I tried Aerial Yoga the first time a couple of years ago when my yoga studio added it to their offerings. Mesmerized by photos of women gracefully floating upside down from a piece of cloth, I eagerly signed up for one of the first classes offered. Though I’ve taken several aerial yoga courses since, I wouldn’t say it’s officially “in my rotation”, but it is nice to mix in from time-to-time. If you’ve never tried an aerial yoga class and are thinking of giving it a try, here are 5 things to know before trying it out:
Don’t eat much for at least three hours beforehand. While I can’t speak for all aerial yoga classes, I’ve spent a significant amount of time upside-down in all the classes I've taken. While this may not be the case for you; for me, this sensation can definitely leave you feeling nauseated. It is important to note that the more time you spend inverted, the easier it gets. So, if you frequently practice inversions (headstands, shoulder stands, forearm balances, etc.) during your personal practice, aerial inversions might not give you as much of a literal head rush as it did for me.
Stay hydrated throughout the day, but don’t drink too much before or during class. As with my above comment about food, watch how much liquid is in your belly before and during your aerial class. You don’t want a stomach full of water sloshing around as you attempt to flip and hang from the yoga hammock. While you’re bound to get thirsty during the class, I recommend using water breaks to take in just enough water to swish in your mouth and swallow; not big, hydrating gulps. Of course, always listen to your body, but I find small sips and swishes are enough to sustain me throughout class and keep me from feeling nauseated.
Be brave. I’ve talked to so many people who are intimidated by the thought of aerial yoga for a variety of reasons (strength, flexibility, etc.). Truly, being off the ground and having gravity in your favor can make poses and stretches more accessible. Don’t be afraid to flip and turn in the swings/slings/hammocks...or whatever your studio calls them. Your yoga sling is there to support you. As long as you follow the safety cues from the instructor, you can move about freely. And while you’re at it, you might as well prepare to look completely ridiculous at least one time during the class. I consider myself to be pretty coordinated, but there were times during the class when my body had turned so many different ways that I couldn’t tell left from right and I’d take several tries getting into what seemed like a simple pose. If you’re up for a good laugh, it’s worth it to take a quick look at how distorted your face looks while upside-down (or is that just me???).
Get ready to feel the burn. If you’re like me, aerial work will access an entirely different muscle set than you’re used to using. Less than 24 hours after my first class, I was hurting in upper-body muscle groups that I didn’t even knew existed (don’t let this scare you, the soreness I experienced was standard).
Dress appropriately. As I noted early, you can expect to spend some time upside-down during aerial class. Baggy, loose-fitting athletic wear won't do for this class, because...gravity. I recommend choosing a tighter-fitting athletic top (or just a sports bra, if you’re comfortable in that) so that your clothing isn’t getting in your way. In addition, keep in mind that other things tend to shift when you’re inverted as well. With this knowledge, I’d recommend a higher-cut sports bra or a sports bra with more support and compression power if you’re heavy-chested. On the bottom, I prefer yoga pants or tights as opposed to shorts. This is because you often wrap your legs (specifically your upper-leg) through the sling to brace or balance yourself. Personally, I find certain poses can be binding and would be extra uncomfortable with the fabric of the sling directly on your skin.
If you’ve never taken an aerial yoga class, I highly encourage you to do so. These classes are becoming popular in fitness studios of all types and can be incredibly rewarding, challenging and renewing. To date, I’ve taken introductory, intermediate and restorative aerial classes and have found each level to be enjoyable. If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend you take an introductory class, even if you’re well-versed in other types of yoga. Suspending yourself from a cloth sling can be intimidating and confusing (not to mention much more physically challenging than you’d expect). A good introductory course will take you through basic poses, balancing maneuvers and safety precautions (you are, after all, suspending yourself from a piece of fabric in the air).
I also highly recommend checking out a restorative-style aerial yoga class if it’s available to you. These classes use the aerial sling to aid you in stretching more deeply and decompress the spine. I’ve found this type of inversion to be tremendously helpful in releasing back and neck pain (note: I am not a doctor, so please check with yours before giving aerial yoga a try if you have any health concerns :) ). Finally, inverting your body gets fresh blood flowing to your brain and other parts of the body; which has several amazing health benefits (check out this article from Wanderlust Yoga about the benefits of inversions).
Whether you’re considering taking your first aerial yoga class, or just hearing about the practice for the first time, I hope this post gives you some insight into what to expect. Do you have other questions or comments about aerial yoga? I’d love to hear them in the comments, Namaste.