Is Aerial Yoga “Real” Yoga?

Aerial yoga, or anti-gravity yoga or even flying yoga, as it’s sometimes called – suspending yourself from the ceiling – soaring high all in the name of grace, fitness and enlightenment.

Is this just another fad at trendy health clubs? Or is it the REAL deal? Can you really gain the physical, mental and emotional benefits of the ancient tradition of yoga whilst up in the air?

aerial yoga

Do you ever think about greatness? Doing something great with your life, or perhaps letting out that piece of greatness that you repress or deny?

It can be pretty overwhelming being secretly great, or having a talent or vision that you don’t think the world is quite ready for yet.

It might even become a little frustrating as the years pass by – all this hiding the light away, playing small, business.

I think aerial yoga might be able to give you the support, strength, courage and creativity you need to come out of the closet, so to speak. And I think it does this by changing the body’s relationship to something which is truly great – namely gravity

The force of gravity at the centre of a black hole is so great that it would reduce the earth to the size of a golf ball.

aerial yoga equipment

Imagine that, you would no longer have to carry the world around on your shoulders, you could simply put it in your pocket. Idly toss it up and down in your hand as you waited for the lift or your morning coffee to be made.

When you change your relationship to greatness – which you do as soon as you put your body, or part of your body, into the support of the aerial swing – it has a profound emotional affect and this is often where the blockages are.

We can, and do, have lots of ideas and plans about what we’d like to do but if the emotion – the faith, the courage, the conviction – isn’t there, it’s not gonna happen.

Let me explain how aerial yoga might help. The first thing you do in an aerial yoga class is get completely inside the swing and have your body gently rocked like a child in a cradle.

aerial yoga at home

I’ve had people revisit early childhood traumas during this experience. Spinal cord injury victims and elderly people being able to relax more deeply than they can remember because there bodies are not on the hard surface of the floor.

Simply being held and rocked producing all this strong emotion. And why not? It’s one of the first things your body would have experienced.

That’s how you would have been calmed down as a child. That’s how the love of your carers would have been communicated to you. In fact you might say that rocking is the body language of love.

There’s an awful lot of rocking in an aerial yoga class. It’s not just the first position. It’s part of many of them. May I ask “Would more love be useful in the quest to liberate your greatness?” 

aerial yoga classes

After the aerial support has soothed you, calmed you down from your busy day and shown the body a little more love and a little less judgement, we move on to building strength and courage. You can build the same physical strength, if not more, doing aerial postures.

They will also be more pleasurable because the support will help you to relax whilst doing them. Relaxing is both more pleasurable and health-giving than stress and allows the prana (life-force/vitality) to flow more freely.

Consider this ... you’re doing a back bend, let’s say cobra against gravity, (why struggle against something so powerful!), so you’re strengthening your back muscles, creating flexibility in your front, massaging your viscera etc.

You’re going to get all of these health benefits doing this upside down with added endorphins released because of the inversion effect and better breathing and alignment because you’re not forcing the posture.

aerial yoga benefits

Once you start practising this style of yoga it really is a no-brainer – why work harder when you can work smarter.

And in a time of such chronic stress and anxiety within society, something that releases the relaxation response as liberally as aerial yoga does, is much needed.

I would go as far as to say that it’s an intelligent adaptation to a rapidly changing environment of increasing sedentariness and stress that has destroyed our physical and mental well-being in just a few short generations.

It harnesses the power of passivity to return homeostasis to our overwrought nervous systems. So, calmed and strengthened, you can go on with the quest. You are going to need courage as well, though, if you’re to achieve the things you’d like to achieve in life and reach out to your greatness.

Aerial yoga can help you here as well. We build courage when we go into the unknown. When we cross boundaries. Feel the fear but do it anyway.

anti gravity yoga

I guess you can build courage using sophisticated mental strategies: NLP, positive thinking, creating abundant thoughts and visualisations, but I suspect the simplest and most powerful way to build courage is to bring the body into an unfamiliar environment and get it to do things – under safe supervision – that frighten or intimidate it a little bit.

Once the body has been to this place often enough and found that everything is OK it will feel more courageous. That courageous feeling will lead to more courageous thoughts. Which will lead to more courageous actions in your life.

Aerial yoga gives you lots of opportunities to build courage physically. Simply getting into the swing for the first time and trusting that it will support your body weight is an act of courage for many people (like the lady who lost 50kg doing aerial yoga and then became a teacher of it – the best teacher of it, I might add).

Dropping backwards into the unknown during your first aerial headstand is a wonderful producer of courage. Likewise with the somersaults you can perform to transition from suspended work to ground work. Indeed the whole experience allows you to do things with your body that you’ve never been able to do before.

anti gravity yoga pictures

Which is engaging, interesting and brings you into the present moment. And the present moment is a lot less fearful than the past and future moments that we all have a tendency to dwell in. People never come to my classes looking to build courage.

They come because they’re curious about aerial yoga. But I’ve noticed that those who seem to be most regular are people who are in the process of making significant changes in their lives or who are on the verge of this.

You cannot buy courage – you have to find it. Aerial yoga gives people the opportunity to find it. Calm, strong, courageous – things are looking different now. You are unique: your voice, your touch, your walk, your laughter, your temperament.

Never before and never again will there be you. Is it too much to suggest that the unique being that you are has something uniquely creative to accomplish in their life?

I encourage creativity and creative physical expression in my classes. I think that we have lost touch with our physical intelligence. Lost faith in it. And with that, a lot of the pleasure of being alive.

anti gravity yoga classes

I notice that people who come to the aerial classes who you might describe as "heady" or intellectual, are often incredibly timid physically and most resistant to the opportunity to be creative and expressive in the swings – plus they often look pretty miserable and tense.

In the same way that you can build courage by doing courageous things, I also sense that you can stimulate creativity by being creative with your physical body.

Aerial yoga – with its changing of your relationship to gravity, increase in your range of motion and invitation to relax into your physical body – provides you with the opportunity to do just that. It gives you the opportunity to be unique – to be authentic.

With the body supported and at ease, strength and courage developed and creativity unleashed you will have the ground from which you can liberate your greatness. If you read the traditional yoga texts, you will see that yoga is all about liberation.

A form of yoga that can liberate your body in the ways that aerial can deserves to be called REAL yoga. I will collaborate with anybody who has a vision of how they might use these amazing swings to give something back to life – and in that act of giving realise their own greatness.

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About the author

Richard Holroyd

Richard is the founder of Aerial Yoga London – the UK's first aerial-yoga dedicated studio. His yoga background is part asana training – Ashtanga and Sivananda styles. Richard combines his yoga postures with the mindfulness and meditation skills he picked up living for 6 years in a variety of spiritual communities including Tibetan, Theravaden and Indian ashrams. His aim is to develop aerial yoga – in collaboration with many others – into something that has an equal emphasis on the physical and mental elements of yoga practice; to play a part in building networks and communities that are inspired to use yoga as the fuel for their social action. Richard lives in London and enjoys good cheese and high-quality chocolate (not at the same time though!) Twitter Facebook

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