Aerial yoga can twist your body into gravity-defying positions and stretch muscles that have been tight for years, experienced practitioners say.
But first, you have to trust a delicate-looking loop of fabric that hangs from the ceiling.
At an introductory workshop for this new form of an ancient practice, 35-year-old Deanna Dino tried the hammock of silk for the first time, easing back slowly.
“Is it going to hold me?” she asked.
“It can hold my car!” said Luciana Harris, the 37-year-old teacher of the aerial yoga workshop, held at Luciana’s Massage & Spa Therapies, 8676 Goodwood Blvd, Suite 103, Baton Rouge.
“This is the hardest part,” she told the four students, “trusting the fabric and letting go.”
Soon the women in the class had settled into the first pose, leaning back into the fabric and relaxing their hips to help alleviate back and rib pain.
“Ahhh,” sighed someone from across the room.
It’s called Unnata aerial yoga and it was invented in 2006, according to founder Michelle Dortignac’s website.
Participants sit in, lie on or get support from a loop of fabric that hangs from a support on the ceiling.
With the hammocks, a participant can take pressure off sensitive joints and practice certain yoga positions more deeply, Harris said.
“The main reason we do aerial yoga is to avoid misalignment of yoga poses,” Harris said. “The silk fabrics take the misalignment out of the body.”
When Harris, a massage therapist and yoga teacher, heard about aerial yoga, she had some of her more muscular, athletic clients in mind.
“The ability for them to stretch is limited, but yoga would be the best activity for them,” she said. “It would make it a lot easier to participate in yoga, but it’s also designed for active yogis who want a deeper practice.”
Experienced yogis or newcomers can try aerial yoga, Harris said, but her first class was composed of a handful of yoga enthusiasts.
They tried progressively harder positions, first testing the traditional pose on the floor, then climbing into the hammock to try the fabric-supported version.
The pigeon pose, which is traditionally done on a yoga mat with one leg stretched out behind and the other bent in front, takes on a new dimension in the hammock. Balancing in the fabric, Dino flipped upside down.
“Holy smokes!” she said, shocked at first. “That feels good. That feels really neat.”
The adventurous nature of the hammock added an excitement to a normal yoga class, said Sarah Rippel, a 38-year-old personal trainer.
“I like the anti-gravity, just taking the pressure off the spine and joints in general,” she said. “It’s just something different.”
Next they tried a meditative pose. Rippel sat with her legs crossed and the fabric supporting her feet.
As she leaned forward, she tilted upside down and began to hang, giggling at first.
A yoga instructor herself, 42-year-old Reba Robertson wanted to try the Unnata class after seeing it on television.
“It looked cool,” she said. “And it is surreal.”
To end the class on a meditative note, Harris sat cross legged in the middle of the four hammocks. The yogis stretched into the traditional yoga position called corpse pose, lying in the hammocks like they were cocoons.
“Allow the next inhalation to be full,” Harris said. “Fill up the lungs. Then slowly exhale, emptying out the lungs completely. Allow the body to fully relax and just be here.”
After a short meditation, class was ending.
Robertson was in no hurry to leave her hammock, asking, “Do we have to get out?”