all the blood that’s refreshed my mind, but I walked out with an amazing sense of clarity.
Natalie began the class by adjusting each hammock so that it will best work with our different bodies. We started with our back on the mat (the earth) and our feet in the hammock (the air) in a suspended bridge. I immediately liked this analogy – as well as the great support and stretch in my lower back.
The class flowed through a traditional Vinyasa-like sequence, using the hammock in each posture as a prop that not only allowed me to better hold the postures, but to find my edge — and even push it a little further for greater flexibility, strength and alignment.
Next we moved into the bat sequence. With our entire body in the hammock (only our head hanging out), we brought our feet and hips over our head in a full floating shoulder stand. We then transitioned seamlessly into the bat pose in which we are fully suspended from the hammock – -just like a bat! This completely new and uncharted set of poses was just the support and alignment my back has been asking for.
As we adjusted ourselves fully into our hammock for savasana – I found myself supported as if in my own cocoon. When I emerged from the hammock, I felt as light as a butterfly prepared to fly gracefully through whatever the rest of the day might bring my way.
Regardless of the aerial yoga method you choose, it is ridiculously fun. There’s also a sense of playfulness that traditional yoga lacks — it is based in acrobatics, after all — with a freedom of movement that makes the class energetically unique.
Click here to find an Unnata Aerial Yoga Instructor near you – or here to find your closest AIR® studio. Happy hanging!
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Photo: Doug Ellis Photography