Image: Sora Studio
Picture this: yoga practice in a hammock instead of on a mat. It's called aerial yoga, and we put this new fitness trend to the test.
“Learn to fly.” The words jump out at me as I search online for a new yoga studio. As someone who has taken barre and a variety of yoga classes (Yin, Vinyasa flow, hot yoga) over the years, I'm looking to try something more adventurous and playful. Enter AntiGravity yoga.
It's a relatively new fitness technique that's gaining popularity, partially thanks to today's beloved pop artists—Pink and Mariah Carey have used the hammocks to achieve flying-like moves in their performances, which makes sense when you hear its origin.
Founded in New York in 1991 by Christopher Harrison, a professional dancer and yoga enthusiast, this gravity-defying workout was developed as an aerial routine for acrobats, dancers and celebrities. The hammocks were first used exclusively in entertainment productions such as Broadway shows, but in 2007, Christopher worked with physiotherapists to create AntiGravity Fitness & Yoga—a practice that was accessible to all, with eight programs and more than 1,000 poses. While other aerial yoga classes have been developed, AntiGravity is the first of its kind, developed by fitness professionals and given a safety approval by the AFAA, ACE, CYQ and Yoga Alliance. Now, fitness studios have started incorporating the hanging silks into their workout classes.
I've always loved working out, but doing the same routine week after week often leaves me bored and unmotivated. That's why I'm always ready to try the newest fitness class to keep my workout exciting. After doing some research, I find that AntiGravity Yoga sounds like a challenging yet low-impact routine that will help me achieve a leaner physique. So, I register for a class at the first AntiGravity fitness studio in Toronto, Sora Studio, located in Queen West.
I’m welcomed by owner and primary instructor Minami, who invites me to find a mat, relax and let go of my day. Minami had taught AntiGravity Yoga in Japan and trained over 100 instructors, before opening Sora Studio in Toronto two years.
The airy, light-filled studio is full of U-shaped silk hammocks, each hanging from two anchor points on the ceiling. They hang at waist height, which is the typical position for a regular AntiGravity class with inversions—an upside-down pose designed to lengthen the spine.
I’m here for AntiGravity Restorative Yoga, a 1 hour and 15 minute class that's a tamer version of the well-known “flying” yoga classes. While AntiGravity Aerial Yoga and Suspension Fitness are characterized by multiple inversions, swinging motions and strength-building exercises, AntiGravity Restorative includes a single inversion along with gentle spinal and hip-opening stretches.
After a quick warm up, Minami demonstrates an inversion. To replicate, I twine the fabric around my hips to anchor myself and slowly turn upside-down, my head just inches from the floor. My body rebels against the initial rush of blood to my head, but the discomfort subsides as I concentrate on my breathing. After 30 seconds or so of being upside down, I flip right-side up and climb down onto the floor. Minami moves the hammocks to the restorative position, where they will remain until the end of the class—no more inversions, which I'm happy about. (Hanging upside down is exciting and reminds me of childhood, at least until a brief wave of nausea shows up in the final moments of the inversion.)
Now, with the hammocks hanging just a foot and a half from the floor, we move through hip-opening stretches in a "bridge" position—shoulders on the floor, feet planted on the ground, hips supported by the hammock. Minami walks me through other movements like spinal flexion, which involves being supported by the hammock from head to toe and moving from side to side in a "C" shape.
As we draw near the last few minutes of the class, Minami instructs us to cocoon in the hammocks for Savasana, the final resting pose. Supported by the silken hammock from head to toe, I close my eyes, concentrate on my breathing and think of days at the cottage, swaying back and forth in the hammock by the lake. I imagine the breeze on my face and concentrate on the feeling of weightlessness. The tightness in my back has vanished and I feel safe and supported.
While it may seem gimmicky to some, AntiGravity Yoga provides a therapeutic and effective way for the hips and spine to stretch that isn’t achievable in a regular yoga practice. The premise of the AntiGravity technique is that the spine is “compressed” when doing everyday activities, and the hammocks cause zero compression in the joints, allowing the spine to move freely. “My goal is to share this AntiGravity technique with the people of Toronto,” Minami says. “I can be a healer, I want to heal people’s bodies.” Minami says she “feels straighter” after a class, suggesting that the practice helps improve posture and stress-related body positioning. According to the AntiGravity website, it has many more benefits: an increase of kinaesthetic awareness and agility, strengthening of core muscles, back pressure relief and increase in muscular strength and flexibility. Not only that, but the technique is accessible to people of almost all fitness levels because of extra support from the hammock.
It’s sort of inaccurate to think of AntiGravity Restorative Yoga as a workout—truthfully, it feels more like a spa treatment. The weightless feeling is comparable to floating in the water, and many of the movements both stretch and massage sore, tight muscles. The feeling of calm comes easily, preparing the body for a deep sleep. It’s not unheard of to hear people snoring in their hammocks.
My feet spring back from the pavement as I walk out of the class. I am as light as air. My back, which normally feels like a closed accordion, feels as if each vertebra is floating. I take a deep breath in, and there seems to be more space in my chest for my lungs to expand. I exhale and think about when I can go to AntiGravity Yoga again.