Yoga in the Ayer

A few nights ago, I channeled my inner-Cirque entertainer/silk artist/contortionist and attended an aerial yoga class with a couple of my friends and my favorite yoga instructor EVER. Basically, aerial yoga consists of taking traditional yoga postures done on the ground into the air. Students use hammocks made from very strong, stretchy fabric hung at hip level.

This kind of class lends itself well to the ever-changing culture of yoga. It combines an ancient practice with a more contemporary one, a grounded experience with an airborne one. Part of the beauty yoga lies in the diversity of its styles, philosophies, instructors, and environments-aerial yoga definitely offers students a diverse experience. During my own experience with aerial yoga, I expanded my own practice, vacated my comfort zone,  sweat through my stretchy pants and sports bra, and experienced a wicked head rush. A few wicked head rushes, actually.

In the words of Flo Rida and Will I Am, I did yoga in the “ayer”.

While my dalliance in the aerial dance world certainly excited me, the thought of resting my entire body weight on a seemingly delicate ribbon of fabric intimidated me. During the first few minutes of class, I hesitated to sink completely into my fabric. I surrendered to my ego’s toxic, paralyzing thoughts. Self-loathing consumed me for a few moments. My non-dancer body would surely snap the springs from which my fabric hung, causing me to clumsily fall onto the floor in front of a bunch of graceful aerial yogis, professional dancers, and people who weigh significantly less than me.

Enough was enough, I told myself. I had no time to entertain sick thoughts about the physical inadequacies that my ego whispered in my ear. Focusing on those fearful thoughts would distract me from not only enjoying airborne yoga, but also from focusing on the balance and strength I needed to take each pose without falling. Very counter-intuitive to yogic philosophy. I promptly told my ego to zip the lip.

Besides, as class progressed, my anxiety about snapping the expensive fabric hammock and emptying my bank account to replace it diminished. I felt more comfortable working with my body and the fabric. The instructor led us through a series of warm-up poses and breathing exercises, in which we learned how to grip and move slowly with the fabric while sitting and standing. She explained every pose clearly and watched us newbies pretty carefully. I appreciated her teaching style, as her calm voice, encouraging comments, and customized instructions comforted me and helped me safely take each pose.

The class itself required self-trust, fairly strong biceps, and constant adjustment of the fabric, as it tended to cut into the skin a bit. We flipped upside-down several times, took a few balancing poses in which we remained partly strapped into the fabric and partly on the floor. We also opened the fabric into hammocks and lay inside of it for a few more poses. I faced particular difficulty in trusting that the fabric would protect me from banging my head on the floor as I leaned forward into the fabric in order to flip. I rarely do headstands or handstands in regular yoga class, so turning upside-down unnerved me. In fact, my nervousness and hyper-awareness really stimulated my sweat glands-my hair and clothes dripped with perspiration by the end of class. I hesitated multiple times, but with the help of the instructor and her buff arms, I surrendered my body to the strength and safety of the fabric. Pretty soon, I had no (almost) fear about flipping over.

My favorite part of the class included poses in which we stood on the fabric. I believe that I reaped so much enjoyment and comfort from these poses because I had more control over my body and the hammock. If I felt confined or overwhelmed, I could just step down to the floor. I particularly liked taking Tree pose:

I feel grateful for my 90 minutes of aerial yoga because although I experienced some feelings of overwhelm and a bit of nausea, I appreciated the visceral, tactile aspect of this kind of yoga. I loved climbing all over the fabric and contorting my body in unusual, yet completely beneficial ways. I remained 100% present throughout the entire class because I had to. It’s hard to think about stress at work or the pressure of writing a serious, unique, and sophisticated personal statement for grad school applications when you have to thread yourself through a swathe of fabric.

As my group and I discussed, we might dub aerial yoga a monthly activity. At $15 a class, weekly aerial yoga threatens my savings account. This soon-to-be PhD student needs to watch her discretionary spending.

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