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by Daniel Burford March 22, 2016

How I was introduced to aerial yoga was interesting ...

We were walking home from breakfast talking about how great Virgin Active is.

The machines, the pool, the BMI machine, the indoor rock climbing wall.

"Yeah I really love their group classes," he said.

The what?

"... Especially antigravity yoga."

I kind of laughed. Just like I kind of laughed when they showed me the "mind body studios" on the tour of the gym.

I've never been one for group exercise. In fact, I'd only tried yoga once before. It didn't go well.

"You should try it!" he said.

The next day I was at my first beginners class for antigravity yoga.

True story.

My journey with antigravity (aerial) yoga

I've been going to anti gravity classes for around 3 months now. While I started going at just 1 lesson per week, now I go to 3-4 times per week.

These classes are included as part of the Virgin Active gym membership. What other names do people call aerial yoga? Lots.

  • Aerial yoga
  • Antigravity yoga
  • Flying yoga
  • Yoga fly (!?)
  • Air yoga

In this article, I'll use these terms interchangeably. Here's what the aerial yoga studio looks like at Virgin Active:

Aerial Yoga

In total, there are about 19 hammocks in the room. Most days, all the hammocks will be taken. At Virgin Active, there are 3 different levels of anti gravity depending on your experience:

  • Beginner: Antigravity Yoga beginner
  • Intermediate: Antigravity Yoga 1
  • Advanced: Antigravity Yoga 2

After around 20 lessons, and with a few long suffering instructors, I'm now in Antigravity 2. This took me around 8 beginner classes and 10 anti gravity 1 classes.

Like almost every male who tries antigravity yoga, flexibility and balance are my biggest struggles. The more strength focussed elements, moves like flips and shoulder stands, I, and most males, will find easier than females.

In this blog post, I'm going to provide an introduction to anti gravity yoga, some of its core moves and a few things I've learnt along the way.

An introduction to Aerial Yoga

Aerial yoga is a relatively new form of yoga that incorporates elements of yoga, trapeze, gymnastics and pilates into some kind of mongrel aerial meditation practice. 

With all these different elements, it means that no 2 lessons are ever the same, which keeps things interesting and challenging.

 

What is Aerial Yoga?

Aerial yoga is a practice that combines elements of yoga, trapeze and pilates.

The primary aspect that sets anti-gravity, also known as aerial, apart from other group classes is the use of a sturdy silk hammock that is suspended from the ceiling.

I know what you're thinking: can that really support me? Yes. It can. Unless you weigh over 450 kilograms.

Aerial yoga is easier to see than to explain. So, here is an aerial yoga routine that incorporates both beginner and advanced poses:

  She's really good! As you can see, during an aerial yoga routine,  your hips, your back, or feet are supported by the hammock to provide stability and a center of balance.

In a sense, antigravity yoga combines the aesthetics of a fitness class with the general concept of yoga. Poses are used to create a routine, yet there is less focus on the breathing techniques that are common in traditional yoga classes.

I personally find aerial yoga a fun change of pace from the hard core training sessions that usually fill out my time at the gym. With that being said, antigravity can be a hard core ab fitness routines, stretching sessions or cardio routines.

Of all the group exercise classes offered at Virgin Active, this is the only class I've tried. I absolutely recommend it for a change of scenery. Plus it has the added benefits of learning new tricks, relaxation and meeting new people.

Where Does Aerial Yoga Originate?

How did the idea for aerial yoga come about? Aerial yoga was developed by Chris Harrison - a former dancer and gymnast.

The origins of aerial yoga can be traced back to 1990, when Harrison was hired by the New York Marathon to put together a performance for their closing ceremony. By 2007, Harrison had developed a fitness routine using the techniques created for his performances.

He began licensing the concept out to various fitness centers around the world. It quickly soared to popularity and has just begun its ascent in Australia with Virgin Active running regular classes throughout the week. Additionally, numerous fitness studios have begun teaching the practice.

The Benefits of Aerial Yoga

Aerial yoga promotes a lot of health benefits. Here are a few of the benefits that you can expect from an aerial yoga class:
  • Reduces stress
  • Relieves back pain
  • Increases flexibility
  • Increases strength and endurance
  • Builds core muscles
  • Builds stronger grip
  • Better arms, legs and arse
  • You'll probably meet some guys there

As with a standard yoga, antigravity yoga is great for relieving stress so generally recommended for people with hypertension.

One of the best parts of aerial yoga are the inversion poses. Hanging from the hammock, inversions can help lengthen and decompress the spine, relieving back pain while increasing flexibility, strength, and endurance.

