I consider myself a yoga enthusiast. I’ve been practicing for a few years now and am comfortable playing with new poses and modifications. Trying new classes doesn’t make me fearful anymore. So when the idea of an article on aerial yoga came up, I was more than game to try.
Leana Medina-Beltz is a certified aerial yoga instructor who teaches at the Rochester Athletic Club (RAC). She has been teaching mat yoga for six years but three years ago she added aerial yoga to her repertoire.
On a vacation in Delaware, Leana went to an aerial yoga class with her sister-in-law. “We both really liked it and after class we talked to the teacher, who was actually the owner of the studio,” she says. She was offering a teacher training class in a few months and Leana and her sister both went back for the training.
“I was doing it more for me but I presented it to the former director of group fitness and she said we may be interested in bringing it to the RAC.” The club did decide to take on the class and have been offering aerial yoga ever since. What it’s like I was able to watch Leana set up for the class so she explained to me what the equipment is.
The fabric is the same kind they use for Cirque du Soleil, she told me. “It has give but it’s also really strong. The fabric alone holds 1,000 pounds,” she says. The fabric is hooked to a daisy chain with a carabineer, both of which are mountaineering equipment and can hold an additional two to three thousand pounds. To top it off, the RAC had a structural engineer come in to reinforce everything with cement.
To be honest, the rigs kind of looked like hammocks. And in fact, the way to get into the fabric is similar to how you would enter a hammock.
While my classmates were seasoned veterans of aerial yoga, Leana was able to work with their advanced ability and my novice ability at the same time. She would give the next pose to the others and then come over and help me maneuver my way into the move.
Having previously done yoga before was nice if only for the fact that I was comfortable with most of the poses. This class could definitely be taken by someone with no prior yoga experience, as poses are worked through slowly and explained clearly to give you enough time to spend in each position.
While we didn’t adhere strictly to vinyasa flow, or flowing every pose with your breath, breath was still the basis of the practice. One thing I appreciated was even though some of the poses felt awkward, simply because I was used to doing them on the ground, I was able to express them more fully and get a deeper stretch. When doing mat yoga, it can be difficult to hold your balance and still do the pose properly. With aerial yoga, I found I was able to shift and move more because of the fabric which allowed me to be somewhat unbalanced but still get the benefit of the poses. Benefits When asked what she most enjoys about aerial yoga that differs from yoga on a mat, Leana goes straight to the students. “I had a 78 year old student who had a lot of wrist issues and she couldn’t do mat yoga but could do aerial,” say says. “People who can no longer do mat yoga, this has support so you can [continue to practice].”
Another benefit is the deepening of the poses. You can work to tweak and refine your alignment, which creates muscle memory. This will help you in your practice when you go back to the mat—your muscles will remember how it felt when you did the pose in aerial yoga.
One additional benefit that you get from aerial yoga that many cannot get on the mat is inversions, or head/hand stands. “In this class, everybody can do an inversion,” says Leana. “You get all the benefits and actually it’s better for you because there’s no compression. As a matter of fact you’re getting decompression. I’ve had people with back issues come in and they love it because they get decompression.”
I experienced this first hand. I’ve been trying to work my way up to even a basic shoulder stand on the mat and I’m a long way off. But in my first aerial class, I was able to do a complete inversion, hanging upside down in the same manner as the cover photo for the issue. It was a great feeling!
While aerial yoga may look intimidating, I found that it’s actually very beginner-friendly. But like any yoga class, you can tailor the practice to your own experience. It’s a great tool to deepen your practice on the mat.
And, added bonus, the class ends in a hanging savasana, or corpse pose, which is essentially lying down in a soft hammock. That’s always a win in my book.
For more information about aerial yoga, visit the Rochester Athletic Club website. Note: You do not have to be a member of the RAC to take aerial yoga classes.
Watch this video to get a visual of what aerial yoga is.
I’ve been practicing yoga for over 10 years and teaching for eight. I’ve encountered a few styles that I’ve loved during that time and aerial yoga is definitely one of them. I decided to try it because it looked so fun and relaxing.
What I discovered was that along with being exactly that, aerial yoga had a unique capacity to help my rebuild my core, improve my balance and develop deeper physical and energetic alignment in some of my favorite poses. There is also a joy and playfulness — we get to swing and try to touch the sky with our toes, fly like superheroes and hang upside down like monkeys.
And, as a mom of three kids, the end of class, where we just lay in the hammocks and gently sway in a state of total quiet and peace, is the reason I come back every week, over and over again. I can only compare the feeling to something ancient and maternal, like being rocked to sleep by your mama. It is a feeling I can’t get enough of in my beautifully full life and I leave restored and ready to take on another day!