Aerial Yoga and your aching back

People with back and neck pain, arthritis, injuries, or new joints, have few options when it comes to exercise. Yoga might be recommended, but some poses could cause further damage or pain.

What if we could remove gravity? Aside from looking younger as we floated off into space, we would have greater freedom of movement and no pressure on aging joints.

Gravity is here to stay — but thanks to a guy named Christopher Harrison, a former gymnast and Broadway choreographer, we have aerial, or anti-gravity yoga. It is inspired by yoga, Pilates, calisthenics and aerial acrobatics, and practiced in a hammock-like apparatus. Relief of back and neck pain is far from the only reason to try it, but it is a safe option for those in that camp.

According to Harrison, the creator, “The best reason to do it is that all day gravity is compressing us, whether we’re sitting, bicycling or typing at a desk.” (And if you read my article from two weeks ago, you know the many reasons that’s harmful) He goes on to say, “Instead of compressing, AntiGravity is decompressing. Many people love it because it has helped get rid of their pain.”

The only piece of equipment you need is the hammock and it acts as the ultimate prop, relieving you of some of your weight, increasing pose access when putting weight on a joint is uncomfortable or not recommended.

Then there’s the pure fun and kid-like joy

Ever been in a traditional mat-based yoga class and found yourself looking at the clock cursing while trying to come back to the breath?

That’s me when I’m on the mat, but when I’m in the swing, time flies as I do. I’m the 9-year old playing Peter Pan all over again.

Yoga on the mat, Ashtanga, Iyangar, Yin, Flow, and Restorative still figure into my self-care routine. Variety makes me happy.

And there are days when my knees, wrists, and or back are not happy holding poses I’d like to without pain in floor yoga. With the assist of the hammock, holding and stretching is pain-free.

Aerial allows us to experience asanas we may never master bound to the earth; like inversions. Love them or hate them, they are beneficial for circulation, calming anxiety, and increasing blood flow to the brain for improved mood and emotion.

Incorporating them into your practice while on the mat can be challenging. But with Aerial, firmly secured in the hammock, you can invert your body and hang, making handstands much more doable.

With little to no effort, your fears of holding your body upside down disappear as the fabric does the work for you. Think relaxation, not effort.

In an aerial hammock, you can expand and breathe more deeply into areas you normally hold tension. The hammock also takes the pressure off of your wrists during backbends and takes the weight off of your legs during upright poses. And being suspended allows the spine to elongate and lengthen using the weight of your body.

Signing up for that first aerial class may push some buttons. Hanging upside down at our age is a little cray-cray. Trusting your body weight to a flimsy piece of nylon is crazy and scary. My advice? Let go. Be vulnerable. The swings are safe and can hold up to 1000 pounds or more, depending on the brand and installation.

If you will relax into the process you’ll get more benefits than just a workout — and believe me — this is a full-body workout. The hammock can have a profound calming effect on the nervous system. Suspended off the floor offers the option to gently rock while the fabric provides soothing compression to the skin. The silk works on the fascia of the areas you place it — hips, thighs, wrists, arms, legs, feet — increasing circulation and encouraging the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Classes vary. Some more yogic and reverent, others like learning to perform in the circus. Either way, swinging is so much fun!

Add a little aerial yoga to your life and you cultivate self-trust, expand your spine for greater flexibility, and add playfulness to life.

Shavasana wrapped in the silk creates a cocoon and feels safe and fully supported. There is a different sensory experience than when on the floor. You are held close and can move your body side-to-side like a fish in the water. Or, you can lie perfectly still, suspended, wrapped tight, floating.

So what should you know before taking that first flight?

Have an open mind. Trust the hammock, listen to your instructor.

Aerial does not discriminate by age, size, or gender. Heads up, some of it will feel awkward and the silk positioned on novice body parts can hurt. It won’t for long, and as with any class, don’t do what feels bad. You will be amazed at how much you can do the first time out.

The bonus for those of us with back issues is the relief and a feeling of Ahhh. Personally, I think this is a must-try for those of us at midlife and beyond for all the reasons listed above, and because it’s easy and enjoyable. We need more of that.