 

Typical Aerial Yoga Poses

One thing that aerial yoga shares with traditional yoga is the use of specific poses throughout the routine. Typical aerial yoga poses include:
  • Child's Pose
  • Floating Goddess
  • Chandelier
  • Standard Inversion
  • Triangle Pose
  • Tree
  • Swan
  • Cocoon / Savasana
I'll describe these in more detail.

Child's Pose

Child pose was the first move taught in aerial yoga. It is a lot easier to do than to explain.
  1. Stand in front of the hammock and reach for the edge. Shake the hammock from side to side from this point to straighten the hammock.
  2. From here, turn around so you are facing the instructor and your back is near the hammock.
  3. Grab 6 big handfuls of fabric. Move underneath the plum line.
  4. Lifting one leg at a time, step into the hammock. Don't jump into the hammock because you'll probably fall through.
  5. Move your hands out behind the hammock. Your hands and thumbs should be on the outside of the hammock and your fingers gripping the fabric on either side of the hammock.
  6. Your feet will have a tendency to sit apart. Instead, bring your ankles and feet together.
  7. Lean your chest forward over your thighs.

Once you see someone do this, it will make a whole lot more sense. The child pose is the foundation move for a lot of anti gravity poses including shoulder stand, vampire, cocoon and so forth. 

Child pose is still used for advanced users when returning from an inversion to avoid light headedness.

 

Floating Goddess

The Floating Goddess pose is a simple pose where you sit inside the hammock, opening your hips and extending your legs to the side and out of the hammock. Sit upright and focus on keeping your back straight and your hips open.

This pose helps improve your pelvis stability and is generally used as a warm up or warm down move.

 

Chandelier

Chandelier is my personal favourite move. To get into chandelier requires 3 moves:
  1. Monkey wrap inversion
  2. Gazelle
  3. Phoenix
  4. Then you can move into Chandelier

With this pose, the hammock is positioned along the back of your waistline. While stretching backwards, with one hand holding firmly onto the hammock, extend your opposite leg and wrap your foot around the hammock.

Antigravity Yoga

 

Once your leg is securely holding you in place, with the hammock behind your lower back, slowly remove your hand from the hammock and extend your upper body backwards. If you need to, especially if it is your first time, extend your hands to the ground to ensure you are secure in the hammock.

When you feel comfortable, reach your hands to the free leg and hold. Then, like any yoga move, do the same on the other side.

This pose is a great stretch for your quads and for opening up your chest. Most guys will struggle with this at first, women tend to be able to get it quickly.

Advanced moves:

  • Don't use your hands to stabilise. This means when you go into the inversion, you want to be directly underneath the plum line so you are not moving or swaying.
  • When you are ready to do the other leg, outstretch both legs to come into star (don't touch ground). Then wrap the foot around the hammock, gazelle, phoenix and slowly into chandelier.
  • Don't wrap your foot around the hammock. Instead, just let it lean gently against the hammock. You don't need to grip it tightly; you'll survive.

Super riveting fact: Chandelier was originally choreographed for P!nk to perform in her concerts.

 

Standard Inversion

For those new to anti gravity, this is probably the most terrifying pose. It is often performed in the first 15 minutes of your beginner lesson. Don't worry, it looks a lot harder than it is.

To perform the standard inversion, start by lining up underneath the plum line with the hammock positioned behind the small of your back. Holding on to the hammock with both hands, lean backwards.

Spread your legs into a wide V shape, then swing your feet around the front of the hammock. With your feet, you can either wrap them around the sides of the hammock or join the toes and heels together (like Prayer for feet). The latter is the more advanced move.

With your hands, you can either rest the back of the hands on the floor to support you. Or if you're more advanced, you can bring them behind your back, behind your head, whatever is comfortable for you.

Taking your hands off the ground means that you need to be secure in the hammock first and can take some practice.

Triangle Pose

The Triangle Pose is typically performed following the Warrior Two pose. With the use of the hammock, the Triangle Pose is much easier on the back than with traditional yoga.

Standing in Warrior Two, stretch your forward hand down towards the foot that is extended in front of you. You should feel the stretch in your hamstring.

Tree

The Tree pose is intended to improve your overall balance. It can also help to strengthen your legs, including your thighs, calves, and ankles. The balancing aspect of the pose can also aid your spine.

With the Tree pose, you stand underneath the plum line and place one foot inside the hammock, as if you are using it to stand on. Wrap your arm, from the same side as the leg that it is standing on the hammock, around the hammock for support.

Bring your opposite leg up and bring your hands together to Prayer. Like a prone hold, the trick is stabilisation and can be challenging for those new to core workouts.

Swan

The Swan pose is another relaxing pose.

