Gym Class: Aerial Yoga
What can I expect in an aerial yoga class?
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s yoga being performed in mid-air? As an avid yogi, when I hear the words “send your practice into flight” I immediately think of transitioning into dakasana, airplane pose. However, aerial yoga gives a whole new meaning to yoga asanas gone airborne. The idea of being suspended while exploring postures truly piqued my curiosity, so I set out to experience what it’s like to reap the many research-supported benefits of yoga in an entirely new way.
What’s the buzz all about?
Aerial yoga combines the physical practice of yoga with elements of acrobatics through the use of a suspended hammock constructed out of the same type of silk material that is often used in aerial performances.
After a little bit of research, I came across Aerial Revolution, the only studio in San Diego, CA currently offering aerial yoga classes (they also have a number of other class options, including aerial silks and trapeze classes). I opted to try the 1.5-hour aerial yoga class offered on Sunday mornings, which on this day was being taught by Monica, a registered yoga teacher with a wealth of knowledge and supportive teaching style. The class size was relatively small with six students in total, allowing for an abundance of personalized instruction, which was especially helpful given the fact that almost nobody in the class had been to an aerial yoga class before.
Monica spent the first few minutes of class discussing how to properly and safely move in and out of the fabric from one pose to the next, something that would be of critical importance, especially as we explored inversions and backbends. Following that important safety information we warmed up on our yoga mats, performing several cycles of Sun Salutation A along with several other preparatory poses, such as cat-camel and bird-dog. This gave us the opportunity to review and refine alignment and also focus on breath work before heading into the air. After the warm-up we moved to our individual silk hammocks and for over an hour experienced a combination of strengthening postures along with deep stretches that systematically opened and challenged every area of the body. The use of the silks made it possible to explore certain postures in greater depth, such as cobbler’s pose and downward-facing dog, and it also enabled us to experience new sensations and greater range of motion in poses like crescent lunge and warrior II, which were performed in a standing position using the fabric like a strap to intensify the stretch.
A highlight from the class was the time spent practicing handstand, a pose that I continually work on in my own practice. Being in this challenging inverted posture with the support of the silks wrapped around my legs gave me both the confidence and the ability to focus my attention on proper hand placement and on lifting my lower extremities with control using the strength of my core, something which is difficult to do when you’re unsupported and easily sidetracked by simply doing everything you can to not to topple over.
What to wear
Much like any other yoga class, comfortable clothing that allows you to move without restriction is recommended. I personally find that form-fitting clothes tend to work best, especially when exploring inversions, so I opted to wear a fitted Lululemon tank paired with a pair of stretchy black pants.
What does it work?
This particular class combined a variety of yoga postures, allowing for a total-body workout that focused on both strength and flexibility. The use of the supportive hammock-like apparatus enables you to feel confident and experience less joint compression when exploring inversions like handstand, leading to a greater level of comfort and enjoyment in the pose, and given the stretchy nature of the material it enables you to experience greater depth and range of motion when moving into hip opening postures like half pigeon and backbends like bow pose.
Who is aerial yoga best suited for?
Although a great deal of instruction is provided regarding proper alignment in each pose, for this particular class some yoga experience is recommended, as the use of the silk hammock adds a new degree of challenge to certain postures. At the same time, though, the use of the apparatus can also help to make other yoga poses (like backbends and inversions) a bit more accessible, especially for those who may be a bit newer to a yoga practice. Experience using aerial silks is also a plus, although it is not required since there is no climbing or knotting involved.
Things to keep in mind
Safety is of the utmost importance when it comes to aerial yoga, so it’s crucial to seek out a qualified instructor who will take the time to carefully review how to properly get in and out of the silks as well as how to make adjustments within the fabrics to ensure proper alignment and integrity within each pose. It’s also important to ensure that the instructor is a registered yoga teacher (either an RYT or an E-RYT), as someone who has completed such an extensive course of study will be able to safely and effectively guide you through various physical postures while also offering modifications, progressions and/or alternate poses to best suit your ability level.
If a fun and unique class that challenges your body in ways you’ve never thought possible appeals to you, then consider giving aerial yoga a try. And just in case the notion of creatively exploring new movements while enhancing both strength and flexibility wasn’t enough to get your excited about going airborne, the pure bliss you’ll experience at the end of class in savasana (corpse pose) while suspended in air enveloped in a cocoon of fabric is truly a sensation like none other!
Jessica Matthews is an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
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