Aerial yoga
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An innovative new style of yoga will turn your world upside down—In a good way

By Dani Burlison

Yoga styles continue to grow at such an astounding rate that even the most dedicated yogis can have a difficult time keeping track. Bikram, TriYoga, Forrest Yoga and even Laughter Yoga are just some of the unique branches of this mind-body-spirit strengthening exercise. From practicing in heated rooms to integrating martial arts and dance moves into the discipline, there’s no shortage of creative ways to achieve inner bliss on the mat.

But there’s a new kid on the block. Much like the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, Aerial Yoga is generating buzz these days by balancing fluid state-of-the-art aerodynamics and peaceful relaxation, all the while utilizing your body’s fuel ever so efficiently.

You’re probably thinking that Aerial Yoga consists of little more than hanging around in pretty silk fabric and practicing yogic breathing. I thought this, too, when I went to my first class with my aspiring gymnast/ballerina/acrobat daughter. In the beginning, it all seemed like fantasy, suspending myself and experimenting with just how aerodynamic my body could become as it floated a few feet above the mat. But by the end of the session, my abs and triceps told me otherwise: It was a unique and challenging workout.

“Aerial Yoga uses a soft-woven fabric looped back up into a hammock to support traditional yoga poses,” says instructor Amy Charnay. “We do a lot of strengthening and flexibility exercises, and most people work up a bit of a sweat. Obviously you’re suspended at some point, but I don’t see it as that different from using, say, a strap or blocks as a prop.” Charnay’s background is in integrative yoga therapy, which helps clients recovering from various health issues and injuries. She later trained in the Unnata aerial style in Brooklyn, New York and San Jose, California, and now teaches in Sonoma County.

The hanging silks make it possible for traditional balancing and stretching asanas to be achieved in a gentle, non-damaging manner. For example, if it’s too much of a challenge to stand and balance on one leg, the silk is there to hold onto for support.

Aerial Yoga is often compared to swimming, since it engages the body without a lot of stress on limbs or joints. And if you’re nervous about certain positions, like a headstand or another inversion, Aerial Yoga quite literally supports the body so those moves can be accomplished without added pressure on common troubles spots like the back, the neck or the wrists. To top it off, you end each session with heightened relaxation, wrapped up in a comfortable cocoon-like hammock. Achieving calm and inner peace is sometimes quite a challenge, but a short session of Aerial Yoga can do the trick.

In addition to the physical benefits of this adaptive yoga style, there’s a not-so-hidden perk that keeps students climbing into their silks time and time again: “The most obvious thing is that it’s really fun, so it encourages people to practice,” says Charnay. “I have a couple of students who are a little older who call it Adult Recess!”

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Dani Burlison is a wannabe anthropologist who lives, writes, teaches writing workshops and entertains her children in Northern California.

Photo by Jeanie Gartin