Becoming a ‘ high- flying’ yogi
Aerial yoga, the high- energy exercise that uses the support of hammocks to help people stretch, swing, And, yes, levitate upside down, has finally come to dubai. Janice Rodrigues gives it A whirl
My new year started with a cliché — the resolution to be healthier. I vowed to bid farewell to my pizza- loving ways and trash the Chinese takeout containers that have taken refuge inside my refrigerator. However, my much- amused friends were quick to point out that being healthy meant more than just not eating junk food. “You have to exercise,” they pointed out the obvious rather smugly.
That’s easier said than done since I don’t play any sport and have a problem with basically any form of exercise. Zumba? Needs too much energy. Yoga? Too quiet — my mind tends to wander. But aerial yoga? I had to admit, I had no excuse there.
Yoga la Vie, a boutique yoga and Pilates studio on the Palm, offered this unusual exercise routine which originates from New York. It may appear like people are having a ball ( what’s not to love about swinging around hammocks that hang from the ceiling?), but there’s a lot more to it. Also called antigravity yoga, it uses the support of a hammock to take pressure off the body when doing stretches or handstands. The benefits include all the ones that come with normal yoga — strengthened joints, better flexibility, improved focus and stronger muscles — along with ‘ back decompression’ when the body is allowed to hang freely. Armed with this knowledge, I decided to sign up for my first class.
My instructor Debbie Baisly, a fit woman who hails from England, could twirl her way into impossible positions better than Tarzan could move from tree to tree.
“You have to learn to trust the hammock,” she informed me. “A lot of people tense up the minute they get onto it but the more relaxed you are, the easier it gets.”
It also helped to know that the hammock was good for 200 kg, so irrespective of how I felt about it, it would not rip out from underneath me.
With some light music playing in the background, we got started with a warmup. Ankles, wrists and shoulders were rotated. Legs and arms were stretched. Deep breaths were taken. We were ready to hop onto the hammock.
It was more comfortable than it looked. The material is a high- density nylon variation which is slightly stretchable. With Debbie showing me the ropes, I was asked to stretch the hammock down with my palms, then bend down to touch the ground, hammock at my hips. My right leg had to be lifted so it was straight, parallel to the ground. Once that was done, I hate to repeat with my left. Every pose had to be held for at least five deep breaths, so you cannot forget that this is indeed a yoga routine.
Since this was a beginner’s class, Debbie kept things simple with a few bends, my palms and feet pressed flat against the ground ( although I never could manage the feet part), the hammock firmly against my hips. This was the downward dog pose, she explained — just with the hammock in between.
Just when I was starting to get a bit more confident, Debbie decided I was ready for an inversion.
“You mean hanging upside down?” I asked, the horror evident in my voice. “Isn’t that for advanced students only?”
Apparently not. Inversions are an important part of aerial yoga, and something that even newbies like me should be able to manage.
Following Debbie’s instructions, I slid onto the hammock like it was a swing. Legs were brought up with my knees behind the cloth, and Debbie gently tilted me till I was falling forwards — straight into an inversion pose! I’m not going to lie — the hammock’s pressure where it wraps around your hips isn’t fun, but it’s not bad either. Most importantly, the pose is much easier than it looks, and it was freeing to hang around, Spiderman- style. I was pretty chuffed with myself.
“With the inversions, you may feel like you’re going to fall out, but if you just listen to the instructor, physics says you can’t, because your legs and hips will stop you from doing so,” said Debbie.
After the ease with which I managed an inversion, it was embarrassing that I couldn’t do a simple balancing exercise later, one where I was asked to bend ( so my torso was parallel to the ground), and lift a leg so it aligned with my back — all while holding onto nothing but the hammock. Needless to stay, keeping the pose for five inhalations did not work out well.
After yet another inversion pose ( this one easier than the last), we were done. I was asked to lie inside the hammock, cross my hands over my chest, close my eyes and sway. There’s nothing like it, especially after those twists and turns, and I felt like I was gently floating, my mind blank, my troubles far away. We finished our session with a quiet ‘ Namaste’.
Debbie’s classes do a lot of gymnastics and flips and as she says, it’s addictive. “The whole idea is to be able to relax, while also having fun. A lot of people are reluctant to start because they think they need to be strong but the truth is, you build strength within the swing. You’ll never know how strong you are until you try.”
So, if you’re willing to give it a shot, just trust yourself — and the hammock.
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