If the thought of swinging upside down while suspended in mid-air, supported only by a thin piece of silk doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, then you’ve never truly lived! At least that’s what devout aerial yogis preach, just before they strap themselves into their hammocks and prepare to glide.
AntiGravity Yoga was sparked to life by dancer/gymnast Christopher Harrison in 1991. Shortly thereafter, the Broadway choreographer introduced the technique to Crunch gym. The now-franchised 60-minute mind/body experience has brought aerial arts to the masses. “It’s a Cirque du Soleil meets yoga, meets Pilates, meets isometric workout,” says Sahara Alli, an inviting, yet no-nonsense AntiGravity Yoga teacher who has taught various forms of yoga, Pilates and restorative bodywork for over 15 years and has now taken over the reins at Crunch Los Angeles.
Described by Alli as “one of the most structured and rare forms of yoga,” it may very well be one of the most beneficial. “There are actually 2 forms of antigravity. One where it's gentle–you’re suspended only 2 feet from the floor, doing more restorative movements,” and the other “where you’re suspended, about 4 or so feet from the floor. You can swing upside down and your head won’t touch the floor. It’s the body’s nervous system, not knowing (whether) you’re floating in the water or floating in air. (It) only knows that you’re suspended and fighting gravity, so your nervous system surrenders.”
The key to allowing your nervous system to peacefully surrender, (without busting your bum and looking like a hot swirly mess on the floor) is to master your support system. Become friends with the singular class prop–a silk hammock that is strung from the ceiling. Special rigging allows the pliable material to hold up to 2,000 pounds. From the hammock, you’re taught inversions that allow you to balance and hang gracefully in mid-air. This includes backbends, the "flying updog," and a class favorite: the "swaying cocoon." This resting pose calls for your entire body to be wrapped inside of the hammock like a burrito. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a whiff of the fresh lavender scent that Alli sprinkles like fairy dust over resting yogis, to help induce a more relaxed state. The chill time is much deserved. Before your eyes go wide shut, you definitely feel the burn of a merciless cardio challenge.
“You can have a callisthenic workout. You can wrap your ankles and do hip or ab work. There’s push-ups and pull ups. You’re using your body’s resistance to train and tone your body,” all while flying through the air, explains Alli. Likening the anti-gravity process to swinging from the monkey bars at a playground, she adds, “the way you are suspended in the hammocks works your nervous system and adrenal glands, as well as your organs. It’s a 360 [degree] experience.”
Alli explains that a 360-degree experience is especially beneficial for 4 reasons:
1) It recharges the brain. AntiGravity Yoga helps stimulate your brain function by redefining the proprioceptors in your body. Proprioceptors help your body respond better to natural stimuli. “The older you get, those nerves on your facial area start to die. That’s why older people loose their balance, or can’t see or walk (well),” Alli says. “Anti-Gravity helps to rebuild those synapses and recharge the brain, because of the movements you do to work the right side of your brain.”
2) It strengthens your spine. The trainer explains, “In a traditional yoga class, to do a handstand, you’re putting all of your weight on your head. But in antigravity, if you’re doing a conversion, there’s no weight on your head or arms that (puts) pressure on your joints… So, it’s a safer inversion on your body.”
3) It elevates your mood. Aerial yoga stimulates your pituitary gland, which affects your mood. “The pituitary gland is the one that activates your entire endocrine system, which keeps your body healthy. So if you’re activating the pituitary, it stimulates all of the others-the adrenal, the liver, and everything else, which allows for purification of the body,” she adds.
4) It alleviates stress. Alli explains, “AntiGravity gives us an opportunity as Black people to be off [duty]. We’re always conscious of who we are in every single environment that we’re in. Even if we don’t want to be, we are. We are dealing with survival all of the time. Antigravity shifts your nervous system, giving you a different perspective and your mind the opportunity to let go! All of the things that we carry in our nervous system and hold onto, antigravity helps to open that space and release that energy.”
AntiGravity Yoga is available nationwide at Crunch. For more information about the program and additional restorative workshops offered by Sahara Alli, email her at: [email protected].