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I was dangling from the ceiling like a bat, pondering my options, when I had a thought: "I should fold my arms across my chest. Dracula knew what he was doing."
Not exactly profound, but my only concern at that moment, as I lay swaddled in stretchy fabric that folded above me like wings, was where to put my arms - over my head, or across the chest? There really wasn't a third option.
This dilemma came during an uncommon version of the common end to a yoga class: sivasana. Corpse pose. The other three corpses and I were suspended, like backpacker food above bears, from the high ceiling of a fitness studio hidden on an upper floor of a huge old mill building.
Atmospherics aside, this first class in aerial yoga was a unique experience. As you might expect.
I felt a little nervous on my way in, trying to find the place, and ended up following an elderly couple who said they were headed that way. "If they can do it,” I’m ashamed to admit I thought to myself, "then I can do it." When we got there, the wife - I'll call her "Margaret," peeled off her public outfit down to her athletic shorts and I realized my mistake. Meg was the most buff 70-something I'd ever seen. Her husband admitted to some health issues but was familiar with the names of yoga poses and, it turned out, really liked monkeying around. Class included those two exemplars of graceful aging, a 20-something named Emily who runs races and has done aerial yoga for two years, and, me, the newbie. We spent the next 75 minutes supporting our asanas using stretchy hammocks suspended by oversized carabiners.
Even after getting nauseous, Margaret (who’d mentioned a problem with motion sickness) enjoyed the hanging sivasana and called the class “an incredible experience.” I agreed.
The hardest part: pull-ups using the hammock. Lifting yourself off of your knees, tops of the feet on the ground, by pulling yourself up on the fabric is SO hard! And a bizarre use of the body – I just couldn’t work out the mechanics.
The easiest part: Bat sivasana.
The painful part: When the fabric is tightly gathered, it feels more like a cord - under your ribs, shoulders, lower back, or hips. Blankets and yoga mats help with this - thank goodness.
The coolest part: Hanging upside down.
What makes it different: I've done a lot of yoga, but I still find it hard to get what I want to out of some poses, often because I also have to worry about maintaining my balance or keeping myself from stretching into the injury zone. But once I gave in to the fabric, trusted that it had me, and that the instructor knew how to teach the poses safely, I felt freed up to go as far as I wanted, for as long as I wanted.
I left on a surge of endorphins and energy. Of course, going further than you've ever gone has the potential for consequences, and I may have some regrets tomorrow. I'll check back in then.
You’d think after well over 40 years in this body I’d be familiar with all of my major muscle groups and their functions. I have discovered – through the awareness of soreness – a whole set of muscles along my front abdominal ribs that I think I might never have used before. And that surge of energy kept me up past midnight, so I’m pretty tired.
But I can’t wait to go back.
Want to try aerial yoga? Click here to find a studio that teaches it near you.