AntiGravity Yoga

Benna Crawford
antigravity yoga exercise

From an ordinary caterpillar inching across your mat, to an elevated chrysalis cocooned in a swath of silk mid-air, to a skydiver suspended in mid-flight, you'll discover new heights to your practice in AntiGravity® yoga. You're upside down, you're off the floor, you're (sort of) weightless, using a silk sling as a yoga prop to expand your poses and lengthen your spine.

Getting High

yoga and stretching

AntiGravity® yoga is the trademarked name of an aerial asana style, developed by gymnast/acrobat/dancer/choreographer Christopher Harrison. Classes merge yoga poses, Pilates exercises, calisthenics, and aerial gymnastics for a workout that's out-of-the-ordinary, challenging in new ways, and accessible enough to help most people take their fitness workouts to a new level. Literally. Harrison started a performance company of acrobats and dancers in 1990 that he called AntiGravity. In 2007, he launched AntiGravity Aerial Yoga, a fitness technique he developed when he tried yoga as a remedy for his dancer injuries and found that suspension gymnastics provided even more relief. Today, Harrison licenses the technique worldwide, trains instructors, and experiments with advances in the method at his Chelsea studio, The AntiGravity Lab, in New York City.

Fusion and Flight

AntiGravity is and isn't a yoga class. The fitter you are, the higher you can fly, but almost anyone in reasonable condition can enter an appropriate level class. Routines incorporate yoga asanas -- some adapted but all enhanced by the support of the slings or hammocks; Pilates moves (you can do Pilates hundreds suspended in a sling, and it's a whole new kind of challenge); gymnastics and calisthenics; and aerial dance. The silk sling cradles you in downward-facing dog so your tight hips relax, and you can feel the stretch lengthen along your unresisting legs and spine. The OMG-can-I-do-that vampire pose is not only impressive and beautiful as winged flight, it challenges your core. (And, yes, you can do it because a good teacher will "walk" you through it.) Savasana is blissed-out you, floating in an all-encompassing silk cocoon, hoping class will never end. AntiGravity fuses fun and flashy moves from all those disciplines into a high-energy, exhilarating 75- to 90-minute session that leaves you longer, stronger, and refreshed. (Your spine decompresses slightly when you work the suspended inversions, a mild experience of gravity-free space.)

Flight Patterns

Every studio is different but here's an idea of what to expect.

Aerial Yoga

You begin by adjusting the hammock to your height (the instructor helps with this), and you'll probably start class with pranayama (breathing exercises) and maybe a brief meditation. Lotus pose is a breeze in the hammock - no pressure, lots of support, and you can always modify a pose to suit your own bendiness. Meditation might also be a relaxing suspension, completely enveloped by the hammock. The instructor will lead you through a series of poses that feature some connection with the floor, fun swinging poses that get you flying (and maybe giggling - AntiGravity is supposed to be lighthearted), zero-compression inversions that actually help to lengthen your spine, and a concluding corpse pose that is renamed womb pose; it's you, cocooned in the hammock while the instructor guides you through a meditation.

The AntiGravity program offers seven kinds of classes plus privates. In Fundamentals, you learn the essentials: how to get in and out of the hammock; basic moves, wraps, and grips; comfort in suspended inversions; swinging like a kid; swooping like a flying squirrel. There are classes called Aerial Yoga, Suspension Fitness, Pilates, AIRbarre, Restorative Yoga, and a special program for children.

Equipment

The equipment is in the studio - a silk hammock suspended by two hooks from the ceiling. Bring yourself. But wrap that self in a shirt with sleeves, and pants that cover your legs. Cotton is non-slippery and gives you the best traction in the hammock. You definitely want your armpits covered to prevent chafing. If you wear tights, they should be opaque unless you are a shameless exhibitionist. Wear a snug top because you spend a lot of time upside-down. Don't wear socks (slippery) or jewelry. You'll probably want your water bottle and a mop-up towel; you'll be working intensely. There's no real "mat work" so you don't need your usual yoga gear. The studio supplies mats and blocks if you'll be using them.

Fly Away or At Home

aero exercise

The increasing popularity of aerial yoga means you have more options all the time to find a convenient class. Look for licensed classes in places such as Virgin Active Fitness, Milan; Madonna's Hard Candy Fitness, Moscow; Crunch Fitness Gyms all over the U.S., and The AntiGravity Lab and other fitness and yoga centers in New York and other major American cities.

You can set up your own flight school at home with a Harrison AntiGravity Hammock Kit (about $250 on the AGF site). A studio hammock is rigged to withstand 1,000 lbs. - it's pretty secure - but you might want to consult a licensed building contractor to install yours with adequate ceiling or overhead support.

Aerial Assets

Admit it, you always wanted to fly like Peter Pan across the stage - only maybe without that cumbersome and nerve-wracking wire. Now you can. Experience the joy of almost unfettered flight without the panic and leave your mundane existence behind for an hour or so. That's just the most obvious benefit. This is vigorous exercise so you can expect a lot more.

Aside from the chance to fly, AntiGravity yoga realigns your vertebrae and lengthens your spine, allows you to increase a stretch without the risk of a strain, decompresses tight joints, supports you in yoga poses for correct posture, improves upper body strength, toughens your core and tightens your abs, boosts flexibility, balance and agility, and reinvigorates your yoga practice. An added benefit is bragging rights; you nail some impressive bragging rights. Runners, cyclists, dancers, and the sedentary loosen up and get long after AntiGravity workouts.

Contraindications

Before you make the mad dash to sign up for your flights, check this list of precautions and see your medical provider if you have any questions about whether inversions and aerials are safe for you. Contraindications include glaucoma, pregnancy, blood pressure problems, heart disease, osteoporosis, carpal tunnel, hernia, hip replacement, vertigo, and recent head injury or surgery. You may not be faint of heart but be sure you are basically fit before lift-off.

Cirque du Sun Salutations

AntiGravity Yoga is a lot more Cirque du Soleil than Patanjali. You will be contemplating your life from a higher place as you swoop, swing, and support yourself off the ground. However, your attention is not on ancient philosophy; it's on the freedom of flying and the very demanding focus and effort to master the hammock, the altitude, and your initially awkward body. A gravity-freeing hammock is even more challenging than a balance ball; it reacts to your slightest tensing, twisting, or twitching so you may struggle for control at first. But you don't have to be Pink at the Grammies to rock that silk sling. It's not a competitive sport, and you always work at your own level. If that means one foot on the ground, or hanging upside down with just your legs wrapped around the hammock in "skydiver," it's all good. Let a silk hammock, your love of yoga, and your imagination inspire you to take flight.

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AntiGravity Yoga