Aerial yoga looks aesthetical.
It might also appear challenging, acrobatic, and worst of all – inaccessible.
But that’s not really the case. Aerial yoga is beginner-friendly, open to people of all weights and ages.
And best of all, it’s fun and it comes with loads of benefits.
Read on to discover more about aerial yoga.
What Is Aerial Yoga?
Aerial yoga (also known as hanging yoga, suspended yoga, and aerial fitness) uses a sling-like hammock suspended from the ceiling to perform moves inspired by yoga, Pilates, dance, and more.
While yoga is traditionally done on a mat, aerial yoga utilizes a hammock to support your body weight, partially or entirely. So while some poses involve taking just your foot off the floor, others ‘leave you hanging’ in the air.
What are the benefits of aerial fitness?
- Decompress the spine. During everyday activities, we experience gravitational pressure on the spine and back muscles, helping keep the body upright. Thus, the spine compresses over time. Decompression can widen the space between the spinal vertebrae. It can provide temporary relief from back pain and be an effective component of an all-embracing treatment.
- Increase flexibility. The silk hammocks allow you to hang and relax into poses, helping the muscle release tension and improving flexibility.
- Build strength. Aerial fitness is a full-body exercise. Its balancing component engages the core while transitioning from one pose to another develops your pulling strength.
- Body awareness. Moving between poses, especially when you’re going with your head upside down, helps you develop a greater awareness of your body and movement. Such awareness is a skill that aids in any type of physical activity.
- Low impact. Aerial fitness has low to zero impact on the joints, making it ideal for practitioners with joint issues.
- Improve circulation and digestion. Aerial yoga is aerobic exercise and as such comes with all the benefits of raising your heart rate. It improves circulation in smaller blood vessels that can help prevent heart attack. Regular aerial fitness also strengthens the digestive tract and boosts blood flow to the digestive system, stimulating intestinal mobility.
- Lose weight. Aerial yoga is a great choice for anyone looking to practice cardio while protecting their joints. It burns around 320 kcal in an average 50-minute class, although this number will greatly depend on the flow intensity, your body weight and composition, etc.
- Confidence boost. A regular class will challenge you into poses that look a lot more complicated in photos than they actually are in practice. This can give you a confidence boost and encourage you to continue with aerial fitness.
- Mental health benefits. Aerobic exercise has been proven to boost your mood, reducing depression and anxiety.
Is aerial yoga really yoga?
It depends on the class. Like with traditional yoga, your instructor might give a class that stays true to the beyond-the-physical essence of yoga or a class that feels more like fitness.
In recent years, due to the rising popularity of yoga, many have leveraged the trend by introducing fitness styles branded as types of yoga. For instance, beer yoga and wine yoga have a questionable, to say the least, relation to traditional yoga as the spiritual purpose of yoga is to go inward and connect body, mind, and soul.
Aerial yoga, developed in 2006, is certainly a modern take on the thousand-year-old practice but it is not controversial like other hybrid types of yoga. It is often referred to as aerial fitness which for some describes the practice more accurately. Like we mentioned at the start, aerial fitness combines elements from diverse disciplines, including calisthenics and aerial acrobatics.
If you’re a seasoned yogi, you will surely find multiple yoga-inspired poses in aerial yoga. Karlene, instructor at the Aerial Yoga Girl online resource for aerial fitness, says ‘Aerial yoga takes the yoga practice to another level. The hammock is a wonderful prop that makes traditional asanas either more accessible and supported, or more challenging. It all depends on where you place the fabric on your body in each pose.’
It is an experience in and of itself to see how the aerial variations of traditional asanas differ from what you’re used to.
While aerial yoga doesn’t have its roots in yoga exclusively, you can have a yogic experience during the class by moving with awareness, keeping your mind in the present moment, and using your breath to relax in different positions. Similar to traditional yoga, your mindset can transform your practice.
Aerial yoga vs classic yoga
Now that we understand aerial yoga is a mix of various disciplines, let’s see how it compares to classic yoga.
There are multiple asanas from yoga that have found their way into aerial fitness. With the support of the silk hammock, many of these poses feel differently. For example, in front splits, the silks allow you to easily go into an oversplit which is usually achieved with yoga blocks when you’re on the mat.
Some other yoga asanas you might expect to encounter in an aerial class are child’s pose, cat-cow, standing forward fold, tree pose, warrior II, bride, corpse pose, and many more. That’s why a seasoned yogi won’t feel like a fish out of water even in their first aerial class.
