Yoga has never been my kind of thing. I’m aware of the benefits to both the body and mind, and as result I’ve tried to get into it. But I always got bored holding each pose and however hard I tried, could never get my brain to switch off and relax like I was told to. I was hoping aerial yoga may be a little different.
WHAT IS AERIAL YOGA?
But when I first stumbled upon aerial yoga, I thought it had a sense of playfulness that traditional yoga lacked, and that maybe, just maybe, it would be something I would enjoy.
Aerial, or anti gravity, yoga, is the practice of standing and seated poses, inversions, balancing postures and meditations are all performed using a suspended hammock. The hammock enhances and deepens each pose and stretch, while also adding an acrobatic element – think Cirque du Soleil for gym-goers – and savasana wrapped in a cocoon to finish…? Pure bliss.
Our bodies are constantly being weighed down by gravity, and this affects our organs, joints and muscles. Fact. But being upside down takes away all of the weight. Designed to open up your joints and stretch your muscles, just one class can have you really feeling longer and taller. Why? Simply put, aerial yoga decompresses your spine. The constant pull from gravity is removed, which takes away any pressure on your neck and spine.
While releasing pressure from joints and muscles, aerial yoga also improves flexibility and core strength. The process of being upside down, teamed with the soothing swaying that comes alongside, also stimulates the brain, which in turn elevates your mood. This release of serotonin and endorphin hormones helps to reduce stress.
WHAT DOES A CLASS INVOLVE?
It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to walk into the studio at The Flight Lab and for your first thought to be, “How the hell is this carelessly folded hammock going to prevent me from falling on my head?” Mine was something similar.
Hanging from the ceiling by only two small hooks, the hammock doesn’t look that reliable. However I was reassured by Clare, The Flight Lab’s director and lead instructor, that the hammock was more than strong enough. Not only would it be able to withstand my weight, it would also be able to hold everyone else in the class too… all at the same time… plus more.
Still sceptical, I spent my first five minutes trying to relax. As I leant backwards into the hammock, arms stretched out above my head, I was reluctant to put my full faith into the silk and what felt like the majority of the muscles in my lower body began to shake. No one can hold their body up at a 45 degree angle, so why was I trying?
Deep breaths soon allowed me to chill the f**k out and throw myself (quite literally) into having fun. A few warm up stretches soon turned into inversions, and with each one I felt more confident – even opting to try the progressions of each move.
Moving back and forth between inversions and upright stretches – to prevent our blood permanently rushing to our heads – I began to feel my body working more than I initially thought it would.
You’ve got to use your upper body strength for multiple, long periods of time while in inversions (four minutes may not seem long, but when you’re hanging upside down…) to hold and pull yourself into poses, and being upside down really does tests your leg strength more than you could imagine. Despite this, you don’t need to be a yoga pro to give it a go – classes are easily adaptable to the needs of those taking part, meaning pretty much anyone can get involved.
After 50 minutes of defying gravity, it was time to cocoon. Dimming the lights to give the room a purpley-blue glow, we laid back into our hammocks, tucking in our arms and feet, for 10 minutes of guided meditation. As previously mentioned, I’m not one to be able to switch off at the flick of a switch, but the calming music (and the fact I’m often tired by 7pm) was enough to have me almost dosing off.
My verdict? You may head into an aerial yoga session feeling a little overwhelmed, but with a fresh supply of blood being pumped around your body most of the time, you’ll leave feeling good. Really good.
As you enjoy the workout, and you most definitely will, and trust your hammock, you’ll overcome any initial fears of being upside down. You’ll realise your body can do so much more than you originally gave it credit for – it’s much stronger and more flexible, and your awareness of this is soon heightened. The ultimate confidence boost!