When I tell someone new to yoga or someone who doesn’t know me that I’m on my way to take or teach an aerial yoga class, the conversation inevitably goes something like this…
“Where are you going?”
“I’m on my way to teach an aerial yoga class?”
“What’s aerial yoga?”
“Well, I teach many of the same poses that I teach on the mat, but students are either partially or fully suspended in a silk fabric hammock or sling.”
“Really? Like Cirque Du Soleil ‘n shit?”
“Not exactly. We aren’t flying around the room tossing and catching each other from a high flying trapeze under the big top.”
“Is it better than regular yoga?”
“Not really, just different. Students often find that they can sink more easily or deeply into a pose than they can on the floor. Plus, it’s fun.”
“Oh my god, I could never do that.”
Michelle Dortignac combined her passion and expertise as a traditional yoga instructor and professional aerial acrobatic performer to create aerial yoga in 2006. Combining traditional yoga with dance and the circus art of tissu, Michelle says that once in the air, the body has to learn to align itself properly, thanks to the effects of gravity, and she’s right on.
Just like anything new, you have to get to know the apparatus a silk fabric sling or “hammock”, and get a sense for how you feel in the fabric and in the poses. Once you develop that new pathway in your brain, like the first time you rode a bike, it’s like a second skin. Then you can begin to let go of the resisting and find a new openness in your poses that you never experienced before.
By relieving compression due to the pull of gravity while on the ground, the spine is elongated, the shoulders straightened, the hips opened and stress melts away. Just that few inches of suspension in the air allows your body to melt releasing tension on the bones and muscles, and increase your flexibility.
When I took my first aerial yoga class, I was as curious and nervous as most new students. My thoughts evolved like this,
” Will this thing hold me? Oh my god, I feel like I’m going to fall out. Hey wait, this is kind of cool. Wow, this feels great.”
Imagine if you could extend into Hanumanasana or Monkey Pose (other wise known as a split) with little effort? That’s the beauty of the hammock. Or how about a nice open Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose) to release the hips? Many students have extremely tight hips, and their bound angle pose typically involves a rounded back and knees pointing more toward the ceiling than out to the sides. In the fabric, the opening is instantaneous and it’s delicious.
The best part of aerial or anti-gravity yoga as some call it, is that it’s fun. You feel like a kid all over again. Too many western yoga practitioners are so serious in their practice. In aerial, there are often peels of laughter echoing in the studio. Plus, savasana in the fabric feels like you’re swaying in a hammock between to great big oak trees.
Aerial yoga is a wonderful compliment to an existing mat practice to help yogis experience a deeper opening. Though, you don’t have to be an experienced yoga practitioner to try aerial yoga, I would suggest taking at least one or two mat classes to become familiar with the poses and terminology before hopping into the hammock.
Get in touch with your inner child, and learn to defy gravity with aerial yoga.
– Your Charmed Yogi