If a guy is going to take on the exercise art form of aerial yoga, there are a few things he’s going to have to leave at the door of the studio: His shoes, his dignity and his comfort zone.
For many men who grew up playing football, basketball or baseball, only to grow up into weekend warriors in the weight room, on the golf course or the softball diamond, yoga takes on a haughty, New Age aura that ranks it low on a bucket list. For them, it’s not proper exercise. It’s for ladies and hippies — and ladies who happen to be hippies.
After trying beginner yoga and doing a little bit of it every day to stretch out some old, nagging injuries from those “proper” sports, I like to assure other skeptical guys that yoga is not easy. It is not always gentle. It can be immensely challenging. At the very least, it does improve fitness and flexibility while strengthening the core muscles.
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Now, a new form of the Eastern discipline is emerging (or descending) with the discipline of aerial yoga. The regimen uses fabric hammocks or slings (“silks”) suspended from the ceiling — high enough to get the practitioner off the floor without being high enough to cause injury should an accident occur.
Therese Bailey of ZenZen Yoga Arts is a certified yogini and aerial yoga instructor. During a recent demo at her studio, she unveiled the activity as a series of focused, flowing movements locked in on balance, flexibility and strength (especially in the core and legs).
“With anyone tries it for the first time, there’s always that little bit of fear that they’ll fall,” Bailey said. “For some, there can even be some genuine anxiety. So, we begin by demonstrating the strength of the silks, the body’s natural ability to balance and the comforts of being suspended in space.”
Bailey explained that one of the chief benefits that aerial yoga offers over its terrestrial sister exercise is inversion. Once the practitioner eases into the feel of the silks, he or she can suspend upside down — stretching and decompressing the spine in ways that would be impossible without the suspension.
“If our bodies aren’t stretched properly, there are connecting tissues that can become weaker and less flexible,” Bailey explained. “Inversion can stretch that material around the spine. It even allows the internal organs to stretch and realign, improving their function.”
Now, I can’t comment on the spiritual, emotional or psychological benefits of aerial yoga. How can anyone report effectively on what must be a subjective experience for each participant? I haven’t tried it enough to evaluate its longterm benefits.
However, even after a brief experience of the practice, I am certain it extends and enhances yoga’s natural capability of improving flexibility, balance and core strength — all without putting undue stress on the joints. It could also do wonders for a sore back if the user eases into it a bit.
The challenge is aerial yoga demands a little for adjustment. A guy needs to get used to being off the ground, hanging upside down and the potential nervousness of building up his sense of balance. So, if he’s going to enjoy the upside of aerial yoga, he’ll have to endure just a little bit of awkwardness getting started.