Falling head over heels for anti-gravity yoga

This new type of yoga was developed by Christopher Harrison, who designed aerial performances for Broadway.
Credit: 
ESerranoAG

I never truly experienced yoga until I tried it upside down.

Initially, I imagined yoga as someone sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position, deeply om-ing while their face rests in an expression of complete inner peace and tranquility. 

Never did I imagine someone yelping and hanging in mid-air with their legs tangled up in a hammock. But alas — welcome to anti-gravity yoga.

This spin on an otherwise time-honoured activity features a large sling-like apparatus that’s used to help practitioners experience movement in “zero gravity”. Invented by Christopher Harrison, a gymnast who designed aerial performances for Broadway, anti-gravity yoga trades classic poses, such as sun salutations and downward dog, for mid-air movements. 

It’s accredited with providing great cardiovascular exercise, stimulating feel-good hormones and supplying a back-stretch like no other.

I’ve never been able to get into traditional yoga. All of the stretching poses end up feeling more painful than relaxing to me — completely counterproductive to why most people practice yoga in the first place.  

That being said, after trying the anti-gravity genre, I’ve a newfound love for the activity. Besides being outrageously fun, I found hanging upside down provides a much better stretch than a warrior pose, which always seems to give me a leg cramp.

I took the class with a friend while I was home for the holidays. Anti-gravity yoga isn’t as widely offered as regular yoga since it requires specially-trained instructors and specific equipment. The hammocks are made of an ultra-durable and stretchy silk, and need rigs to securely hang them up. 

The studio I went to had soft, pink hammocks draping from the ceiling beams like adult-sized cradles. It was slightly intimidating at first, but I got comfortable with them soon enough.

The class started off tamely with some balancing exercises. We played with putting different limbs and amounts of weight into the hammocks — sort of like trust exercises, but with an inanimate object. Although the hammocks were suspended with heavy-duty chains, it was still hard to believe that the flimsy fabric could hold and support over 1,000 pounds.

But the trust exercises ended shortly. Soon into the hour-long class we began a series of full moves and I put my faith into the fabric swings for the first time.

The class I attended was more focused on “flying fitness,” so it had a faster pace than you’d usually expect with yoga. It also incorporated a ton of mid-air flips — or more formally, “zero-compression inversions”.

Let me tell you: flipping is fun. In anti-gravity yoga, you’re only about three inches above the ground, but a combination of the exhilaration of flipping and falling, and then the relief of being caught before hitting the ground had my adrenaline going.

Each time I held my breath and swung myself upside down, I was surprised by how easy it was to support myself in the hammock. Even with my minimal upper body and core strength, my trusty pink sling was there to catch me when I fell. 

The scariest move involved flipping forward. Naturally, both my head and my body were telling me “don’t do this”. You usually begin in a variation of a sitting position in the hammock and you have to drive your weight through your head to make the flip. Trying to override the natural instinct that urged me not to drive my head and body towards the ground wasn’t the easiest task. 

For the forward-flipping move, my instructor, Melissa, had to give me a helping hand. And by a helping hand, I mean she (lightly) pushed me down into the flip. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t let out a yelp. But­ soon enough, my feet came above my head and I was hanging upside down like a spider in a web.

At this point, it’s worth pointing out that I’m not a gymnast. No matter how many times I tried, I never even learned how to perform a cartwheel. Finding myself capable of doing these moves was quite the surprise. I initially questioned how no one ever fell out of the hammocks, but all the movements were designed in a way that made working with the equipment feel  natural and comfortable. 

At the end of the class, we laid down in a floating Shavasana pose. With my whole body in the silk, it was like being in a levitating cocoon. In a similar fashion to traditional yoga, the lights were turned off and serene flute music began to play.

“Oh, I love this one,” I heard a few of those say around me. In fact, the majority of the class were also first-timers, and throughout the entire hour, there was an air of energy and enthusiasm that filled the room.

Melissa also prompted us to shift our weight until we were gently swinging side-to-side in the swaddle. This was so soothing that I immediately felt a sense of understanding for babies that I’ve never experienced before.

It was also only then, when I was finally lying still, that I noticed my heart beating a little harder than usual. I had been so focused on getting into the different positions, and making sure I didn’t fall out of the hammock, that I hardly noticed the physical exertion that went into the class.

The next day, I woke up with aching shoulders. While it wasn’t a rigorous workout, this class definitely had my heart and muscles pumping. 

For me however, it was just loads of fun — the exercise was a plus.

It’s to my dismay that anti-gravity yoga isn’t a widely offered sport. But a class may be coming to the Queen’s ARC in the near future, which I’m very hopeful for. 

Until then, I guess I’m off to join Cirque du Soleil. That’s a wrap on this fly experience.

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