Hovering a few feet off the ground, flying weightless defying the law of gravity, drawing graceful figures in the air… This is not life on Mars. It’s Aerial Yoga.
And you don’t need to be a seasoned astronaut to practise it nor to be in an anti-gravity room. All it takes is a yoga hammock, some solid rigging and a few carabiners.
Oh, and of course, a certified Aerial Yoga teacher to guide you through this supple aerial fitness experience.
Attracting newbies and devoted yogis alike, Aerial Yoga classes have sprung up in many countries all across the world. Besides the fitness aspect, which certainly brings many health benefits, the gravity-defying environment has countless positive effects on our mood, self-confidence and trust.
Safely supported by an aerial yoga swing, people find a way to overcome their fears and boost their self-esteem. And they have great fun!
Not to mention the ease of achieving most advanced asanas — such as headstands — and the ability to hold poses longer (and safer) thanks to the absence of weight.
The latter is the reason why this discipline is recommended for all body types, ages and experience levels. With the right equipment and some training, you can even practise aerial yoga at home!
So, let’s start from the beginning and learn more about this “ethereal” activity.
What is Aerial Yoga?
Aerial yoga is a hybrid mind-body practice that combines Hatha Yoga with gymnastics, dance, Pilates and circus arts using an aerial hammock, also known as aerial silk.
During the class, the teacher guides the students through a sequence of asanas, meditation techniques, tricks and calisthenic movements using both the mat and the yoga hammock.
The result is a flowing, graceful discipline that gently stretches the body, quietens the mind and uplifts the spirit.
Each Aerial Yoga class is different and may range from a gentle, restorative session to an intense workout (including HIIT — High-intensity interval training — movements).
Some teachers may lean more towards the choreographic aspect of the practice, including charming figures reminiscent of ballet or aerial silk artists.
The spectrum of activities is so wide that it comprehends even deeply meditative activities such as Aerial Yoga Nidra. When specific poses are performed, Aerial Yoga can also be integrated into Detox programs.
The yoga hammock is a fundamental prop for this practice (check out our FAQ section below).
By changing conventional motor dynamics and spatial perception, it allows the body to achieve movements and postures that would otherwise be unthinkable or reserved for advanced practitioners.
Thanks to the support of the aerial swing, practitioners can go deeper into an asana, in a safer way, thus reducing the likelihood of injuries. Also, the hammock allows for modifications of classic asanas, adding variety and creativity to the practice.
Assisted by an aerial silk, students can easily hold poses longer and easier. Just think of a handstand, an asana that puts off many beginners.
The hammock supports and guides you in the pose, unloading the body weight through the arms onto the silk. Acting as a safety harness, the aerial hammock allows yogis to effortlessly perform pro tricks such as back-flips and swings.
Inversions become accessible to everyone, and you will want more of them! The feeling of looking at the world from upside-down, sort of… changes your perspective!
Aerial yoga is also a great activity to socialise and meet like-minded people. And, it’s flexible! In fact, you can practise Aerial Yoga at home, outdoors and in yoga studios.
Without even realising it, you will start to develop self-confidence and trust. As a result, you will be able to do gymnastic tricks you didn’t think you were capable of!
What’s more, whatever you learn in the yoga shala can be applied to the real world. As you get more flexible, balanced and stronger, your mind will follow, finding the long-sought quietness.
A little history of Aerial Yoga
As with many products of human creativity, the origins of Aerial Yoga are hard to trace back to one single person.
As early as in the second half of the 1900s, late yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar started to use props in Yoga: one of them, used for inversions, was known as the “Yoga Sling”.
In 1991, former gymnast Christopher Harrison founded AntiGravity Inc., a confederacy of gymnastic athletes and he developed the brand’s signature aerial hammock.
In the meantime, different people contributed to feeding the shared knowledge of Aerial Yoga. In 2001, American physical therapist Antonio Cardenas developed a device known as the “Yoga Swing” (today, redubbed “Omni Gym”).
In 2003, Kerry Neal created the “Gravotonics Yoga Swing & Exercise System” in Bali and, in 2004, founder of “Yogabody” Lucas Rockwood developed the Yoga Trapeze in Thailand.
When Harrison discovered the benefits of yoga, he merged both passions and, in 2007, AntiGravity Yoga was born (today known as AntiGravity Fitness) as the first structured Aerial Yoga school to offer classes to the public.
Since then, Aerial Yoga has spread around the globe, conquering the hearts of many practitioners.
The benefits of Aerial Yoga
If you are wondering “What is Aerial Yoga good for?”, then it would be much faster to list the things it does not help with!
Being a physical activity, it benefits all the areas of fitness, focusing in particular on flexibility and strength. Before you even notice it, your whole body gets a full gentle stretch.
The next moment, your core is working like hell and all your muscles are engaged. As with all yoga practices, you connect to your breath, which makes it virtually impossible to go over your limits.
