What it is, The Benefits and all you need to know about Classes & Home Practice.
Aerial yoga is the hottest new form of exercise that everyone loves. It has become really popular around the world over the last ten years or so. But what is aerial yoga? What happens in an aerial yoga class? What are the benefits of floating in a hammock? Can you do it at home?
Let’s take a look a closer look at this amazing form of flying fitness and tell you all you need to know about yoga in the air.
What Is Aerial Yoga?
When people say aerial yoga, they are referring to and mean a new form of exercise that is a fusion of other practices. This amazing fitness class takes elements from yoga and aerial acrobatics (silks/trapeze/Lyra) as well as pilates, callisthenics, dance and gymnastics. These elements are all combined together whilst employing a suspended prop.
The suspended prop employed can vary. Some classes feature a hammock made from the aerial apparatus known as fabrics or silks which has been looped to form a sling. Others use a yoga swing, sometimes called a yoga trapeze that is similar to the yoga hammock but has been made out of nylon parachute material and has 1-3 pairs of handles added to it. Some schools even employ a trapeze – the acrobatic apparatus consisting of a short horizontal bar suspended by two parallel ropes which are commonly seen used in the circus.
The prop being used can either be hung so that it is just a few inches from the floor (restorative yoga) or with in the strike zone, this is around the hip height.
The fabric can be used for meditation, relaxation, stretching or to increase strength. You can
- stand, sit or lay down in the fabric
- Stand and the floor and hold the fabric in your hands, use the hammock like a backpack to support your weight or suspend your legs in it.
Aerial yoga is in its infancy. There have been several pioneers all coming up with a form of fitness that they have given the same name to. But each meaning a slightly different practice. The exact format of the class may depend on the teacher’s background and training as well as how advanced the student is. But despite all the differences between each pioneer
there is an undercurrent of the same vision.
However, due to its infancy, the meaning of aerial yoga is still evolving it is hard to provide a definitive definition and the description may vary from class to class. It is neither yoga nor aerial acrobatics – it is finding its own niche somewhere in between and in time aerial yoga may become as ubiquitous as yoga itself. There is already some overlap and sometimes confusion between aerial yoga, flying fitness, suspension fitness, aerial pilates, aerial dance and aerial hammock. In time this will sort itself out.
The style of the class you attend will be determined somewhat by the teachers background and which pioneer developed the teacher training course they attended.
We like to describe aerial yoga as yoga where the fabric (hammock, sling, swing or yoga trapeze) is being used to make asanas easier or more challenging. New asana’s where a student is inverted or floating can also be included.
When the class introduces more tricks and flips we tend to think this is edging away from aerial yoga and becoming more of an aerial fitness class. However, maybe just a branch and it could be called something like aerial yoga fit.
In the next ten years, we may see the terminology sort itself out and maybe just like regular mat-based yoga there will be many different styles all under the same umbrella, maybe the umbrella will be ariel fitness or flying fitness.
Just like yoga, we envision that many styles will develop so you can go to the type of aerial fitness class you fancy based on whether you want a more physically demanding class or an easy, relaxing, meditative class.
Aerial yoga practice takes place in the air using equipment (a prop) to support yoga poses, inversions, flips and tricks. The prop supports the participant so the student can perform harder moves more easily.
The prop used depends on the studio and where the teacher did their training and their background. Some locations choosing aerial fabric or silks, which is commonly used for aerial acrobatics. The fabric is looped to form a hammock and is sometimes called a sling. Others employ parachute material which is looped to form a hammock and 1-3 sets of handles are added – this style is called a yoga swing or trapeze. There are even some schools that use a traditional circus style trapeze for taking yoga into the air.
Equipment for aerial yoga can be easily bought online. As floating yoga has become more popular the internet has been flooded with yoga hammocks and swings. Some of these are good quality products that have been safety tested by independent companies. However, some have been mass-produced with no safety testing employed and whilst weight limits are stated they do not incorporate any safety factors.
If you want to buy good quality equipment for your practice at home or studio take a look at our pages on hammocks and swings to ensure you are buying good quality kits.
Benefits of Flying Yoga
It’s a great form of exercise that you can easily do at home if you have somewhere to hang a hammock from or space for a frame. There is something wonderful about floating around in your garden or backyard after dark (or at any time of day for that matter).
The nonprofit organization American Council on Exercise commissioned an independent study to evaluate the health effects of both a single Aerial Yoga session and a six-week Aerial Yoga intervention. They found that even though Aerial Yoga does not include traditional cardio exercises, a single session of Aerial Yoga offered participants many of the benefits associated with low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercises like brisk walking or leisurely cycling.
In addition to floating yoga offering the benefits of moderate exercise such as improved body weight, percentage of body fat and blood pressure this form of exercise also offers some pretty unique benefits that not many other forms of fitness offer.
