There is something both beautiful and transforming about hanging from the sky, ensconced in silk, like a butterfly emerging from your cocoon. Enter: Aerial Yoga
Instead of performing yoga poses on a mat, aerial yoga utilizes a silk hammock or sling that is suspended from the ceiling to perform those same movements. The purpose of the hammock is to provide support through your yoga flow, while also improving flexibility and range of motion. The hammock also takes pressure off certain areas of the body like the head and shoulders, allowing you to reach those more challenging poses like headstands with greater ease.
The history of aerial yoga
The practice of yoga with props is largely credited to B.K.S. Iyengar (1918–2014), who developed Iyengar yoga. In addition to using the blocks, straps, blankets, and rope walls you may see at many studios, Iyengar would hang his students from the ceiling in yoga swings. The original swings were not like the colorful silk hammocks we see today. They were often made solely of ropes and would be padded with yoga mats or blankets.
Antigravity yoga, as it was originally called, began to gain traction in the late 1990s. The first yoga swing, a collection of silk harnesses connected to handles and foot holdings, was purportedly created in the U.K. in 2001.
The yoga hammock — which is one long piece of fabric — and the style name “aerial yoga” started appearing around 2011. Today, aerial yoga studios and aerial yoga-trained teachers can be found around the globe.
A combination of the arts and athletics, aerial yoga offers several physical and psychological benefits:
- Increase full-body flexibility and strength: This practice is a full-body type of movement, so it strengthens all muscles. The hammock itself allows you to go deeper into the stretches and poses, further enhancing full-body flexibility.
- Alleviate back and neck pressure: Sitting or standing all day long allows gravity to weigh down the spine, but being upside down in certain aerial yoga moves can help lengthen and decompress the spine.
- Promote circulation: Given the nature of the poses and breathing through the movements, aerial yoga is great for promoting circulation throughout the body as well as digestion.
- Improve core strength: In order to maintain stability throughout the different poses it is important to keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the practice.
- Boost confidence and mood: In addition to the opportunity to learn something new, aerial yoga makes more advanced yoga poses accessible to beginner yogis by the support of the sling which can boost confidence in the practice and provide a sense of accomplishment.
- Low-impact exercise: Because of its low or zero-impact nature, aerial yoga is an excellent option for those who want to move their bodies, but experience joint issues. Using gravity and suspension, aerial yoga allows you to create space in the body without compressing the joints.
- An important disclaimer
Aerial yoga is not recommended for people who are pregnant or for whom hanging upside down is not medically advised. This includes, but is not limited to, people with eye conditions such as cataracts or detached retina, as well as people with unregulated blood pressure. Check with a healthcare professional before signing up for your first class.
What to expect from your first aerial yoga class
A lot of laughter and to be ready to surprise yourself.
Prior yoga knowledge is not necessary. In actual fact it is recommended that even those with some yoga experience start with a beginner-level aerial yoga class or a more restorative–style class. This enables people to get comfortable with moving with the fabric before attempting more complex sequences.
It’s not uncommon to feel a bit of motion sickness from the movement in your first class, especially when coming back upright after hanging upside down.
Tips for beginners
- Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, take a break or ask for assistance.
- Communicate. The rope and sling placement can be key during this practice, but only you know how something feels. If something is painful or uncomfortable, ask your teacher to help you find the perfect placement.
- Go easy. “A little goes a long way” in aerial yoga so its best to start slowly as you get used to the style.
- Trust. Trust the contraption, trust your teacher, but most importantly, trust yourself.
- Don’t eat a big meal beforehand: You’ll want to avoid eating a large meal for at least an hour before class but you don’t want to go into the class with low-blood sugar, so a small snack like a banana beforehand should be fine.
- Wear the right gear: For an aerial yoga class, you’ll want to wear tight yoga pants or leggings as opposed to loose pants or shorts. A sports bra is needed, as well as a fitted workout shirt that ideally covers the underarms if you have sensitive skin as the slings can sometimes cause chafing
- Leave the jewelry at home: Jewelry can get easily snagged in the slings, so it’s best to be jewelry-free during your practice.
- Have fun. Some of the shapes may feel out of reach at first, especially if you’re brand-new to yoga. You may get tangled, and you may get confused, but if you remember that you’re there to have fun, none of that will matter!
Written by Stefani Sassos and published on www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/fitness/a33324129/aerial-yoga-fitness-benefits/ 22nd July 2020