Our desire for new and innovative ways to explore this life is often brings us into conflict with the ancient practice of yoga. Each time we step onto the mat we should endeavour to uphold and keep the pure spirit of yoga alive and honour it's ancient lineage. Does that mean though that we cannot make use of newer inventions, tools or forms that enable our practice or that encourage more people to investigate it's benefits?
Aerial yoga appears to drop into this category. With no definitive heritage it's popularity is largely credited to the New York dancer and acrobat Christopher Harrison whom having used aerial apparatus in his own dance company eventually decided to go public in 2007 with the trademarked AntiGravity. He put in place not only a codified method for practising the poses but also rigorously tested and adapted the equipment to ensure safety in the public domain.
However, go back a little further to the 1970s and we find BKS Iyengar using wall ropes, slings, belts and chairs along with the many other props now ubiquitous in any Western yoga studio. Iyengar developed these methods of using props for both therapeutic purposes and to explore and extend the range of his students' physical practice.
Aerial yoga is practiced either using a hammock suspended from the ceiling or from fixings on the wall. Both options provide a similar range of benefits to the Iyengar systems. They enable the hammock to be used as a tool to expand our understanding of asana through the facilitation of poses which might not otherwise be possible.
Yoga studios in the UK are catching on to fast. One independent studio in rural Hampshire, Oaklands IYC has made it part of their USP. Owned by Senior Yoga Teacher, Melissa Mace the studio runs regular workshops catering for all levels and now offers a 40 hour Yoga Alliance accredited aerial yoga teacher training for yoga and pilates teachers as well as other fitness professionals.
Aerial yoga offers a range of benefits that can yield results in your usual mat based practice.
Decompression: Without the impediment of gravity the hammock can enable the spine to lengthen and the vertebrae to decompress, releasing tension and helping to alleviate a number of back conditions. Physiotherapist LJ Nosse conducted a study titled ‘Inverted Spinal Traction’ published in Arch Phys. Medical Rehab 59: 367-370, Aug 78, and found that inverting and decompression of the spine decreases muscle tension by over 35% within the first 10 seconds.
Improved flexibility: As the hammock supports much of your body weight you unleash the potential to move more freely and explore your own range of movement without stressing joints.
Increases strength: Your whole body will get a work out. the height of the hammock can be altered by means of a daisy chain to provide access to all sorts of poses, many of which will work on core strength and stability. In fact being suspended encourages you to use your core more. You are also able to stay longer in poses and explore the nuances of strength, balance and flexibility required.
Enhances Mood: Trying something new take you out of your comfort zone and sparks hormone release in the form of adrenaline, endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, all of which boost your mood and help you feel energised.
Improves balance: A lot of the sequencing includes balancing on one leg. Having the hammock for support enables you to spend less time getting frustrated at your lack of balance and more time working on the subtleties that bring you into alignment and equilibrium. This helps with balance and stability in every day life too, as your balance improves you are less likely to fall.
Increases confidence: Yoga is about letting go of our sense of lack and feelings of not being enough and conquering our fears by tapping into our own resource of inner strength. When you master a pose in aerial yoga that you find difficult on the mat you get a boost of confidence as well as insight into how you might adjust your mat practice.
Relieves stress: The additional concentration needed to use the hammock brings you very firmly into the present moment and you'll learn to work more closely with your breath both in challenges and with more familiar sequences. The hammock provides some great restorative options too and savasana in a suspended hammock is akin to returning to the womb!
It's different and fun! Do you remember the last time you hung upside down. It was probably in a playground! Getting back in touch with that childlike side of your nature brings joy and release and what's not to love about that.
If your appetite for a little flight has been wetted than keep an eye out for my aerial and wall yoga classes starting in April. Numbers will be limited and the classes will offer a mix of mat and hammock work.
Most people can safely practice aerial yoga however there are some contraindications to participating:
Glaucoma or eye problems
Heart conditions or disease
High or Low Blood Pressure
History of Stroke
Inner ear problems
If you are unsure as to your suitability please consult a doctor before attending an aerial yoga class.