As a child, I wanted to run away and join the circus.
When the lyrics “she flies through the air with the greatest of ease” would play I would imagine myself in the show. I didn’t join the circus (and I’ve come to terms with that choice), but this year I got a little bit closer to my childhood dream.
It’s not a trapeze and it’s only two feet off the ground but I still feel like that high-flying performer. Each time I get into my bright orange hammock at anti-gravity yoga, I get to join the circus.
A mixture of yoga, pilates, gymnastics and circus arts, this aerial class lifts both body and spirit off the ground. With poses named Vitruvian, vampire and nugget it’s hard not to smile while you fly through the air. As I leave each gravity defying class, I can’t wait for the next to start.
My anti-gravity yoga experience has been uplifting in every sense of the word.
Lauren VanDeinse is my instructor at Yoga Long Beach in Long Beach, New York. The founder of anti-gravity yoga, Christopher Harrison, trained this yogi and self-proclaimed carnie. She is well taught, talented and has an upbeat personality.
She starts each class reminding flyers that the riggings are weighted for 1000 pounds so ‘a baby elephant could sit in the hammock the entire class—I’m not sure he could do crunches, but he could sit here without a problem’, she says.
With fingers crossed that I wouldn’t fall on my head, I wanted to trust my hammock. She reminds yogis about the concerns of going upside down and acquaints us with our ‘plum line,’ a small sticker on the floor where gravity naturally pulls the hammock.
My sticker was pink.
All students throughout each class notice her easy-going demeanor as she puts on her music and starts class with a smile, reminding us all that it’s okay to laugh. Good thing, as I was excited for this new venture, but still a bit unsure of the contraption in front of me. She explains that although it’s obvious now that on the four walls of the studio are blankets, the office, the street and mirrors, when you go upside down, right and left tend to have a whole different meaning.
“Stand in front of your hammock, grab hold with your thumb, turn to face the street and place your other thumb inside the hammock while you wave at the person behind you. Take up six gathers with your hands and one giant step back will bring you back to your plum line. Lift one knee, jump straight up and trust that your hammock will catch you,” she says, and it does.
This fluorescent orange fabric is something I have not only come to trust, but enjoy. It reminds me of all the times I spent on the swings, still rings and trapeze as a child in my backyard. This rigging, the likes of which until this year I had only seen in Disney World performances or Cirque du Soleil shows has rekindled the ten-year old gymnast in me who hasn’t done flips outside of a swimming pool in years.
The class lasts an hour. From the first floating child’s pose to the final cocoon it is a workout like none I’ve ever done before. Sixty minutes of yoga moves coupled with swings, flight and acrobatics that leaves my heart pumping and my smile wide.
My balance is better, my shoulders rotate more and my hips feel more relaxed. Hours and days later my muscles remind me of the stretching and core workout done with the hammock’s resistance.
Since my head feels a bit funky with each inversion, I modify the time I spend hanging upside-down. But on my third time in class Lauren showed me a Vitruvian and for that I had no choice. “Do a back belt wrap, lean back, lock your ankles, grab your hands on the material above your feet and rock up”, directs Lauren. The hammock’s material slides to where it needs to be and I wind up in a straddle position flying high above my own actual height. My muscles ache but I’m invigorated.
Today, I am a high-flying acrobat!
I’ve been a yogi now for three years and wouldn’t change a thing. My mind is more centered, my back pain less and I even look forward to binds and crow pose. Balance, flow and breath have significance in my everyday life. I’ve been lucky enough to do yoga on the beach where I live for the past three summers. I’ve searched out good yoga classes wherever I can find them and have been treated to some incredible views in Zanzibar, Africa and Cottlesloe Beach, Australia. This class is just different.
Anti-gravity yoga combines my love of yoga and gymnastics.
It has reawakened the gymnast I was for years in my youth and is a safe-haven for gymnastics in my 38 year old body.
It provides a vehicle for the average person to practice acrobatic moves with the safety of the hammock. It brings together the feeling of freedom on the playground swings and the joy of tumbling to a class where linking pose and breath are still the central focus.
‘You come to anti-gravity to fly’, she says on that very first day, and fly we did. I may have been a little dizzy but I felt accomplished and blissful.
With Lauren’s help and that of my new trusty orange friend, the child inside me has found a new home at anti-gravity yoga.
I can’t wait to jump back in that hammock.
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Assistant Editor: Bruce Casteel/Ed: Bryonie Wise