Anti-Gravity Yoga is Good for You and Your Aching Back
People with back and neck pain, arthritis, injuries and new joints, have few options when it comes to exercise. Yoga is sometimes recommended depending on what and where the problem is, but some are told not to do yoga because some poses could cause further damage or pain. Many times we know some form of exercise would help — yoga included — but we are protective of our sensitive parts and so we avoid it.
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, 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 are far from the only reason to try it, but it’s an option for those who are in that camp.
According to Harrison, the creator, “The best reason to do it is because 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 like the ultimate prop, relieving you of some of your weight, increasing pose access when full-on weight bearing on a certain joint is uncomfortable or not recommended.
Have any of you taken a traditional mat based yoga class — or take one regularly — and found yourself looking at the clock cursing your mind to come back to the breath? That’s me when I’m on the mat, but when I’m in the swing, time flies. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy and value Ashtanga, Iyangar, Hot, Yin, Restorative or any other kind of more traditional floor-based yoga. Nor am I saying these forms of yoga or other practices can’t help with back issues.
For me these days my knees, wrists, and sometimes my back, are not happy holding poses I’d like to hold without pain. With the assist of the hammock, I’m holding and stretching and all kinds of loving my yoga again. 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 I can expand and breathe more deeply into areas I normally hold tension. The hammock takes the pressure out of the wrists during back bends, takes the weight out of the legs during upright poses. And being suspended allows the spine to elongate and lengthen using the weight of your body.
As is true with anything new and a bit scary, signing up for that first aerial class will push some buttons and bring out desire to hold on tight, not relax into the instructor’s guidance. 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.
Then there is the feeling of play. Your instructor sets the tone. Some classes are 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 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 and how good it feels even if you never lift a foot off the floor.
The bonus for those of us with back issues is 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.
Source: Rebellious Wellness