Acrobatic and aerial arts combine with anti-gravity asana to create a type of exercise called aerial yoga. The word ‘aerial’ might seem daunting at first but aerial yoga is actually a very accessible form of exercise that could help you lengthen your spine as well as help you achieve near perfect alignment while doing your poses.
Where you’ve seen Aerial Yoga Silks used
Types of aerial acrobatics and yoga, such as those you would see at a modern Cirque du Soleil show, might have seemed like it would be a short-lived trend when it was first introduced, but it has in fact been gaining traction and popularity. Aside from the practice helping you reach perfect alignment in nearly any asana (or pose), aerial yoga has great physical and health benefits. These include pain relief, spinal decompression, and giving a greater ease during inverted moves and other more difficult poses.
Quick Note: Check out Aerial Silks for Beginners – Frequently Asked Questions to learn more
A brief history on Silks
Yoga instructors started to occasionally mix traditional yoga practice with acrobatics over 10 years ago. Today, however, there are various schools and classes that are scheduled in yoga studios and festivals worldwide. Aerial yoga classes that can be found in gym and in-studio settings, they also go by other names like Unnata Aerial Yoga, Air Yoga, and AntiGravity Aerial Yoga; among the portable systems that are becoming more popular and can be practiced at home, as well as at yoga conferences and festivals include OmGym and Gorilla Gym.
Though each brand and style might be a little different from one another, they are all similar in that they all use a suspension in-air system which has therapeutic value.
The Health Benefits of Aerial Yoga
The suspension system consists of an aerial yoga silk and or hammock-like qualities, that is suspended from either the ceiling or a durable steel frame, that can help in a variety of aspects such as supporting your weight, helping you become more mobile, removing excess pressure, lessen the daily compression in your vertebrae causing spinal issues, and helping create space in your joints.
The idea of being upside down might be you uneasy as it is usually risky, but inverting yourself while you’re in the hammock position is quite easy and it does not require putting ant pressure on your spine or head like a normal inversion would.
Doing classic inversions have been proven to eventually lead to neck and back pain and/or injury over time, says NYC based yoga instructor and leader of physiology and anatomy teachings worldwide, Joe Miller.
The hammock does not only help you do more difficult inversions, however, it also helps you strengthen your muscles to find the right alignment when doing asana. Miller states that research done on suspension training shows that core muscles have to be used much more when you are suspended, as opposed to when you’re on the floor, in order to keep your body stable. Furthermore, you gain arm strength with aerial yoga by pulling yourself up and into the silk. Michelle Dortignac, former traditional yoga instructor with an interest in aerial acrobatics, and founder of the Unnata Aerial Yoga practice in 2006 says that students build core and arm strength in your biceps and triceps that would not be available in regular yoga by doing pulling motions on the hammock to lift themselves up.
Joe Miller also says that natural alignment and adjustments can be achieved using aerial silks. He says that doing the Downward Facing Dog Pose or the Standing Forward Bend (or Uttanasana) with the silk on your hips will help keep the tops of your thighbones back; folding forward at the hips is how you are supposed to do the pose properly, but most people find it quite difficult on the ground. The hammock will help you lessen the pinching at the front end of the hip bones, something a person might experience while doing these poses.
Michelle Dortignac, who has trained over 200 Unnata teachers over the last 9 years, states that the silks will be especially useful for those who are beginners at yoga. She says that gravity does most of the work when a student uses a hammock during Down Dog. Silks or hammocks help create internal space and lengthen the body. After a student uses the hammock, they will develop a muscle memory then apply it to their floor practices.
Another way the silks can help is if, for example, you are having difficulty with the One-Legged Pigeon Pose (or Eka Pada Rajakapostasana).
Doing this post in a hammock position can help you focus on the most important aspects of the pose like lengthening your spine and hip of your extended leg, all while taking take not to put pressure on your knee, which is the problem most people have on the floor. The hammock will also help your backbend position in this pose, as well as help your spine decompress since you don’t have to work hard against the gravity like you would in traditional floor yoga.
Aside from the alignment, strengthening, and therapeutic value that aerial yoga provides, the exercise is also a lot of fun. AntiGravity founder Christopher Harrison says that ‘antigravity’ could also mean ‘against graveness’, and this is why they practice Ananda (extreme happiness) while inverted; this includes using laughing breaths or exhaling forcefully with a laugh. People, in general, are also naturally interested in what it might feel like to fly or float, and aerial yoga is an amazing great chance for people to play, dream, and exercise. A lot of the practice has much to do with putting yourself in a unique position you’d never thought you’d see yourself in.