So “what are the unique benefits of aerial yoga?” – Being suspended from a ‘silk’ or hammock helps to:
- decompress the joints and spine
- improve balance and spacial awareness
- development core strength and stability
- increase strength
- increase flexibility and mobility
- you to have lots of fun – it brings your inner child out to play – think going and the swing as a child
- give you a sense of achievement
- give you more energy
However, there are some contraindications – some people shouldn’t take part in it though…..for example….you should always check with your GP before starting new exercise regimes.
Commonly people are interested to know how many calories a class burns. The ACE study mentioned above revealed that a single 50-minute session of Aerial Yoga burned an average of 320 calories (1).
Taking all of the above into consideration if you signed up for a block of aerial yoga classes and combined it with a good diet a complete body transformation would not be out of the question. A physical and mental transformation could be possible.
What we can tell you is that it is a really good workout!
What To Expect in an Aerial Yoga Class
Classes, that teach yoga in the air are now available in almost every big city around the globe including the USA and the UK. Whilst above we have suggested that the style of class may vary, the one constant between all the class styles is that you will leave feeling amazing and reaping the benefits of the class which we go into further down the page.
In the ten years that I have been tried out aerial yoga classes in the USA and the UK, classes have started with a nice gentle warm-up that features gentle postures that mobilise and warm up the muscles and joints. For example, a standing cat-cow with the arms suspended, forward hinges combined with arm circles or gentle rocks from side to side.
Prior to this breathing exercises or a guided meditation may take place to ground you and bring you into the present time and space so you focus on the class and not external worries and concerns.
Then gentle sun salutations are introduced to warm the joints and muscles up. Sun salutations in beginner classes may seem a little different to those you find in a mat-based class, but they do the same thing. They warm the hamstrings as well as the rest of your body up.
A popular opening yoga sequence we’ve come across is a chair with a back sling where you transition from a chair to a supported back lean and back to the chair. This is then advanced where the participant transitions from the back lean through the chair to a forward lean which looks a bit like a suspended plank.
Another popular sequence often added in is one that transitions between a supported warrior III, crescent lunge, warrior II and a standing pigeon pose.
Next, you will probably be taken upside down into a simple inversion. If you didn’t know hanging upside down is so amazing for decompressing the spine.
Following hanging upside down you may expect to do some postures that will strengthen the upper body or condition the core.
Next, you might find yourself doing some asanas that will increase the flexibility of the legs, shoulders or hips.
Then you could probably expect to do some more inversions. The classes we prefer give inversions that become progressively more difficult and complex as the weeks go on. Think handstands, headstands, inverted pigeon poses or maybe the occasional summersault.
Don’t worry if that bit sounds a bit scary, the classes are all suitable for beginners. The great thing about aerial yoga is that all the postures can be made easy for those just starting out or harder for those who are a little more experienced and have gained enough strength to perform the moves safely.
Next is the best bit about aerial yoga. The savasana is sone inside the hammock. Imagine floating around in a cacoon or a womb. You feel safe, supported and warm. the room is darkened slightly and you might be guided through a relaxing meditation. Nobody leaves a floating yoga class feeling stressed.
Intentions and Themes
In some classes, the teacher may share with you an intention or theme for the class.
Intentions for the class might be balance, twisting (detoxing), core strength, lower body, upper body, arms and back, “butts and guts,” hip opening, flexibility in shoulders, backbends, forward folds.
Themes could include aligning chakras, waxing or waning moon cycle, solstice or equinox (seasonal), positive energy, setting goals, partner work, focusing on our own bodies or simply playing around with moves.
Finding a Class
Doing a simple search for aerial yoga near me in Google or whatever search engine you prefer will bring up a host of aerial arts studios, pole dancing schools and yoga studios that run flying yoga or aerial hammock classes.
If your search doesn’t turn up many classes that are very local to you, did you know that it is also possible to take online lessons so you can learn aerial yoga at home?
Taking Classes at Home
Aerial yoga classes are very popular but should you not be able to find one within half an hour of your home or work you might want to think about learning at home. In the modern age, this is all very easy. You just need to get the right kit.
To practice aerial yoga at home all you need to do is sign up for some online classes – these can either be live or pre-recorded classes. many people over the recent lockdown did online yoga, it’s just the same really. The only difference is that you need your own hammock and something to hang it from.
Portable rigs and home rigging solutions are available to buy for a reasonable price.
Combine the online lessons with a home aerial yoga hammock and you’re ready to start practices at home.
If you want more information on doing aerial yoga at home we have a post on this topic. You can also find information on where to buy the best hammocks, swings and stands elsewhere on our site so you can make your dream of home practice a reality.