The hammock supports your weight during jumps and flips. So, despite being a potentially intense physical activity, there’s no harmful impact on your joints, bones and tendons.
Want more sweat? You can make it as intense as you wish. In fact, some classes purposely turn Aerial Yoga into a full-body workout to strengthen your muscles.
Feel like stretching your column? Just hang upside down or bend over your hips and let gravity do its work. Up for some balance? Get all your muscles involved with some advanced asanas challenging your focus.
Perhaps, the most outstanding benefit of Aerial Yoga is spinal decompression. Delivering a therapeutic practice, Aerial Yoga helps your column to stretch to its maximum extent.
In fact, studies at AntiGravity Fitness have demonstrated that after a class, you will be 0.5 to 3.5 cm taller than when you started!
Though the visual effect is only temporary, the long-term benefits of spinal stretching are considerable. The vertebrae are gently separated from each other, finding some space between the cartilaginous intervertebral discs.
As a spiritual activity, you get all the benefits of meditation such as focus, surrendering, a sense of wholeness, peace and a quiet mind. Also, your mood will feel uplifted after class.
And if you are a bit of a “control freak”, Aerial Yoga will help you let go of your obsession, surrendering to gravity, trusting the equipment and your body.
In the long-term, also your self-confidence will improve, seeing great results with little effort. In other words, it is a perfect all-rounder, addressing all areas of your well-being.
A recent study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) has found that women who did three 50-minute Aerial Yoga classes a week for six weeks lost an average of two and a half pounds, 2 per cent body fat, and about one inch from their waist.
“After the six-week program, participants displayed measurable reductions in some common risk factors for cardiovascular heart disease“, said ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant.
The study confirmed that participants reduced their risk factors by approximately 10% in only 6 weeks.
We will try to sum up the Aerial Yoga benefits below:
• Mat poses become easier to master
• No impact on joints
• Total body workout
• Improves flexibility
• Increases strength
• Boosts your mood
• Useful for detox programs
• Improves posture
• Improves blood circulation
• Promotes body awareness
• Develops spatial intelligence
• Relieves stress/anxiety
• Facilitates digestion
• Stimulates lymphatic drainage
• Relieves back pain
• Boosts self-confidence and trust
• It’s lots of fun!
The best 15 poses for Aerial Yoga
There are thousands of great Aerial Yoga poses and your teacher will usually follow a balanced flow to suit the group or your specific needs.
If you practise on your own and you are just looking for some inspiration, we propose below our selection of best poses for Aerial Yoga.
Recommended equipment to do Aerial Yoga
You can practise Aerial Yoga at home, in a yoga studio, gym or even outdoors! Naturally, the equipment required varies depending on the setting. What we propose here is a basic setup, which you can expand to suit your needs.
A typical rigging consists of a yoga hammock (also known as aerial yoga swing, aerial hammock, aerial silk, yoga trapeze, yoga sling, yoga swing), support chains or webbing straps and carabiners.
You might also need extra supplies such as a yoga mat, swivels, suspension hooks, an aerial yoga stand (or aerial frame), a door frame bar, crash pads.
The most important prop in Aerial Yoga is the hammock. It must be designed (and guaranteed) to support more than your own weight. It can be made in different materials such as silk, nylon or taffeta and it’s better if it’s parachute-grade.
There are many types available on the market, depending on the scope, installation method, stretchability, presence and number of handles, adjustability.
Also, prices vary greatly, ranging from as low as $ 60 up to a few hundred dollars for top-class models. Your safety depends on it: don’t go for the cheapest option! Ask your teacher for suggestions on the best type for you.
In a Yoga studio, you will usually find all the equipment ready and inspected for you. After practising in Aerial Yoga classes, you might get hooked with Aerial Yoga and want to buy your own rigging (read our FAQs below for installation at home).
As you got familiar with classic Yoga, you then decided to buy your own yoga mat, for comfort, hygiene, freedom to practise everywhere.
The same thing applies here: if it becomes your passion, it’s good to have your personal Aerial Yoga equipment.
Always keep in mind to train with a qualified teacher, purchase load-tested fabrics and rigging, have the equipment installed and inspected by a professional, use crash pads, double-check all the gear before practising (even if it’s provided by the yoga school).
Develop safe habits and practices: your safety depends on the equipment and its maintenance. Be thorough, each time. Take good care of your hammock, gently wash it periodically to remove bacteria, smell and dirt (undo any knots and take out the carabiners!).
Aerial Yoga is an excellent practice promoting emotional, spiritual and physical health. It doesn’t require any previous experience and it adapts to all levels of practitioners.
It’s a very safe activity if you follow the instructions and listen to your body. If you are looking for some reasons why you should take up Aerial Yoga, you will find many.
Being a low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking or leisurely cycling, it stimulates cardiovascular health. It also increases flexibility, strength and body awareness.
Practising Aerial Yoga regularly helps build your self-confidence, boost your mood and cultivate trust. It’s fun to practise in a group and facilitates meeting like-minded people.
