Aerial Yoga: Grounding with Gravity

A fun variation for your traditional yoga practice

Sometimes it seems that yoga's the vanilla ice cream of the body/mind/spirit crowd — people can't help themselves from sprinkling on their favorite toppings and swirling extras into the basic flavor. How else to perceive AcroYoga, Yogilates, and Cy-Yo, if not as the yogic versions of fudge ripple?

Yes, in Mysore, eyes would surely roll at comparing yoga to a frozen dessert, but in the U.S., yoga can be a delicious starting point for creativity. Just ask Aerial Yoga instructor Michelle Dortignac, who merged her background in dance, her training in the aerial circus art of tissu or "silks," and her study of yoga at none less than the legendary Dharma Yoga Center in New York. The result: a hybrid form that remains true to yoga principles and focuses on finding inner peace.

How does one feel grounded, without actually being on the ground? "Gravity always works, and it always works in one direction," Dortignac explains on her website. Students "have no choice but to learn proper alignment." Aerial Yoga classes take place half on the floor, half "very close to the floor," with the support of a soft cloth trapeze. Gravity's effects surely make letting go easier — provided that cloth is tightly secured. According to Dortignac, Aerial Yoga not only helps students understand alignment, but also strengthens core muscles, increases spinal flexibility, avoids back strain, strengthens shoulders and increases shoulder flexibility, and "increases the amount of fun in your life!" Unlike the seemingly similar AcroYoga, which requires a comfortable inversion practice before starting, Aerial Yoga welcomes beginners.

My advice to vanilla yoga purists? Consider it an acquired taste, and take heart. At least it's not the instant raspberry chai latte version of yoga.

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