Aerial Yoga: Benefits and How to Get Started

Aerial Yoga

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Aerial yoga has become a popular workout in recent years, and perhaps those colorful hammocks have even perhaps piqued your curiosity. This trend in yoga artistically combines the philosophy of the practice with a series of poses (asanas) and aerial-dance movements that promote a mind-body connection, as you are suspended mid-air by a secured aerial silk hammock.

In 1991, New York City Broadway choreographer and former gymnast, Christopher Harrison, observed gymnasts practicing aerial moves that incorporated forms of yoga, dance, acrobatics, pilates, and more. Inspired by what he observed, Harrison created what is known today as anti-gravity fitness.

"At its core, an aerial yoga class guides you through the same types of yoga positions you experience in a traditional yoga class," says Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata Aerial Yoga. "The difference being that the hammock offers support at key places, allowing you to spend more time in a position and adjust your alignment,"

Benefits of Aerial Yoga

Yoga has long been hailed for its positive effects on mental, spiritual and physical health. In fact, a study by the American Council Exercise on aerial yoga found that participants gain the same benefits as with low-to-moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Aside from this, Dortignac highlights plenty of other benefits to gain from participating in aerial yoga. Some benefits include progressing in your inversions—which helps blood flow to the brain—and—improving your core strength and flexibility. Here are some additional benefits.

Boost Circulatory System

The practice of yoga, in general, can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and your heart rate. In practice, a study examining the effects of yoga on blood pressure for individuals with prehypertension or hypertension found that yoga was associated with a drop in blood pressure.

Reduce Chronic Stress

"Proper alignment is crucial for joint and spine health," says Dortignac. "So, spending long periods of time in yoga positions, while focusing on long, slow breaths, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system,"

Your parasympathetic nervous system is the part of your autonomic nervous system responsible for de-stressing and bringing us out of the fight-flight-freeze response. Removing chronic stress is one of the main reasons to practice yoga.

Improve Gut Health

A study dividing patients suffering with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) into groups of yoga and limited conventional treatment, yoga and conventional treatment, and a wait-list control group, found that 12-weeks of a remedial yoga model positively impacted symptoms in the first two groups.

These findings suggest that yoga might work as an effective treatment of IBS severity as either a stand-alone therapy or in combination with conventional treatment. It also hints that postures targeting the lower abdomen can increase energy circulation within the intestines, which might explain the decrease in symptoms.

Promote Optimal Mental Health

Research on the effects of aerial practice found that both skill-based classes and skill-based and performative aerial classes were effective at improving mental health markets among participants.

Groups demonstrated positive psychological changes and social experiences, alongside physical changes, such as a gain of strength, particularly in the upper body.

Aerial Yoga in a Studio vs. at Home

Another benefit of aerial yoga is that it can be practiced in both a studio and at home, with pros and cons to each.

Michelle Dortignac, Aerial Yoga Instructor

When you practice aerial yoga in a studio, you have the benefit of a teacher who can help make sure you get into and out of positions correctly and safely, and sometimes a hands-on, physical assist is necessary.

— Michelle Dortignac, Aerial Yoga Instructor

"When you practice aerial yoga in a studio, you have the benefit of a teacher who can help make sure you get into and out of positions correctly and safely, and sometimes a hands-on, physical assist is necessary," stresses Dortignac.

Additionally, many yoga poses may need to be adapted to suit your body type or capabilities. This is where a knowledgeable teacher can help with modifications.  

"One down-side to practicing in a studio is that equipment is shared, and although it is expected to be cleaned regularly, it may not be to the same standard you're used to," Dortignac says.

There is also the option to practice aerial yoga from the comfort of your home. Just make sure your hammock is properly fitted and secure.

"Your home environment is usually quieter and more intimate, meaning you're less likely to be disturbed by what other students are doing, allowing you to internally focus throughout your session," says Dortignac.

There's also the option to stay in restful positions longer, access the hammock at any time, and move at your own pace depending on your energy and mood.

"On the downside, there will be an additional cost to safely installing the equipment, not to mention, you will need sufficient space in which to move," Dortignac says.

Studio Aerial Yoga

Pros
  • Receive assistance or modifications from teacher

  • Benefit from energy of the class

  • Meet new people/feel part of a community

  • Ask the teacher questions after class

Cons
  • Share equipment with others

  • Struggle to find a class that suits your availability

  • Receive limited attention from teacher in a busy class

At Home Aerial Yoga

Pros
  • Provides more intimate setting

  • Offers fewer distractions

  • Allows you to move at your own pace and schedule

Cons
  • Requires installation of equipment and ample space

  • Misses the hands-on approach of a class

  • Lacks the energy of a class setting

What to Look For in an Aerial Yoga Studio

If you do opt to practice aerial yoga in a studio, there are a few things to be on the lookout for.

"First, you want to check if the studio is actually teaching aerial yoga as it can easily be mistaken for an aerial sling class as both use the same equipment," cautions Dortignac.

Although there is some cross-over in classes, aerial sling focuses on the shapes you are creating and the intricate wraps of the fabric around the body. Meanwhile, aerial yoga uses the equipment to develop and train proper breathing mechanics, with an internal focus and intention of releasing stress, Dortignac explains.

One qualitative study of interviews from 21 adults who were long-term fitness center members (more than 2 years) of at a space in Norway found that the variation in activities, support from staff, comfort of facilities, and the ability to commit to a specific exercise activity were key factors that contributed to their continued use.

As such, you might want to check the flexibility in class schedules as well as the qualifications and experience of teachers and staff, not to mention, the cost of classes. Do not forget to ask if your local aerial yoga studios offer a trial class. This option allows you the freedom to sample a diversity of environments and styles before settling on a studio.

Given the heightened health and safety requirements due to the pandemic, you will also want to inquire about a studio's hygiene measures. Also, read some reviews online to gain a feel of others' experiences.

How to Start Aerial Yoga?

Just like traditional yoga, aerial yoga is suitable for all fitness levels and backgrounds. But you will want to prepare before leaping into the hammock.

What to Wear

Opt for clothing that fits somewhat close to the body, although it also needs to move with you as you move. Keep in mind coverage as you will be upside-down during certain poses.

"You’ll want to wear clothing that covers the armpits, the lower back, and the legs from the buttocks to the backs of the knees as these areas can rub against the hammock frequently, and so your clothing will prevent chafing," says Dortignac.

What to Eat

Prior to class, Dortiganc suggests not to eat or drink for a minimum of 2 hours. Opt for lighter plant-based bites or drinks that are "sattvic," meaning they will provide you with a boost of energy and keep your body in balance.

Start at a Suitable Level

Finally, ease into aerial yoga with a beginner-friendly class designed to teach you the basics and fundamentals of the practice. Ideally, you can build on your skills and find your flow before attempting more advanced poses.

Safety Tips

Although traditional yoga can help manage pain, particularly in the lower back and neck, the physical demands of aerial yoga are different. It places strain on certain parts of the body (such as the shoulder joints).

"Listen to your body and don't take on too much at once," says Dortignac.

If you are experiencing acute or chronic pain in the upper or lower joints, aerial yoga may not be right for you. You should hold off on participating until you speak with a healthcare provider

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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