It is so widespread that you will easily find Aerial Yoga groups in big cities. And if you want, you can even do Aerial Yoga at home, you just need to buy the right equipment and install it properly.
If you’re planning to practise Aerial Yoga in Thailand, then check out our Awakening and Healing Program to find when the next class is going to be!
Frequently asked questions about Aerial Yoga
What to wear to do Aerial Yoga?
Wear some comfortable sports clothing. Cotton or cotton blends are recommended over synthetic fabrics, which can make the grip on the hammock kind of slippery.
Though it’s not required, you could use sticky gloves to help with your grip. Do not wear any jewellery, watches, hair clips, clothes with metal zippers or anything that could tear the hammock. Also, avoid body creams for hygiene and better grip. Whether to use long or short sleeves/pants depends on your preference and grip.
For women, we recommend wearing fitting t-shirts, tops and pants. Keep in mind that you will be upside down during your practice, so, consider which parts of your body you want to have exposed 🙂 To some extent, this is also true for men, however, there is no strict dress code for anyone!
How do I prepare for Aerial Yoga?
If you practise with a teacher, there is generally no need to do any preparatory movements beforehand, as the first part of the class should be dedicated to stretching and warming you up (with or without the aerial hammock).
In case they forget, just perform your preferred sequence of stretching movements before you start and bring your heart rate a bit higher. If you have your own practice, by now you will have certainly understood the importance of stretching and warming up before moving into the “active” part of the practice!
Make sure you have not eaten in at least one hour prior to the class. Stay hydrated, before and after the class. Leave your thoughts aside and immerse in the practice.
Where to do Aerial Yoga?
Aerial Yoga has become quite popular, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a school or a teacher near you. We recommend you start with a qualified professional before moving onto a solo practice. As to places, you can do Aerial Yoga in a normal Yoga Studio, gym or anywhere suited for the required rigging. There are various ways to install an aerial hammock and stand-alone Aerial Yoga frames can also be purchased and placed virtually anywhere.
If you’re planning to practise outdoors, make sure you find a solid support to hang your silk, such as a thick branch or iron bar. If you practise Aerial Yoga at home, you can look into different set-up options, including a door frame bar, which doesn’t require much effort to install. At Samma Karuna, we regularly offer Aerial Yoga classes in our open-air yoga shala, providing students with all the equipment they need.
How many times a week should you do Aerial Yoga?
As with all physical activity, you should listen to your body and honour your limits. We recommend practising Aerial Yoga at least once a week, three times seeming to us a pretty intense rhythm. However, if you become a big fan, you’re healthy and you practise safely, nothing stops you from practising as much as you want.
How to install an Aerial Yoga hammock in my house?
Although there are tutorials online on how to hang an Aerial Yoga hammock, we strongly recommend you have it installed by a professional rigger. That’s particularly true if you need to modify some parts of the room to fix your hammock (i.e. drilling, cementing, ironwork, carpentry). Your safety depends on it, so, do the right thing and invest a few extra bucks on your own health. If in doubt, just buy a good Aerial Yoga stand which does not require any particular installation techniques.
Having said that, some types of set-ups do not require specific expertise and the manufacturer of the equipment guarantees ease of installation and safety. For example, a door frame bar is easy to install and can also back up as a pull-up bar! Usually, it’s as easy as placing the bar across the doorway, resting the top part on the door’s head and the sides on the jambs; others require twisting them open to secure them. Just follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions and make sure you always use load-tested, certified equipment.
If you are lucky, you might have an exposed beam from where you can simply hang your webbing straps or daisy chains. In this case, you just need a few carabiners and perhaps sine swivels to have a solid rig. If the beams are not exposed or you have a flat ceiling, then you will need to use suspension hooks (heavy duty ones) to hang the chains or straps. In this case, you’d better call a professional.
How strong do you have to be to do Aerial Yoga?
Contrary to what you might think, Aerial Yoga does not require super-strong biceps and triceps: that’s more for circus arts and gymnastics. As you practise, you soon will realise that’s your core working more than your arms. So, as long as you can do 3 consecutive sit-ups, you probably can attend a regular Aerial Yoga class. If not, you can always use the hammock as a prop to aid you in some specific asanas or attend super gentle Aerial Yoga classes such as Aerial Yin Yoga, Aerial Yoga Nidra, Restorative Aerial Yoga.
Who can practice Aerial Yoga?
Anyone in good health can practise Aerial Yoga, without restrictions of age or body type. Once again, we reiterate that it is up to you to respect your limits and adjust the practice accordingly. However, some categories of people should not practise Aerial Yoga, mainly for the implications that inversions can have on the body. If in doubt, consult your physician before starting your practice. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of contraindications for Aerial Yoga:
• Recent surgery
• High or low blood pressure
• Heart disease
• Recent head injury
• Hiatal hernia
• Recent stroke
• Artificial hips
• Botox (within 48 hours)
• Carotid artery
• Cerebrovascular accidents