In contrast to yoga, aerial fitness can give you the immediate feeling of back pain relief from spinal decompression. Plus, it builds your pulling strength – one aspect of training we lack in yoga. Inversions in aerial are also a lot more accessible for beginners in yoga because they are done with the support of the hammock, with no pressure to the head or the neck.
Doing yoga in the air, though, might lack the spiritual aspects of traditional yoga. For example, translating what you’ve learned on the mat into life lessons, or adding pranayama and meditation to the class.
Overall, classic yoga and aerial fitness complement each other and can be beautifully combined to reap the best of both.
Aerial yoga vs trapeze yoga vs aerial hammock
Aerial yoga can be easily confused with some other types of physical practices performed in the air. To set the terminology right, we asked Camille, founder of Aerial & Yoga Magazine, to explain the difference between aerial yoga and trapeze yoga.
‘Aerial yoga is more like traditional hatha yoga with a hammock. The fabric is stretchier, softer, and larger than in trapeze yoga. It allows us to work more on moving with the breath, mindfully and slowly.
Trapèze yoga is a mix of TRX, HIIT & yoga with inversions. It’s definitely a strengthening class combined with flexibility and relaxation. The hammock comes with three handles and the fabric is thicker.
Aerial hammock is dance on a hammock, so it is a totally different practice using the same prop.’
Aerial yoga precautions
Aerial yoga is accessible to people of different fitness levels, ages, weights, etc. As many poses are inverted or require the full support of the body weight in motion, there are certain precautions one must take for their own safety.
Verify the structure can support your body weight in motion
When you are moving, you can be up to five times your body weight. So your structure has to be able to support at least your body weight multiplied by five.
For optimum safety, the safety factor is 10. That means if you weigh 250 lbs, the structure will support a dynamic load of 2,500 lbs. You can check with your studio what their limit is but it’s usually 250 lbs.
There are studios where the structure can support up to 5,000 lbs dynamic load which makes aerial yoga accessible to people of all weights.
However, if you weigh over 250 lbs, there will be pressure from the hammock so you may need to modify postures or add padding for comfort. If you’re concerned about that – give your studio a call and check if the teacher has experience in modifying postures.
Stay away from inversions
Many believe inversions are fancy poses where the feet are up in the air. For safety precautions, though, it is best to define inversions as poses where the level of your heart is above the level of your head.
People with high blood pressure, heart disease, and glaucoma should avoid any inversions altogether.
If you have any vestibular issues, you should skip inversions or attempt them with caution.
You might also decide to stay away from inversions during pregnancy, especially if you’re new to them or if you’ve been advised so by your healthcare provider. If you decide to do yoga in the air while pregnant, sign up for private or specialized classes with a trained instructor.
Always inform your instructor about any health concerns and conditions you may have before or at the start of the class. This will allow them to modify postures according to your needs and provide you with a safe and enjoyable experience.
Practice on an empty stomach
You will feel much more comfortable and avoid any stomach issues if you come to class with an empty stomach. Тhe transition between poses and inversions, in particular, can make you feel nauseous.
Can beginners do aerial yoga?
Yes, you simply need to choose the right class based on your experience.
If you’re trying aerial yoga for the first time, you might want to sign up for a private class to familiarize yourself with the hammock and the style.
You can also opt for a group class for beginners. Make sure to let the teacher know before the start of the practice that you’re coming in for the first time, your level of fitness, and any health conditions you’d like them to be aware of.
How to prepare for an aerial yoga class?
- Choose the right clothing. You want to feel comfortable during your class. Go for well-fitted clothing that allows you to move around easily. Baggy clothes might get tangled in the hammock. Yoga pants and a shirt that covers the underarms will protect sensitive areas from chafing.
- Remove your jewelry. It can tangle with the hammock so it’s best to leave it at home or remove it before the class.
- Modify poses. Modify or skip poses and adjust your practice to your skills and needs. Do what feels right for your body.
- Ask for help. Your aerial instructor can assist you with modifying poses, advising you on safety precautions, or answering any questions you might have. Never shy away from asking for help. Every instructor wants their students to have a pleasant practice. They’re there to help and will be glad to do so.
Aerial yoga poses
Here are some poses you can expect to try in an aerial class.
Half forward fold
Suspended standing forward fold
Thre-legged downward-facing dog
Inverted star pose
Is it safe to do aerial yoga at home?
To practice aerial yoga safely, you need to be knowledgeable about how to adjust your hammock, as well as how to perform and modify different postures. For that, you must be an experienced practitioner, go through a training course, or take a few classes with a qualified instructor.
What’s more, you need to ensure the safety of the structure that is going to support you. This will depend on many factors such as the hanging or the fabric processing. You must ensure the working load can support your body weight multiplied by five to 10.