Aerial Yoga, or Antigravity, has become quite trendy in the last couple of years. It is considered to be a “softer” form of aerial arts, and its advocates will argue that it has been adapted for all people to try. A lot of classes are given at an open level or at beginners level, and are advertised as such. A few years ago, I came across an article of a reporter who was intrigued by the trend and tried it. Her conclusion was that although it looks acrobatic and fancy, this physical activity is fun and suitable for everyone. As an aerial yoga instructor for the past 3 years, I decided to give you a few of my insights on the subject and things to bare in mind, if you are considering to try it.
I have been teaching different students in different studios, at different level and ages (from 8 years old to 65), by now I have encountered hundreds of practitioners, and I have seen many dozens of people through their first class. This has led me to two main conclusions:
- Aerial yoga, is an amazing activity and it can be lots of fun!
- Aerial yoga is not for everyone!
Now let me explain what I mean by that…
Every month I encounter about 5-10 people who are trying their first aerial yoga class. When I started teaching, I used to prepare first timers by repeating what I had learned in my teachers training – I asked about any health issues, and gave a few simple instructions regarding their safety during class (and reassuring them that aerial yoga is in fact safe). As I kept teaching and got the same comments from people time after time, I realized I wasn’t preparing my students well enough for what they were about to experience. I than starting changing my introductory speech.
Nowadays whenever a new student steps into my class, this is what I tell them – aerial yoga is weird, and it’s weird in a few different ways. It’s unlike any other physical activity you have done before (unless you are an aerialist). The hammock is a prop you need to get used to. It’s surprising how much the hammock can hurt. Though the fabric seems soft and silky (and when fully spread it really is), when it is closed and once it is wrapped around you, it can be painful (it can burn as well as give you bruises), and it takes time till the pain subsides. And last, but not least, and maybe most importantly – when we are upside down (and aerial yoga classes have quite a few inversions) our proprioception gets funky and we can’t really tell right from left and back from front. This also takes getting used to, and it might mean that you will spend your few first lessons feeling headaches, dizziness or nausea.
Official indications for not practicing aerial yoga (or rather for inversions) are high blood pressure, glaucoma, pregnancy or Botox injections in the last 24 hours. Pregnancy isn’t a counter indicator if you are used to practicing and feel safe, it’s just a matter of not wanting to risk falling down. Some women don’t feel very good doing inversions during their period, and some people with low blood pressure struggle with the upside down poses, but this is quite individual, and I can say that personally I have no problem with the two latter issues. Unofficially, here are a few other things to consider.
- Fear of heights – As you can imagine, aerial yoga isn’t very friendly for people who are afraid of heights. Supposedly aerial yoga hammocks are tied pretty low, but as you do inversions and in a normal class you will find yourself about 2 meter (6.5 feet) off the ground, it is something to consider. A lot of the difficulties people have in their first classes have to do with not being confident that the hammock will hold them. This is not a problem only people with fear of heights encounter, but it’s definitely intensified if you are afraid of heights as well. While I will push my students to try something that I think they are physically able to do, although they do not believe so, I’m much more careful when it comes to pushing someone to do something he or she is afraid of doing. I can encourage and support them, but I find it counter effective and at times even dangerous to make people do something they are not mentally ready for.
- Physical abilities – not all people who come to aerial yoga are very fit, as not all people who come to take a Pilates or yoga class are. This of course isn’t a problem per se, but it can lead to a bunch of problems. The first of which is that people will get themselves into a position they can’t come out of. In a yoga class you will just stop, but when you are hanging in the air and the only thing preventing you from falling on your face is gripping the fabric with your hands, which can no longer support you, it’s a problem. I always tell people that ambition is great, but if they are going to do a position they feel like they are too tired to do and might not be able to hold, it’s better to not take the risk. This is more a matter of pride and ego, than anything else, you need to be o.k with not being able to do everything. This leads me to the second problem. As many exercises in aerial yoga are built as sequences and in order to do the progressions, you will have to be able to do the basic wrap, if you can’t do it, that means you might miss out on a sequence that can take up to 5-10 minutes. Often first timers aren’t physically able, or are too afraid to get in to some of the positions. I try to help them and always give less advanced options, but sometimes nothing works, and they find themselves struggling with a hurdle they can’t pass. Some people are good sports about it – they sit out the exercise and rest, looking at their fellow practitioners, while others can’t stand it, and sometimes get so frustrated they even leave class. My tip for you is to have patience, like I said – aerial yoga is weird at first, it does get better though, and easier!
- Sensitivity – The hammock when closed or wrapped can hurt. Some people are more sensitive than others. It has something to do with skin sensitivity, and some people actually bruise from the pressure, but it also has to do with another factor, which I will share with you, though it’s extremely not PC and very unpopular to talk about. When wrapped (but not when simply closed) the skinnier you are, the less it hurts. This does not mean that people who aren’t as skinny can’t do aerial yoga, but it does mean it might take them more time to get used to the fabric.
- Grip – One specific physical ability you will need for aerial yoga is a strong grip. This is quite unique, and apart from aerial arts, pole dancing and climbing, I can’t really think of a physical activity which works on that skill. Sometimes people feel their fists and/or finger cramping during or after class. This is normal and it gets better as your hands get stronger. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how demanding a certain pose is on the grip, and it might feel like you have to stop. It’s a good idea to stop even if nothing else hurts. Often time your fingers are the only thing keeping you safe.
- Safety – Aerial yoga is safe. If you follow the instructions it is safe. It is a class that requires high levels of concentration, since if you are wrapped in the wrong way, you might not be safe to let go of the fabric, or continue with the progression. If any exercise I give is even slightly dangerous I will let my students know, and tell them how to avoid any accidents. One of the problems is that when people are afraid they try to hold on to the fabric/floor in ways other than instructed. This makes them feel safer, but more often than not, this will actually lead them to a less safe (or unsafe) position. I know it is hard to let go and trust both the teacher and the fabric, but instructions should be followed carefully, and only after you are a skilled practitioner there is room to improvise.
So, aerial yoga is kind of like coriander, it’s intense, and people either love it or hate it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which kind you are before trying, but in this post I tried to give you some pointers that might help.
If you have made it this far, and if I haven’t scared you, I would only like to add that aerial yoga has changed my life for the better. It makes me feel free and safe, it allows me to let go and fly, and it is truly amazing!
Spread you wings!