Yoga as a fitness modality has grown significantly in the west over the last 50 years. The benefits of yoga are known to those that practice regularly and to those that don’t. As an evergreen of the industry, practitioners are using the foundational yoga poses to create new offshoots of the traditional yoga practice, to service the needs of different populations inside and outside the yoga community.
Aerial yoga is a relatively new type of yoga that originated out of New York in 2007. Christopher Harrison, the founder of aerial yoga, was director and choreographer for Antigravity, Inc., an acrobatic performance troupe established in 1991 that ultimately became the inspiration for creating this new yoga brand.
Ultimately, the use of silk hammocks inspired Harrison to create a brand that incorporates acrobatics, artistic sports and contemporary dance. And as a Tony Award winning aerial yoga choreographer and long-time fitness expert, Harrison has become the expert for aerial performances at such venues as the Academy and Grammy Awards, as well as presidential inaugurations. Yoga was a natural addition to his performance warm-ups. And thus, aerial yoga was born.
But what can it do for you? You’re about to find out.
What Is Aerial Yoga?
The simplest definition of aerial yoga is a yoga practice that combines traditional yoga postures and Pilates exercises with the use of a silk hammocks to help aid and support the poses. With the hammock or yoga swing hanging from the ceiling, about three feet off the ground, practitioners are able to feel supported in back bends and in inversions, like downward facing dog. These hammocks can hold up to 2,000 pounds, so they are durable yet soft and fluid.
This is why this type of yoga practice is also call anti-gravity or suspension yoga because for much of the session, you will be suspended off the ground by the hammock.
For those with a solid yoga practice, aerial yoga provides a new take on the traditional yoga practice as well as assistance during more challenging postures to help improve alignment and flexibility. For beginners, it offers a level of support in each pose to help students learn and practice proper alignment as strength improves.
There are countless options when it comes to the types of aerial yoga classes. There are those that focus on high flying tricks and those that are slower and more meditative. And just like traditional yoga practices, aerial yoga incorporates breath work, a cool down like savasana as well as spirituality or chanting, depending on the studio and individual class.
5 Benefits of Aerial Yoga
So, what is aerial yoga good for? How will it improve my overall strength, health and well-being? The list of benefits of anti-gravity yoga are similar to the list of benefits of a traditional yoga practice with a few important differences.
1. It relieves compression in the spine.
One of the biggest benefits of hanging in the hammock during poses like downward facing dog or back bends is the relief on the spine. Instead of the natural downward compression of your spine produced by gravity, the muscles in your spine release and relax as you hang, reducing pressure and joint compression.
2. Aerial yoga challenges your central nervous system, mental capacity and proprioception.
Simply put, practicing in the silk yoga swing adds a level of elegant complexity as well as assistance to simple postures that requires mental focus and patience as you learn how to move your body through each pose.
3. It Increases pulling strength.
This particular benefit is probably the most interesting because the movement type of “pulling,” like when you perform a pull-up, isn’t found in the traditional yoga practice. With the repetitive pressing in yoga, during sun salutations and/or chaturanga, can create muscular imbalances in the shoulders. Over time, this can lead to repetitive stress injuries.
The act of pulling yourself up into the hammock as well as during other transitions is a great way to keep your shoulders balanced and healthy in both pulling and pressing.
4. Praticing anti-gravity yoga improves flexibility.
With the help of the silk hammock, practitioners are able to refine and improve their alignment and relax into the pose. The ability to relax the body leads to improved flexibility.
5. It’s beginner-friendly.
Aerial yoga is accessible not just for advanced practitioners but for beginners as well. With the added support of the hammock, new students can play with posture and alignment while building the strength to execute yoga poses on their own. Not only that, it allows for questions and added support from the teacher as the number of students per class is lower than a traditional yoga practice.
An Aerial Yoga Workout — with the 6 Best Anti-Gravity Yoga Exercises
There are countless postures that can be performed with the yoga hammock. Some are more challenging than others in both strength and required flexibility.
Regardless of your yoga experience, this series of poses will not only help you learn how use the hammock but also how to transition in and out of the hammock as well as from pose to pose. Beyond that, it will also challenge your balance and core strength while improving your flexibility.
1. Chest Opener
Stand facing the hammock. Wrap the hammock around each hand and turn your palms down. With your arms fully extended, walk your feet back as you drop your chest towards the floor. Feel the stretch along your upper ribs and armpits. Hold this position for 5 slow breaths in and out through your nose.
2. Silk Hammock Row
Stand facing the hammock and wrap it around each hand. Turn your palms to face each other. Walk your feet forward as you lay back with straight arms. Tighten your legs and core to keep your body in a straight line. Draw your shoulder blades down your back and slightly together. From this position, draw your elbows back and pull your hands toward your chest. This is a self scaling movement so walk your feet up or down to increase or decrease the difficulty of this movement. Perform 3 sets of 8–10 reps.
3. Downward Dog
Stand tall facing the hammock. Grab the hammock with palms facing down and separate your hands to about shoulders distance bringing the hammock to about the height of your hips. Place the hammock at your hips by walking forward toward the top of your mat. Then, fold forward and walk your hands forward and your feet back into downward facing dog. Allow the hammock to support you as you breath slowly in this posture.
4. Plank with Feet in Hammock
Start on your hands and knee at the top of your yoga mat. Place your right foot inside of the hammock. Extend your right leg. Draw your belly button up towards your spine as you tighten your core. Press your right foot down into the hammock as you lift your left leg up. Place your left foot in the hammock along side the right. Hold this position as you breath through your nose for 5 breaths, then rest. Repeat 3–4 more times.
5. Inverted Bow Pose
Begin by stretching out the fabric so that you can sit into the hammock. Then, take a seat. Reach up and grab the hammock on the outside. Slowly begin to lay back as you keep your knees bent. Slide the palms down the silk as you bend back. From here you can stay or reach for the outer edges of your feet. Hang in this pose for up to 2 minutes.
6. Floating Savasana
Spread open the hammock and take a seat. Continue to open the hammock so that it supports your entire body, including your head. Bring your arms along your side and close your eyes. Breath through your nose and rest in savasana for as long as it feels comfortable.
As with the traditional yoga practice, there are few precautions when practicing aerial yoga at home or in a led class:
- The shift in the relation to gravity during certain postures through inversions like floating bow is not recommended for those who are pregnant, that suffer from vertigo or high blood pressure.
- It is also not recommended to practice anti-gravity yoga on a full stomach, as the stress on the core and pressure on and within the stomach can cause issues.
- Not all aerial yoga classes are created equal. Before attending a class, make sure that you are aware of the type of class, the level and any other necessary guidelines. This not only helps you the student but the instructor as well to help provide you with the best experience possible.
Anti-gravity yoga is an upcoming yoga brand that bring the benefits of the yoga practice to a new setting. Through the use of the yoga swing, practitioners are able to sink into poses as well as challenge their flexibility as strength during inversions and transitions. Though this new type of yoga is relatively new, anti-gravity yoga classes and studios are popping up all across the country.
Aerial yoga is an amazing addition to the practice of yoga as it helps to decompress the spine, increases core strength and balance and provide the action of pulling, a movement that is lacking in the traditional yoga practice.