Yoga is for everyone. I’m a big believer in that. But what about aerial yoga, sometimes known as trapeze yoga? Who is for and why should you try it?
Aerial yoga. It sounds daunting. Something reserved for athletes – the gymnasts and the circus performers. But what if I told you that it the most relaxing, therapeutic, and endorphin boosting exercise I’ve ever tried? And what if I told you that I’m plus size? A size 18, 5ft10, 15 stone woman. And I practice aerial yoga.
I have to admit that I was terrified when first starting a six week beginners course. I definitely had preconceived ideas of what it would entail. I went with the idea that I would try once- realise it wasn’t for me, and never attend again. I was so wrong. I spent the next size weeks swinging upside down, giggling when getting stuck in a position I never thought I’d accomplish, and walking out of class feeling refreshed, invigorated and more supple than I did just an hour before. I also experienced less headaches – although I can’t promise that will be the case for everyone.
I do have to admit, there were some moves simply beyond me. Even after moving into the intermediate class for more practiced yogis. I struggle lifting my own body weight, a symptom of being plus size and having frozen shoulder. This meant some of the moves were more difficult for me. But there were still a thousand more poses that I loved and mastered quicker than some other people in my class. Handstands were my personal favourite and I could spend hours swinging blissfully in the trapeze for shavasana at the end of class.
What is aerial yoga?
Putting it simply, aerial yoga is the practice of traditional yoga poses, or asanas, modified to be performed with the use of a hammock or trapeze. These are mostly suspended from the ceiling although you can also purchase a frame to suspend the trapeze from.
The hammock I’m using in these pictures is an aerial yoga swing which consists of four handles (two of different lengths) and a hammock that can be altered to different sizes. Other options are available but this is the type I’ve always used and feel most comfortable endorsing.
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The benefits of trapeze yoga
Lengthens and re-aligns the spine
We all know that a day hunched over a computer screen leads to tight, hunched shoulders and a compressed spine. The vast majority of aerial yoga poses involves a subtle correction of this posture and form. This is aided by the trapeze which supports and aligns your body – making it easier to perfect those asanas.
Many poses involve being elevated or even hanging upside down. This allows your spine to decompress, stretch, and align back into a natural posture. The longer you are able to stay in the asanas, the more benefits you’ll feel. When practicing aerial yoga, I find a significant improvement in back and shoulder pain. My tension headaches also melt away and I experience less migraines. It is important to say that not everyone will experience these benefits – but I certainly do.
Strengthens and aids inversions
The asanas performed in aerial yoga mimic those practised in conventional, floor based yoga but with one key difference – your body is supported by the trapeze. This means you’re able to really focus on strengthening the muscles used in these poses.
The biggest difference, for me, is when it comes to inversions. The trapeze can be used to minimise your body weight, allowing you to practice better form when performing common yoga moves like handstands and headstands. You can also use the trapeze to support you when transitioning into these poses, reducing the likelihood of injury. I’ve found that my practice on the mat has improved through the use of a trapeze, with my shoulder and abdominal muscles strengthening through practice.
As well as strengthening benefits, practicing aerial yoga also helps to increase your flexibility. Again, the trapeze supports your body whilst practicing stretches, allowing you to deepen into the stretch and hold it for longer. Again, this improves flexibility both on and off the mat.
It is incredibly relaxing
It is no exaggeration to say that the hammock of the trapeze cocoons and relaxes you, even in the most complex of asanas. You’re entirely supported and, at times, feel completely weightless. I come out of practice feeling floppy, sleepy and (to use a cliche) completely zen. You have not experienced shavasana until you’ve tried it swinging gently from a trapeze.
It’s for everyone
The support offered by the trapeze means that everyone is able to practice the asanas of aerial yoga. The class I attended was also the most supportive of classes. Filled with all ages, sizes and abilities. Like so many other yoga classes that I’ve attended, there was only support. And that is the beautiful thing about all types of yoga, it is about your own journey and your own ability – not that of anyone else.
I’m now determined to get my own trapeze to practice aerial yoga at home. To improve my flexibility and strength and also for the upper most relaxation opportunities. And I hope that I’ve convinced you to give a class a try – it really is the best exercise I’ve ever tried.