What Is Aerial Yoga?

Aerial yoga is a relatively new style of yoga that has originated in the last two decades. It was originally coined by a Broadway dancer named Christopher Harrison from New York City and has seen global growth and worldwide popularity. The form itself consists of using an aerial silk hammock rigged from the ceiling to use for supported stretching, inversions, and other more acrobatic moves combined with breathing and meditation.

Key takeaways:
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    Aerial yoga is a new form of yoga invented by Broadway dancer Christopher Harrison in New York City.
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    It involves a double point aerial yoga silk hammock that hangs from the ceiling.
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    You can perform supported stretches and inversion on the aerial yoga hammock.

The aerial yoga hammock

Traditionally, the aerial yoga hammock is actually made out of nylon tricot, not actual silk material. However, it is very soft and silky, and is the same material professional aerial acrobats use. The difference is in how the two are rigged.

The aerial yoga hammock is usually rigged as a double point hammock, with two attachment points in the ceiling. This provides for more width of the fabric and stability for the practitioner. However, some studios may rig them as a single point for more spin or an extra challenge. Either way, safety is of utmost importance when rigging any sort of aerial equipment because it needs to hold your body weight and the dynamic load it creates from sitting or swinging.

Rigging the aerial yoga hammock

You will need several pieces of equipment to use the aerial hammock as a yoga prop. These include:

  • Ceiling beam or mount
  • Aerial hammock material: nylon tricot 40 denier low stretch, 5.5 yards and 110 inches wide
  • 2 carabiners
  • 2 daisy chains

First, you need to have a safe ceiling beam or ceiling mount from which to hang the equipment. If you do not have a beam, you can purchase ceiling mounts which are drilled into the ceiling. The ceiling must be inspected by an engineer to ensure it can hold human body weight.

Then, the hammock is tied into two knots on either end to create a U-shape out of the material. The carabiners are attached to the loops in the knots. Daisy chains are slings with small pockets built into them that attach to the beam or ceiling mount where you can hang the hammock at different heights by adjusting the carabiners into the pockets. Traditionally, the aerial yoga hammock is rigged at hip height or lower for a restorative aerial yoga class.

It is recommended to have at least 10 to 15 feet of ceiling height to accommodate the aerial yoga hammock.

The popularization of aerial yoga

Aerial arts have become a worldwide phenomenon, especially after several famous singers have incorporated aerial acrobatics into their shows. For example, the singer Pink performed aerial arts at the Grammy’s one year. It has only made people more curious about these art forms!

However, aerial acrobatics are much more dangerous and riskier than aerial yoga, and require a great deal of upper body strength in order to climb the silks. Aerial silks are rigged differently from the hammock, so the center of the fabric, which will be much longer and require a higher ceiling height, is rigged at the top and two separate tails of the silks are used. Performance-based companies such as Cirque du Soleil have artists that perform on the aerial silks such as this, performing daring drops from near the ceiling.

Aerial yoga is accessible to anyone because it is floor-based. In beginner level classes, the focus is on stretching or sitting/laying inside the open fabric, not far from the floor. For the stretching portion, usually one or two limbs are still in contact with the floor. A yoga mat will be placed underneath, as opposed to a giant crash mat used in aerial acrobatics at higher heights.

The aerial hammock as a yoga prop

The great yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar is known for his use of yoga props and alignment-based yoga (rather than a flow style). He began experimenting with ropes for inversions at a wall in his homeland of India long before aerial yoga was popularized. Therefore, there is some crossover between traditional yoga and this Westernized version. Today, aerial yoga is also popular throughout India, the birthplace of yoga.

The aerial yoga hammock is a wonderful tool that can be used for deeper stretching and alignment. However, it can also be used for supported inversions, which can be fun, relaxing, invigorating, or calming, depending on the practitioner. You really do not need strength to perform aerial yoga inversions, which is the opposite of floor-based yoga where you need to use your arms and core to hold yourself upside-down.

One of the benefits of aerial yoga is that it can help develop pulling strength for yoga practitioners who may primarily practice on the ground. Floor-based yoga develops a lot of pushing strength, such as in downward facing dog or a handstand, but aerial yoga may have you perform some pull-up type actions, stimulating the muscle fibers differently.

Supported inversion poses

Shoulderstand in the hammock

Lie down inside the open hammock and scoot back to cover the shoulders like a small cape. Hold onto the sides of the hammock and lift the feet and hips overhead. Once secure, you are held in the hammock covering your shoulders and you can bring your hands to anjali mudra or prayer pose at the heart center.

Woman doing aerial yoga Shoulderstand in the hammock

Inverted butterfly

Stand with the hammock behind you and press it down to your hips like a belt worn at the small of your back. Lean back under the center point to avoid swinging and open the legs wide outside the two poles of fabric in a straddle position. Then fold the legs around the fabric and bring the feet together into the butterfly position. You can release the hands to the floor when you feel ready, or bring them together at the heart center.

Woman doing aerial yoga inverted butterfly

Supported yoga stretches

It’s called aerial yoga for a reason, and this means the classes start with breathing and meditation, then move onto a yoga posture warm-up using familiar hatha and vinyasa poses with the yoga hammock. For example, you can practice lunges, warrior poses, twists, reclined postures, and even savasana inside the hammock or using the center loop of the hammock. It will allow you to be held and supported, allowing the stretch to go deeper with the effect of gravity, as the floor is not in the way.

Contraindications

Aerial yoga is not advised for those with eye disorders like detached retina or glaucoma, those with vertigo, cancer patients, or pregnant women who have never done aerial yoga before. It is fine to be performed, perhaps modified, for women during their menstrual cycle.

Overall, aerial yoga is a new and vibrant addition to the types of yoga in existence today. It adds a playful and fun repertoire of flying and inverted postures that is sure to make you smile and laugh.

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