what it’s like to try aerial yoga
There are many words my friends could use to describe me, but graceful is not one of them. I’m clumsy, not very flexible and generally quite fearful. As a child, I was so afraid of getting upside down that I couldn’t roll forward.
So when a friend suggested I join her for an aerial hoop class, I just declined. OK, it was more like ‘What the hell is that?’ (think yoga, but in a metal hoop suspended in the air), followed by a quick no.
Alas, this offer came in the middle of a five-month remote working adventure in Berlin – when I had pledged to say “yes” to every new opportunity that came my way. And so, I reluctantly joined her.
The class was held in a brightly colored studio on the River Spree (Flair Studios, for all Berliners looking for thrills). Metal rings hung (an alarmingly high) above giant floor mats, which we approached after a cardio, abs, and shoulders warm-up. We went from shoulder rolls (hands up to the hoop, body in a chair position), to more ambitious straddles (hands on the hoop, body inverted, legs to either side), before finally learning how to enter in the hoop (full disclosure: it took me about three classes to master) and master some of the basic moves.
As I watched my classmates contort their bodies into impressive shapes while somehow swinging in the thin metal hoop, I was convinced that this kind of exercise was not for me. I left with adrenaline in my body and the vertigo of having faced a fear. It was terrifying.
But I came back for one more lesson, then another. Each time, I pushed myself a little further and found new sources of strength. Moves that seemed impossible in my first few classes (hanging from my knees, rolling forward on the hoop with only one knee attached) didn’t feel so scary anymore.
I am still a beginner, but I have already learned a lot from aerial yoga. There’s something so liberating about overcoming my fears in a safe environment, and in a world of tax returns and adult responsibilities, there’s something delightfully regressive about hanging upside down and playing. above giant floor mats.
Benefits of aerial fitness for body image and mental health
What I love most about aerial is that it focuses on what your body can do, rather than how it looks. Classes are made up of individuals of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, and the focus is on expanding your body’s abilities and joyful, playful movement. There are lots of laughs, falls and encouragement.
Tanya Rashid, aerial hoop instructor at the London Dance Academy, explains: “Aerial is a training that also develops a craft. Not only do you develop your physical fitness, but you also become proficient in an art form. By focusing on the technical aspects of movement in class, students often forget that they are exercising!
That’s not to say aerial isn’t a hardcore workout. (The day after my first class, I could barely raise my arms above my head). It’s intense for your body, requiring a strong core and regular practice. As Rashid points out, it also motivates you to build muscle outside of the classroom, as the more advanced moves require “a high level of general fitness.”
She adds, “Most of the women who come to my classes regularly are now stronger than most of my friends who train.”
What other forms of aerial fitness are there?
Aerial has its roots in circus acrobatics and as an art form falls somewhere between gymnastics, burlesque and circus arts. In addition to the hoop, trapeze, and aerial hammock-based toga, there are silks, suspenders, and a top. Those who perform professionally show an incredible level of skill and artistry to watch: it’s a YouTube rabbit hole you won’t regret falling into.
What gym experience do you need to try aerial fitness?
You don’t have to be a budding acrobat to get into aerial fitness. And you don’t have to be super strong or even particularly flexible. Rashid agrees. “You absolutely don’t have to be a certain level of fitness or body type to be good at the aerial hoop,” she says. However, this requires some grafting: “All of my students who kept coming back to class, regardless of body type, showed a commitment and dedication to the hard work it takes to build the strength to progress in the domain.”
If you had told me a year ago that I was going to take hoop and trapeze lessons, I would never have believed you. But now it’s the highlight of my week: a space where I can go and forget the noise of everyday life and just focus on the form I’m trying to create. It’s also probably the closest flight I’ll ever have.