** Please note would recommend that you have some professional lessons before you try it out on your own at home. Hanging upside down can be dangerous. Always make sure that you know what you are doing. **
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Frequently Asked Questions
Wear soft comfy clothing – ideally a top that won’t ride up if you go upside down. For example:
- Tracksuit bottoms/leggings
- A top that covers your armpits – this is for both hygiene and to protect your skin
- Yoga (sticky) Socks if you like
Aerial yoga is very safe, as long as you are taking a class with a professional or you have purchased a yoga hammock, sling, swing or trapeze that is made from good quality material, carabiners and rigging that has a WLL.
People have been using inversion techniques for spinal traction for a number of years. However, there is no research on how long somebody can be inverted for. Practitioners using inversion tables only invert people for 5 or 6 seconds at a time. Those performing circus moves tend to invert and them turn themselves the right way up before inverting again as they progress through there routine. If you are new to inverting, it would be wise to start with a few seconds to start with and slowly build the length of time up.
There are some people that should not invert.
If you are unsure whether it is safe for you, please check with your GP or Doctor.
Whilst we have never heard of any serious injuries like a form of exercise injuries are always a possibility.
Aerial yoga involves inverting whilst suspended in the air, so it is a potentially dangerous activity. If you are new to any moves where perform an inversion a spotter is always a good idea.
The most common injuries are overuse injuries of shoulders and back, pulled muscles, bruises, fabric burns, and dizziness/nausea (from upside-down/inversions and spinning).
It’s always a good idea to hydrate yourself before participating. Eat something light – but leave at least 2 hours to digest before class.
There are a few steps you can take to protect the prop when you practice:
- Don’t wear any jewellery or hair accessories (small stud earrings and wedding bands are fine) as it can snag/create holes in the fabric
- Wear sleeveless tops
- Don’t wear any garments with zips or metal buttons – again to prevent causing snags and holes in the fabric.
- Don’t wear long/acrylic fingernails… they can get caught – painful for you and can tear the fabric
- Don’t wear strong perfumes…..they linger on the fabric
- Don’t use too much moisturiser – it ends up on the fabric….and it makes them and you slippery – you might not be able to grip the prop for inversions.
That’s a difficult one to answer
You will notice when you search for aerial yoga you will come across 2 different types of hammock (we have actually discovered a third type now): aerial hammock and the yoga swing.
Both types are suspended from 2 points, although they could be hung with a suspension system from just one point with or without a swivel. In general when suspended from 1 point you are more likely to be delving into aerial sling which is more circus based tricks than yoga.
Aerial hammocks, which are sometimes called inversion swings or slings are hung from 2 points. The material is 2-3 meters (6-9 feet) in length – the exact length purchased will depend on the height of your anchor points. The bottom of the hammock is usually positioned so that it hangs around waist/hip. For restorative aerial yoga is would be positioned so that it floats just above the ground. This version allows you to climb inside the hammock for a floating savasana.
Yoga swings or the yoga trapeze are made of parachute material which is less stretchy and they have either a 1, 2 or 3 sets of padded handles. The idea is that the handles allow you to manoeuvre about and enhance your yoga practice. Some say that it allows you to go deeper into poses in a safe and effective way. This style tends to be shorter and has less width so the number of floating poses you can do is reduced, and a floating savasana is not possible.
This is a good question. And depending on who you speak to the answer will vary. A good quality yoga mat is recommended for floor based / grounded poses to prevent your feet or hands slipping.
The advice becomes unclear and varied when you take all of your limbs from the floor. If you are above floor level there is a risk of falling and causing injury.
If you plan on doing drops, swings and or tumbles, then it would be advisable to invest in a crash pad or a thicker mat.
If your hammock is at waist height or below you are unlikely to fall far but it would be wise to invest in a mat that would catch your fall.
If you are hanging your hammock any higher that waist height a mat would be strongly advised.
If you are a beginner it would be wise to focus on grounded moves whilst you build strength before attempting any inverts or drops. In addition to a mat get someone to spot you – ideally someone who knows how to spot like an instructor.
Aerial yoga can be practiced inside or outside. You just need somewhere safe to hang it from.
Hammocks can be washed and tend to be weather resistant so there would be no issue with taking them outside. If you have a colured fabtic it may fade when exposed to the sun.
If the hammock gets wet from the rain, snow or condenstaion it may get slippery so you should be carfeul when purforming inverts or floating postures. It would be wise to hang away from the elements or take down and store inside when you have finished your praxctice.
If you do want to praxtivce outside there are a number of frames you can buy so you can hang safely outside.
Yes they can. However it is not without it’s risk so children should be supervised at all times.
Children love to play in hammocks and swings but there is a risk of injury if they fall – this could lead to broken bones, bruises and other injuries such as concussion. There is also a risk of strangulation if they put the fabric around there necks – my little boy loves to place the hammock under his arms and swing around – occasionally at the age of three he will try putting it under hic chin – for obviously reasons that could lead to some very serious injuries if I did not watch and prevent him from doing this.