Is Aerial Yoga the Next Fitness Trend?

By Nick Harding
Aerial yoga is a fusion of gymnastic moves and yoga poses inside a type of hammock. Picture / @defygravityyoga

Hanging, headfirst, from the ceiling of a British studio in an orange silk cocoon — clumsily contorting myself into a variety of gravity-defying poses like some sort of budget astronaut — I start softly cursing Mick Jagger.

The Rolling Stones singer may not be able to hear me, but his spirit permeates the room, for he has become the poster boy for what I predict will be the next big thing in fitness; aerial yoga. Apparently, the spritely 73-year-old has recently taken up the gruelling exercise regime, six days a week, to maintain his 28-inch waist — not to mention maximum flexibility for the 20km he is said to strut during every live performance.

Of course, a new fitness craze sweeps through gyms every few years. First it was Spin, then Zumba, Body Pump, Soul Cycle and CrossFit. The craze du jour seems to be HIT, or High Intensity Training. I’ve ignored them all, stubbornly sticking to a knee-jarring programme of running with some weight training at the local gym thrown in, in a vain attempt to keep the Reaper and middle-age spread at bay.

To make things worse, I don’t even stretch and hence have hamstrings as taut and unforgiving as steel cable. The result has been sciatica, a niggling shoulder injury and the growing realisation that there must be a better way of keeping fit for a man of my years.

The final straw came this week, when I saw my own future looming out of the shower room in the shape of a man, in his 50s, seemingly trim but so rigid he was incapable of bending down far enough to pull up his own pants and had to ask for help.

For my introduction to aerial yoga, I enlisted the help of guru Jo Dandridge, who introduced the concept of AntiGravity Fitness to the UK from the US, five years ago, and runs The Fitness Hangout in Surrey where people of all ages and abilities come to hang around. Quite literally.

I am not a complete yoga novice. I flirted with it once, many years ago. But I found it made me longer as well as leaner and after a few months none of my trousers fitted, so I gave it up. In my youth, I was less bothered about being just below average height, at 173cm. Now, however, my similarly statured wife towers above me in heels. And from her vantage point up there in the clouds she has the perfect view of my balding pate. So, when Jo explains that zero compression inversion — aka hanging upside down — will stretch my spine and that by the end of the session I could grow a quarter of an inch, I’m sold.

Aerial Yoga is a fusion of gymnastic moves and yoga poses, with the hammock acting both as soft trapeze and support, relieving compressed joints and aligning the body, while participants work through a series of moves, postures, conditioning exercises and inversions.

Hefting myself into the bosom of my hammock — “Do you get travel sickness?” Jo asks, as I gracelessly clamber aboard — I am reassured that the sling will withstand 450kg of weight, so I can thrash around in it like a porpoise in a trawler’s net without fear of equipment failure.

First, we try a few rudimentary manoeuvres which I master, stiffly, before Jo coaxes me into the womb position, which is a calming foetal crunch. Momentum sets me swinging gently, enveloped inside a giant, soft orange skin. It is not as unpleasant a sensation as you might imagine.

Picture / @clubmindup
Picture / @clubmindup

“Feel comfortable and secure,” calms Jo. “You need to trust the hammock. It is really strong and will support you through the whole session. The more you relax, especially when we go upside down, the more benefits you will get.”

Lulled into a sense of security with some relaxing deep breaths and chill-out music, we then perform our first inversion. Jo gives me step by step instruction until, within a few easy moves and a bit of effort, the world flips on its axis and my head is hovering a few inches from the floor. I stay there for a while, breathing deeply as my spine stretches and the blood pumps into my cranial cavity, making my eyes bulge. I try and push thoughts of aneurysms to the back of my mind, but there isn’t room.

Back upright, we perform a series of strength conditioning moves before we lean our waists into the partially opened hammocks, in sync, step forward on tiptoes and then release: “We’re flying!” Jo exclaims as we swing through the air backwards and forwards, arms outstretched and heads up.

In my all-over lycra, I resemble an ageing superhero who should really retire.

Jo explains aerial yoga can be as hard or easy as the participant requires. Her classes range in age from 14 to 69 and are predominantly attended by women. “It is a shame, because men would get so much out of it,” she says.

As a regular gym user, I find the strength exercises challenging but enjoyable. The real hard work comes when we start stretches. My hamstrings scream with resistance and, with one leg hooked in front of me in the loop of the sling, I wobble uncontrollably. To clumsily paraphrase Jagger, I can’t get no statis action. At one stage I feel my spine shift uncomfortably on its wonky axis.

The end of the session, however, more than makes up for the minor discomfort. I am encouraged to stretch out inside my fully extended hammock, and lie there, weightlessly, quiet for a few minutes.

“This is the cocoon,” explains Jo. “You emerge as someone new, feeling stronger, taller and happier, because hanging upside down releases endorphins in your brain.”

She’s right. The session ends and although I feel I’ve had a workout, I also feel strangely calm and content. All that’s left is to rush home to try on a pair of trousers, praying for that extra quarter inch.

Other A-list Yoga Crazes

• Bikram yoga is performed in a heated room to work up a sweat. Celebrity devotees include George Clooney, David Beckham and Jennifer Aniston.

• Tantric yoga can be used to expand the connection and awareness between a couple,creating a deeper spiritual bond. Sting is a fan.

• Yogic flying is the practice of bouncing on the floor while in the cross-legged lotus position. It is said to bring a deep sense of happiness. The Beatles were taught how to do it by guru Maharishi Mahesh.

• Kim Kardashian reportedly convinced husband Kanye West, to participate in naked yoga to help him address anger management issues.

— The Daily Telegraph

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