Let me just start off by saying that I am petrified of heights. Like, “why-did-you-pick-me-up-two-inches-off-the-ground-put-me-back-right-now” kind of petrified. It’s not that I don’t like being in the air — I was a gymnast as a child and a dancer for most of my life. It’s just that I’ve had a few very jarring experiences while trusting other people to keep me from falling. From my spot allowing me to completely wipe out during my first-ever back handspring, to getting dropped in every trust exercise I’ve ever done, to falling flat on my face in my very brief experience with partner ballet dancing, I’m more than a little traumatized.
Gravity hurts, people. So when it comes to getting airborne, I’m more apt to trust myself to jump, leap, and lift myself up there (and safely back down) than I am another person, and most certainly an aerial yoga hammock. If someone had told me last week that I would be hanging upside down in a giant piece of silk suspended from the ceiling at Kaya Aerial Yoga, I would have laughed in their face. But I did it, and here’s the best part: I never wanted to stop.
On Monday, while sleuthing out wacky workouts to test for this very post, I stumbled upon Kaya Aerial Yoga. On a whim, I decided to call and ask about their classes. Immediately after getting off the phone, I decided to sign myself up for the Tuesday evening Foundations class. Which was all well and good, until Tuesday rolled around.
I came into the office the next morning, yoga pants in tow, silently panicking. I somehow roped the Research Editor into coming with me — I could not do this alone — and at the end of the day, we headed over. If I thought I was scared before entering the studio, it was nothing compared to how I felt once we got in there. The class space was filled with massive silk hammocks suspended from the ceiling by carabiners. The instructor, Leyna, adjusted the hammocks for our height, reassured us that they could hold up to 2000 pounds, and told us to jump up and sit in the middle.
The first jump into the hammock was, by far, the scariest part of the entire class. I’m obviously not 2000 pounds, but while I was about to entrust my entire body weight to a swath of purple fabric, I was completely convinced that it was going to rip out of the ceiling and come crashing down. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and hoisted myself up. I didn’t fall. And, surprisingly enough, it was pretty comfortable.
We opened the class with a seated meditation in butterfly pose, where we essentially wrapped the hammock around us into a giant cocoon. I was in my own little purple bubble, eyes closed, gently rocking back and forth as I Om’d. It. Was. Awesome. And my nerves were instantly calmed -- for a minute or two, that is.
From there, we jumped right in. First, we experimented with getting comfortable in the hammock — by backflipping. Feeling pretty terrified but determined to keep up with the rest of the class, I leaned back and let go. The next thing I knew, I was back on my feet, completely intact. I was still internally celebrating when we moved into yoga poses. Everything we did was pretty standard: cat, cow, downward facing dog, sun salutations. But wrapped in the hammock, the poses felt completely different. In down dog, the silk was right in our hip crease, so there was noticeable tension as I sank into the pose, half-supported by the hammock.
But as strange as the sensation was, the stretch was deeper than usual, and it didn’t feel half bad. I slowly grew more comfortable in my hammock, and instead of focusing on how scared I was, I began to focus more on how different the poses felt. Once I listened to my body, the rest of the class was a breeze.
Towards the end, we did inversions. And let me tell you, inversions in the air are seriously cool. Boat pose, upside-down, was amazing. I’ve never gotten a better stretch in my back before. And our final and most challenging pose of the night, a shoulder stand, was easier in the air than it is on the ground. Though normally a pretty compressing pose, my spine felt long, and, surprisingly, I felt no pressure at all.
We ended the class by sliding our way from the shoulder stand into Savasana. I tucked the hammock behind my head and stretched out. I couldn’t see anything except for the hammock around me. Rocking back and forth, I felt like I was in my own world. I could have fallen asleep right then and there, but when we got up and out of the hammocks, I felt completely re-engerzied.
As I was leaving, the first thing I felt was disappointment. Not because I didn’t like the class, but because I was sad it was already over. I could have climbed, flipped, and stretched all night. I left feeling better than I had in days, and I am already planning to head back next week, thoroughly excited and completely panic-free. I won’t say my fear of heights is completely conquered, but hanging from an aerial hammock is a pretty good place to start.
If you're interested in trying some zero-gravity yoga yourself, you can find more information on the studio and schedule here.
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