Using a silk rope hanging from the ceiling, aerial yoga allows you to stretch and move while suspended over the ground.
It can sound a bit intimidating at first, but after my first class, I was hooked. It made me wish I hadn't thought about going for years and tried this sooner.
I've now been going regularly for three months, and I am amazed at how much it has positively impacted all aspects of my life. With each class I deepen my understanding of its multifaceted benefits. The healing it offers to my mind, body and soul is unique and expansive.
If you've been thinking about trying aerial yoga, but aren't quiet sure why you should or what it's all about, here are my top four favorite reasons to go:
1 – Clear Your Mind & Come into the Now
Do you ever wish you could push a button and completely clear your mind? I mean instantly, it’s all gone, any thoughts of a bad day, all your worries, concerns, hopes, fears, just poof, the slate is wiped clean.
The first time I went to aerial yoga, I found this button. There is something that happens to our minds when we realize we’re about to toss our head back towards the ground and our legs up in the air. It’s something instinctual that tells us to pay attention to what we’re doing, because this looks a wee bit dangerous.
As I watched the instructor hinge backwards over the rope and glide upside down, my mind cleared of everything else. I couldn’t help it – what she was doing, and what I was about to do, required my full, present awareness.
I watched her closely, waited until I felt ready, and with her spotting me, I went for it! Gliding back and feeling myself suspended over the floor was exhilarating. My legs angling out ensured I wouldn’t flip all the way over, and the silk rope pushed on my sacrum, using my hips and glutes to keep me firmly in place.
Once upside down my mind cleared and I was centered in this beautiful, vivid moment. The sensation of hanging upside down brings its own uniqueness, which further deepened my feeling of connection to the here and now.
When you go for your first class, the most important thing is to take your time. People who have been going for awhile will just flip backwards, but they were new and uncertain once too. If you need the instructor to demonstrate again, ask. If you want to be spotted, ask. If you're unsure if you're in the right position once upside down, you know what to do - ask! You want your first class to feel as supportive and fun as possible, and this will happen by listening to yourself and asking for help - we all did it, I promise!
2 – Let Go In a Way You Never Have Before
Have you ever noticed how happy and calm a child looks when hanging upside down on a monkey bar? That's because when you're upside down all you can do is hang! You don't have to think "and now I'll let go". You just do. You can't help it.
For the most part, all of the things that can feel like mental clutter are associated with being upright. You do your work, laundry, shopping and so on while head up. Therefore, when you go upside down you physically go into a completely different space.
We are creatures of habit, and when we disconnect from the physical sensation associated with every day life, we disconnect in a mental way also. You aren't going to write a thesis or finish that work project while hanging upside down. But you are going to clear your mind, breathe deep and let go, which will rejuvenate you and clear space for inspiration and fresh energy.
Hanging upside down also opens your chest and back, which in turn helps your breathing to slow down. The decompression happening in your spine and neck leads to another layer of release, and as your arms hang down and your body opens, a wonderful feeling of surrender and ease takes over.
Sometimes the hardest thing is letting go and stepping back, and more often than not, it's also what we need most.
3 – Release tightness in hips
I have tight hips, and years of traditional mat yoga provided only nominal relief. However, after just a few weeks of aerial yoga, I had substantial increases in my flexibility in my hips and legs.
How is this possible?
One of the first poses you will do is a forward hang. You step up to the hanging rope, push it down and wide, and fold over it. Once hanging, you allow your arms to drape down and you relax your legs.
Once you’re in, the challenging part begins. Hanging there can feel like you have clothespins pinching your hip muscles. This sounds terrible, but this sensation comes from the fact that the rope is working deep into those muscles. It’s like an intense, deep tissue massage that releases layers and layers of tension.
The good news is, if you go consistently for a few weeks, you get used to the feeling and it goes away. The even better news is, once you are comfortable with the feeling, you can try some more advanced moves, such as reaching for your feet like in happy baby pose, all while the silk rope massages and loosens those muscles even more.
The progress is cumulative, and each new pose will accelerate the opening of the hips, which can assist with healing back pain, knee pain and sciatica. I have been amazed at how this body healing has positively impacted my running, posture, low back pain and ability to go deeper into mat yoga poses.
At those point, releasing that tension feels so good I actually look forward to this position.
4 – Deepen Your Trust in Yourself and Your Capabilities
Moving from the two basic poses we did in the beginners’ class to the intermediate class intimidated me. I was afraid of falling or moving wrong and injuring myself. When the instructor showed us something new, I would think “Oh no, maybe I’ll skip that.” But then a little voice would rise up inside of me and say, “Trust yourself.”
And so I did. I trusted my body. I trusted I was stronger and more capable than I allowed myself to believe. I trusted I could navigate this newness. I trusted that even if I did fall, the fear was far greater than any actual impact.
This trust helped me to tune more into my body, and to feel more at home there. It also rippled out into other areas of my life, giving me courage and faith in myself at times I would normally give up.
It also helped to show me how fear can create false realities out of nothing. In almost every pose you're only a few feet off the ground. You could fall off your couch and it'd be the same danger level, and yet, because this is new, my mind wants to amp up the fear. I now look at things and ask myself if I'm perceiving them correctly, or am I making it bigger than it is because it's outside my comfort zone?
Bonus benefit for yogis who want to deepen their mat practice!
Aerial helps you to deepen your mat practice by experiencing being upside down
This might sound a bit odd. How does learning to be upside down make you a better yogi? If you've ever wanted to try a headstand or a handstand, but didn't because you were afraid of toppling over or smashing into the ground, you can probably see where I'm going with this.
I always admired when someone would bend down, push into their hands, and flip upside down unaided. I would occasionally try it using a wall, but it wasn't until I began aerial that I even considered doing it unaided, on my own.
With your feet supported in the yoga silk, you can come into a pike position, and get used to the sensation of lining up your arms over your wrists. And if you come into a hanging corpse pose (one of my favorites, your whole body stretches out!), you can push your hands into the ground and practice handstands, all while fully supported, before you let go to hang in the corpse pose.
Learning to be upside down and prepare for handstands really tied into number four, which was to deepen my trust in myself and my body. Aerial yoga also did so much for my core, as the movement of pulling yourself up and balancing while in various positions will fire up your core muscles like nothing else. It helped me to first start with headstands, which I'd never thought I could do, and then led into me now practicing handstands.
I could go on and on with the benefits of this fun class, so I'll stop here! I hope you find an aerial yoga studio near you and get to experience it for yourself!