Not only does yoga have incredible benefits for the body and mind, it also seems that it has the incredible ability to evolve. Yoga now exists in a variety of niches – some more peculiar than others. On one end of the scale exists everything from chicken nugget yoga to kilt yoga, whereas on the other end you’ll find more challenging practices like acro-yoga and aerial yoga, seemingly only for the olympic yogis among us.
My guess is that your practice exists somewhere in the middle, under the hot yoga or vinyasa flow section; the categories at either end perhaps seem intriguing, most likely daunting and possibly down-right absurd. This being said, exploring some of the options will not only help to get you out of your comfort zone, but will also provide you with a new, exciting and engaging experience, which may have a lasting impact on your practice, and they way you live your life.
One practice that seems the most daunting is Aerial Yoga. Essentially, it is yoga, but the class takes place elevated off the ground with your body supported by wide nylon hammocks. The class progresses from stretches whilst sitting on the hammock to eventually hanging completely upside down, holding your feet or legs for support. It many seem like its only for the acrobatic, but in reality, this practice is accessible for any yogi willing to give it a try.
So why try this new acrobatic practice?
Firstly, in a lot of ways, its actually easier than ‘regular’ yoga. Poses that are usually performed with difficultly on the ground, are simpler in mid-air. The support of the hammocks helps you to extend further and lift higher, whilst still maintaining perfect form; and don’t worry, even though the poses may seem easier and more relaxed – you are still getting the same full body workout you would get from a strong vinyasa class.
The hammocks support your joints, which is great for those who hold tension in these areas. With the stress removed from the joints, the muscles are able to receive some extra attention, leading to greater definition, stretching and toning that you wouldn’t usually get in a floor-based class. Supporting yourself in the air also requires a lot of core strength, obviously essential for building a strong yoga practice, and arguably one of the most beneficial physical takeaways of attending regular classes.
Another important physical benefit of aerial yoga is the relief it provides from back pain. Back pain and tension is exceedingly common, in particular in the lower back and around the hip joints. Hanging freely (especially upside-down!) gives the spine a much needed rest. The weight of the unsupported head creates space throughout the spine, allowing it to stretch and lengthen. With the removal of pressure on the spine that often accompanies a yoga class, hips can begin to open even further, promoting a wider range of movement throughout the body.
As with most kinds of yoga, the stretches and twists in the aerial variety also help support a healthy circulatory system and a well-functioning digestive system. This helps to prevent illness, support the immune system and heal ailments of the digestive tract.
It is now common knowledge that endorphin production (the brain chemicals that are responsible for our feelings of pleasure) is strongly linked to exercise. Therefore, the nature of aerial yoga means that you will likely leave the class with that euphoric post-workout feeling. Of course, the gravity deifying characteristic of aerial yoga adds an element of playfulness that most, regular, ground based workouts lack, meaning that you’ll leave class with a greater elation of that ‘yoga high’ feeling.
Through focus on the breath and linking breath to movement, the meditative state of yoga helps the practitioner to alleviate stress and clear the mind. Aerial yoga works in much the same way (except you are actually levitating while you do this). Yoga teaches us important lessons that we can ultimately take away from our mats – or nylon hammocks – and apply in real life. For example, next time a stressful situation at home or at work arises; you can take a deep breath and access that blissed-out feeling you get from yoga. Eventually you can learn to use that feeling to react calmly to your challenges, rather than reacting from a place of pent up frustration.
As humans we are creatures of habit, and our habits play a big role in defining who we are and how we live our lives. A crucial part of yoga is learning how to live consciously, in a flow-like state and breakdown any destructive patterns or habits you may have subconsciously accumulated. Aerial yoga works well for those who have made a habit of floor-based yoga practices and are looking to deepen and evolve their practice.
The hammocks will literally support you in finding new ways to move, undoubtedly affecting your yoga practice for the better. If you are after a stronger core, more open hips or simply a clearer mind, perhaps disrupting your usual yoga practice and taking a more airborne variety is the way forward. The new spaces you will find in your body through aerial yoga can equate to new spaces in the mind, providing you with a newfound sense of ease and calm.
The fear of the unknown, and the mental challenges that arise when faced with escaping your comfort zone are part of human nature. However, on the other side of these fears and challenges lies exponential room for growth and discovery. If aerial yoga is something you are intrigued by, or if you feel stuck in your usual yoga routine, take a class and see how you feel afterwards. If anything, for most of us, it’s the closest we’re going to get to feeling like a real trapeze artist or acrobat. Thank you, aerial yoga, for bringing easy acrobatics to those of us who aren’t sure how to get our two feet off the ground, and providing us with a fun new way, to escape our comfort zones.
Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com