The Clumsy Girl’s Guide to Aerial Yoga

We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling through Instagram while waiting in line at your go-to coffee joint when you stumble across an impressive yoga-in-the-air image. Known as aerial yoga, this relatively new form of Hatha flow challenges you to practice poses suspended above the ground, usually in colorful silks.

Or as Cara Bourdage, owner and trainer at Air Lincoln Park in Chicago explains, “Aerial yoga fuses traditional yoga poses with aerial hammocks to allow clients to feel supported while stretching deeper through their practice.” Though this type of yoga practice makes for a beautiful image (and a strengthened core), if you’re clumsier than coordinated, you might struggle to work up the nerve to, well, as they say in aerial yoga class — fly.

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But before you discount your abilities, remember aerial yoga is designed for all skill levels and body types. The only requirement is a positive attitude as your instructor helps you build confidence via the silks. Here, a guide to getting through your first class no matter how much of a klutz you claim to be.

Yes, it’s safe

When you check in and catch a glimpse of the colorful fabrics in your class, you might wonder how it’s possible for something so small to support your weight. Don’t worry, though. As instructor Maura Roth-Gormley notes, “The hammock is designed to support up to 1,000 pounds and can be used as a prop to support the body’s weight while seated, lying down and standing, both on and off the ground.”

Throughout your class, you can expect your teacher to teach you how to move with, on top of and lay inside these hammocks, transforming your body into a slew of different shapes. You morph your limbs during aerial yoga as a way to build on the same alignment principles and therapeutic benefits of the more traditional styles of yoga according to Roth-Gormley.

Remember, fear is normal

When you first took a seat on a yoga mat, counted your breath and made your way to Downward-Facing Dog, you probably felt a little off-center and anxious. The same goes for riding a bike, trying a new program at work or even going on a date you’re excited about. Those baby steps are the hardest ones — especially when you’re taking your toes off the comfort of the ground. But as Roth-Gormley says, owning your own ability will help you ward off doubts.

“When we first start practicing, we have to learn how to stay in control of the hammock instead of letting the hammock control us. For many of us as well, bringing our feet off the ground, even just by a few inches, can bring up feelings of fear and instability,” she shares. “When students overcome that initial fear, though, it’s incredibly empowering [and] helps folks build the courage to try new things, both on and off the hammock.”

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Take it slow

If your two left feet often think faster than the rest of you, the temptation to dive — literally — into the aerial hammocks might be heavy. But here’s the deal. Both Bourdage and Roth-Gormley stress the importance of moving with intention instead of speed. While the practice of aerial yoga is a fun one (you are swinging on colorful scarves suspended from the ceiling after all), it’s also one that requires technique and precision.

“Move slowly and with control. I’ve found in my own practice that if I try to rush through a sequence or pose, I often end up fumbling more. Take things slowly, especially the first few times you’re learning them,” Roth-Gormley suggests.

Trust the fabrics — & use them to play

Working up to a yoga headstand or handstand requires not only many fumbles and tumbles, but a dedication to flexing your abdominal muscles. Though aerial yoga is a worthwhile exercise, the added support of the hammocks, silks and fabrics allow you to be braver with poses you once deemed impossible. As Bourdage explains, anything you perform in the hammock could be done without it on the ground, but “the fabric will help you become more coordinated because you can rely on it to support you and help you through difficult moves,” she says.

Don’t doubt your body’s ability to adapt

During aerial yoga, your instructor will teach you “inversions,” which require you to hang upside down, a feeling you might not be the most comfortable staying still in for an extended period of time. Before you flip over to ease your anxiety, Bourdage reminds us that like with most things, practice makes you more at ease and skilled. “Inversions in the fabric are fun and safe — and they feel better each time you try them — take it at your own pace and don’t give up. Your body will get used to the feeling over time,” she says.

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Your breath is No. 1

Ask any fitness instructor — from boxing to indoor cycling classes — and they’ll be quick to stress the importance of breathing during class. These deep inhales and exhales are what gives your body the ability to flow effectively without you straining to tighten or engage various muscle groups. But when you throw an upside-down, extended-neck movement into the mix during aerial yoga, holding your breath might be your first instinct.

Before you turn blue, Roth-Gormley encourages new students to pause, relax and tune in to their natural aerobic rhythm. “Pay attention to your breath and keep breathing. Just like in any other form of yoga, aerial yoga uses the breath as an ally to go deeper into poses and stay mindful of our experience in our body,” she says.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Remember, the reason you’re forking over $15 (or more) to attend a fitness class is for the instruction. When you’re introducing your body — and your mind — to a new workout, it’s normal to have questions, concerns and certain poses or inversions you’d like further clarification on or assistance with. Roth-Gormley says not to be nervous to wave over your skilled trainer whether you need help going into or out of poses. They’re there to help, empower and maneuver your practice in whatever way you feel the most comfortable. All you have to do is ask.

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