In my ongoing quest to find new and strange methods of exercising, I have discovered a bizarre but enjoyable thing: aerial yoga. On the recommendation of a friend, I went along to a workshop on Saturday morning, excited and not a little scared.
It’s a method of yoga using a hammock, which is suspended from the ceiling; sometimes to sit or lie in, but usually scrunched up like a harness. This can take your full body weight and enable you to stretch further than you normally might. And on occasions, to lift you off the ground completely and get into inverted poses. Yep, that’s hanging upside down, in plain English.
The thinking is that the weightlessness aspect will expand your flexibility, build strength and increase the range of motions that you can do. It also lengthens the spine, making it good for people with back problems. I can confirm that you feel properly stretched afterwards. Here’s an example of a pose called the dancer, which looks simple but I found particularly tough because of the time spent holding my weight on the single leg. Before the teacher got us to switch, my back leg was juddering like a pneumatic drill.
We started off with less terrifying moves where you still had some of your body parts touching the floor, to build up our trust in the hammock. This was not easy for me. I am a heavy lass and was convinced the hammock would snap from the rafters and I would tumble to the floor, humiliated and hurt. Even moves like the one below were deceptively scary, because you still have to allow the hammock to hold your weight before touching the ground again.
Before long, we had finished the floor poses and had to let go, like the pose in the picture at the very top. When you do, you swing back and forward as though you were flying. Despite being terrified of being suspended in this way, it was a wonderful feeling. Doing this allowed me to believe that I was not a heifer suspended by a flimsy piece of material, but instead a woman of grace. For a brief moment, I imagined I was a trapeze artist. Slightly sad perhaps, but at least it’s better than feeling like a bullshit artist.
The biggest lesson you need to learn in aerial yoga is to give in and let go. The teacher (who was lovely and very encouraging) kept reminding us to breathe, and to trust the hammock. Even though I was only a couple of feet off the ground, I was so afraid. But what of, apart from banging my head? The answer was, of losing control and having to put my whole weight and faith in something else. Believing that something would hold me up, no matter what. It’s a hard thing to do, yet so worthwhile.
When it came to the inversions, I had two choices: chicken out or take the leap. So I took a deep breath, muttered what the fuck and with only a scrap of fabric around my waist, swung my legs over my head, gripping the hammock for dear life with my feet. Once you get there, it’s a disconcerting experience. The hammock digs in a bit at first and it’s physically uncomfortable until you get used to it. My initial instinct was to right myself up straight away, just to be sure that I could get out if I needed to. Once I did, I went straight back upside down again.
After you have just about managed to get comfortable there, the teacher encouraged us to let our feet go and start moving our legs about in all sorts of strange contortions. Again, inside my head I was thinking ‘are you completely out of your mind woman?’ but took another deep breath and believed that I would not fall out. I only have two photos from my actual class. Here is one of them:
That’s me on the right: upside down, with my feet off the hammock and look, no hands! Grinning like a Cheshire cat no less. We were upside down for what seemed like hours, but in reality was maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. I even managed to flip myself on and off the hammock in a somersault stylee. It wasn’t all yogic bliss. At times, I just wanted to stop the ride and get off but I pushed myself and was amazed at what I could do. An attitude that held me in good stead this morning, when I wanted to switch Shaun T off after about twenty minutes of plyometric jumping. On that subject, I will only add that I stayed the course, but have gone right off him already.
Perseverance is the key to surviving many of life’s tough bits. Especially when you get to the end. Most people who do yoga relish the relaxation bit at the end, known as savasana. Lying on the floor is always nice after a hard yoga session. Doing it full stretch in a hammock, while listening to beautiful music is even better. I am in this picture too, in a little purple pod at the back.
It may look weird, but it really is wonderful. There is complete privacy to be alone with your thoughts or meditation and no-one can see you shed a tear or two, which I admit is what I did. Doing weird and unimaginable things with your body can be a powerful experience. If you’re in Glasgow and want to give it a go, the website is here. It’s not something I will do all the time, but I will definitely do it again. When you find your wings, you want to fly again.
Until next time,