With the Swan pose, you position the hammock in front of you and lean forward. Holding onto the hammock with both hands, you stretch yourself forward, as if you are floating, with your hands holding onto the hammock behind you and your legs extending outwards.

You should then be parallel to the floor, with your stomach facing the floor. Extend your head up and put your chest out. This pose can release tension in your thighs and your hips.

Cocoon / Savasana

The Savasana pose is typically used at the end of class. It is the relaxation pose usually accompanied by a change in music. With this pose, your entire body is inside the hammock and you lay flat on your back while allowing your body to sink into the hammock.

Place your hands wherever is comfortable. While some people find extending their arms over their heads to outside the hammock to be most comfortable, I find across the chest to be the most natural. This resting pose is quite relaxing.

If your instructor is feeling adventurous, he or she may grab your hammock and push you, allowing you to move freely through the air. You should remain relaxed, eyes closed, sinking into the hammock and your hammock will eventually stop swinging.

After cocoon, you will always want to come into child's pose by grabbing the sides of the hammock, slowly sitting up and moving into child's pose.

Traditional Yoga Poses

In addition to the poses described above, some aerial yoga classes incorporate traditional yoga poses that are adjusted slightly for use with the hammock, such as pigeon.

Personally I find the aerial yoga variations a whole lot more fun and challenging than standard yoga.

 

Aerial Yoga Precautions

Before you head to your first aerial yoga class, bear in mind it isn't suitable for absolutely everyone at every stage of their life. Some precautions to take into consideration:
  • Do not perform aerial yoga on a full stomach
  • Not recommended for pregnant women
  • Avoid antigravity yoga if you suffer from vertigo
  • Do not attempt if you have had botox in the last 6 hours (used to be 24 hours)
  • Do not attempt if you have untreated high blood pressure
  • Exercise caution if you have had major surgery in the past 6 months. Advise the instructor of this.

For obvious reasons, you do not want to attend an aerial yoga class on a full stomach, especially during your first visit. The constant hanging and reliance on the core for stability could easily lead to cramps and whole heap of unpleasantness.

Similarly, aerial yoga is not the best idea if you easily suffer from vertigo. Most anti gravity moves can lead to dizziness and symptoms of vertigo, especially inversions and moves such as Twisted Sister.

These precautions should always be explained in beginner's class. After a few times, you'll know them off by heart!

Aerial Yoga Tips

While we have covered some of the basic precautions for aerial yoga, there are some useful tips that you should look at before your first aerial yoga session.
  • Always start at beginner level
  • Don't wear clothing with zips as this could rip the hammock
  • Wear a t-shirt, no singlets as it could get caught in the hammock and you generally want to avoid your skin rubbing directly onto the fabric
  • Wear pants and avoid shorts. A lot of guys wear compression pants. Wearing shorts, you may find your skin is irritated from rubbing against the fabric.
  • You'll have good days and bad days where things just don't work
  • Push yourself, but not to the point where it hurts. If you have experience pushing yourself with normal training, you'll know this point already
  • The hammock can hold your weight, even if you lean fully into it ...
  • Once you learn Chandelier, you'll feel very good about yourself
  • You probably don't need a pre-workout ...

When you take your first class, your instructor will take things relatively slow, but for a beginner it can feel fast. You'll probably do your first inversion in the first 15 minutes. But don't worry, you have a strong chance of survival.

There's this saying that most instructors say at one point or another: "Now if it's in your practice today, [insert slightly more advanced technique for the same exercise]." It's like that.

Like working out at the gym, no one really cares what you look like because they're too busy focusing on themselves. When you're starting out, just watch the instructor closely. 

Unlike other group classes, there is very real risk of injury if you fall out or don't catch yourself in time. The risk of injury is substantially lower if you have the strength to save yourself.

I have managed to get into unusual positions before and fortunately my upper body strength saved me from a 'strawberry jam' face.

So that's aerial yoga

You don't need to do aerial yoga for an aesthetic physique. But it can help tone midsection and build lean muscle.. slowly.

I go for the change of scenery, core conditioning, relaxation and to meet new people. Plus some of the tricks are kind of cool, even if they have very few everyday life applications. If it weren't for Virgin Active, I definitely would not have considered or gone to an aerial yoga class. But for now, they're working for me.

Booking a class is easily done through the Virgin Active website. Start with Beginner and work your way up. Let me know how you go, might see you at the next aerial yoga class.

Daniel Burford
Daniel Burford

Daniel Burford is the founder of Hustler Fitness and the SHREDDED Program, a 12 week program that helps men build muscle, lose fat and get shredded. Check it out by clicking here. For training, nutrition & supplement tips, follow Hustler Fitness on Facebook & Instagram.


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