Aerial yoga to strengthen, lengthen and fly

Would you like to fly like a bird, be suspended in the air like a trapeze artist? If you are looking for an innovative and adventurous way to keep fit, aerial yoga is the latest style which has people around the world hooked and has now been introduced to Malta.

Yoga guru Svetlana Abela from PowerYogaWorld has been practicing traditional yoga for fifteen years and was eager to introduce something new and exciting to Malta.

“I keep searching for new ways of practicing because I feel like some people get stuck in a routine and so the more entertaining it is, the more people will like it and keep it as part of their routine” she said.

Originating in America, aerial yoga, also known as anti-gravity yoga, was initially performed by acrobats on stage for big shows and eventually grew into a recognised practice taught by certified yogis. In spite of being physically demanding, it is also ideal forbeginners as the pace is slow and modifications are offered to people with limited strength or physical injuries.

The benefits of aerial yoga are both physical and mental. Unlike traditional yoga, aerial yoga requires an element of trust, as you surrender yourself entirely to the hammock while being suspended in various positions including inversions.

“You have to convince yourself that you can do it. Levitating in the air is not natural so you have to be completely relaxed and able to trust in the asanas. You have to be adventurous,” Svetlana explained. Svetlana also explained how the feelings experienced during an aerial yoga class would be useful to people who face uncomfortable situations in everyday life. It requires people to let go of their anxieties and not to fear the unknown. People tend to allow their mind to take over, thereby inhibiting the potential of the body. The mind is powerful, and the concept of having no physical control as you disconnect from the earth can seem daunting. However, practicing it frequently teaches you to take life one step at a time while taking deep breaths and readjusting your position on the hammock or in an actual life situation.

“If you fall, you get up. At least the worst that can happen is that you regret that you’ve done it and failed and you won’t regret that you’ve never tried,” she said.

Apart from providing the tools to be mentally prepared for life’s challenges, aerial yoga also offers a multitude of physical benefits. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle will have a compressed spine thus limiting the space for the spinal fluid to lubricate the spine’s vertebrae efficiently. Through the poses of aerial yoga, which involve upside-down positions, the spineis stretched and decompressed leading to better posture and a healthier spine. In fact, after each aerial yoga class, people can grow up to two centimetres taller, as the spine is fully decompressed.

Aerial yoga is also very rejuvenating. Due to the multiple inversions, the blood flow is reverted and this rejuvenates the body entirely. Working against gravity works in favour of the body and keeps the skin looking young and vibrant. Those who practice traditional yoga will also experience the benefits of inverted positions if they are capable of doing them. However, in some cases, the practitioners might not be confident enough to execute these poses and therefore decide to skip this part of the class entirely, thereby failing to reap the benefits of these positions.

In an aerial yoga class, people face the fear of falling and sometimes hesitate to trust the hammock even though it is virtually impossible to fall from a hammock if instructions are followed. The material is three metres wide and is specifically designed to be heavily abusedby acrobats and aerial artists. It is tested and can hold up to one tonne. However, the hammocks are susceptible to damage by sharp jewellery which should be removed and are therefore inspected and maintained on a regular basis.

Svetlana describes aerial yoga as a tool which has helped her become more aware of her own body. It allowed her to recognise her strong and weak areas and helped her to strengthen the weaker areas of her body. Aerial yoga could beconsidered as an ‘aid’ to traditional yoga, as it strengthens and lengthens the body thus making it easier for the practitioner once they return to the mat. Most of all, it gave her confidence to do things she thought she would never do.

“My mind was saying ‘I’ll never do that’. That was my way of finding out what my next challenge would be”

Svetlana holds aerial yoga classes three times a week in her studio in Swieqi, suitable for all levels of fitness. However, the classes arenot recommended for people with high blood pressure or for pregnant women.

Sarah Gauci Loporto