aerial yoga We met across a busy studio floor, I fell into the soft embrace, we hung out lots, and it’s been a long lasting relationship ever since... yes my friends me and my hammock, well we’re still going strong and yep I can safely say it was love at first flight. My story - I was a yogi, who discovered circus, then aerial, and it wasn’t until a decade later that I then got into teaching, and then on the hunt for better ways to teach, I discovered hammocks... and why do I love them so much?... Because I realized the potential with hammocks not just as an apparatus for doing aerial on but also for stretching (as in aerial yoga) as well as for conditioning. Fast track to today and Skylab has both Aerial Yoga and Pop Fit classes which help in aerial training a lot and read on to discover why...

Hammocks help you stretch

I was super happy when I discovered aerial yoga... it was the perfect combo - sort of aerial and yoga (my two favourite things) combined as one. And not only that it made stretching more enjoyable - no more holding super un-comfy stretches for ages on the floor - hello hanging about and relaxing in hammocks... (well not quite, but stretching in hammocks - waaay more fun than on the floor). Don’t get me wrong I love my yoga practice - but the thought of holding postures for ages to increase flexibility - aka contortion classes - I simply just don’t really enjoy it. I do it if I have to - but seriously it’s more like torture to me. But with the hammocks - oh yay no worries... I love them, I dig them, I hang with them... they’re like my homies... and I’ll happily stretch in them.

So why do we need to stretch?

If you do aerial you are going to need to also stretch. Period. Not just to increase your flexibility so you can look awesome in the air, but also to maintain flexibility and also to rebalance your body after aerial. It doesn’t have to be aerial yoga specifically (it can be any sort of stretching) but aerial yoga definitely does the job.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these three reasons why we need to stretch

1.Increasing flexibility so you can look awesome in the air. Obviously the better your backbends, splits and side splits the better you will look in your tricks – if your splits are great your lines will look great, if you can contort your foot to your head, your backbend tricks are going to look amazing. And anyone with a horizontal side split is just well the bees knees to me. So the more more you start to love aerial the more you are going to want to develop your flexibility. This requires very deep stretching and probably not what you would get from your average yoga class (although this is a great place to start) but really you will need to practice your own stretch routine that focusses solely on splits, side splits and backbends. 2. Maintaining flexibility. As you develop the strength you need to hold yourself up in the air you will probably develop more muscle mass. Unless you stretch you will end up getting really tight in the shoulders and back. This wasn’t the main focus when I trained in circus – my teachers told me I had to be strong, so I went nuts on conditioning and got super strong super fast, and not being super flexible to start with I quickly lost any flexibility I had. So please do not do this! Best practice is to do equal amounts of aerial and stretching if you want to maintain and develop flexibility. It’s all about the balance yo. 3. Rebalance your body after aerial training. Just a quick word on restorative yoga – if you are not doing it, I highly recommend… it’s sooooooo good! Maybe not so essential when you’re young and lithe and recover quick, but as you get older bodies need some TLC, especially after pounding things out in the air. Aerial is intense and all the drops, rolls and spins can take their toll on muscles, ligaments and tendons especially if you are training a lot (like 3 or 4 times a week). In aerial if we are executing a scary move – say a drop for the first time our bodies will release adrenalin and put us into the fight-or-flight mode so that we will be fully alert and ready for action. When I was training aerial a lot – I would often find myself in a constant state of fight or flight mode. My body had gotten used to that feeling and I had to find a way to restore the balance back to a relaxed state. Restorative yoga helped me with this. balance. I used to think it was kinda boring – lots of long, extensively held postures – I was like what on earth is the point in that. But I find that doing a restorative class once a week is essential to give my body the restoration, rebalancing and downtime it needs after the hammering it gets doing aerial.  

Eight ways aerial yoga can help your aerial practice

1. Aerialists need to be as flexible as possible. Doing aerial yoga will help you unlock greater range of movement. 2. Avoid getting tight upper body muscles. As mentioned earlier aerial training can cause upper body muscles to tighten up – this needs to be kept in check with some regular stretching. 3. Aerial yoga develops an increased body awareness. All aerial classes focus on position and alignment as we make shapes and do tricks. But aerial yoga takes this one step further. The slower pace of a yoga class naturally allows for greater precision, you have time to check, for example that weight is equally distributing, your back foot is in alignment, your hips are squaring and so on. When we are spinning and dropping and flying in 3D space we don’t have time to think about all the little details of the movement! By taking time in an aerial yoga class to fine tune the details of proper alignment, every movement is conscious and deliberate – a moving meditation. It can help you feel the mind and body work together. This is an awesome practice and one that you can cultivate within aerial as well. Next time you practice an aerial sequence try slowing things down, focus on all the intricate movements that you need to do in order to execute the move. 4. Linking breath to movement. One of the most valuable tools you will learn in yoga is breath control. Our aerial yoga classes begin with tuning into the breath, focusing on lengthening the inhale and exhale, and working from there to maintain a slow steady breath through the rest of the class. Movements are linked with breath – inhales are used for expanding movements, such as arching your back or lifting a leg, exhales are naturally suited for contracting actions such as stepping into a lunge or bending into a forward fold. Learning to link breath to movement helps you to harness the energy of breath and use it to your advantage. This is especially helpful when executing a particularly challenging trick or when you need extra power in a routine. 5. Focus on breath. A main part of yoga is rhythmic focused breathing – this helps you to focus and concentrate – focusing on breath helps to bring you into the present moment and stops your mind from wandering. This is essential for an aerialist’s practice. If we find our minds wandering it is very easy for mistakes to happen and with dire consequences if we end up slipping out of a move. I find if I have done a yoga practice prior to an aerial training session – my moves will be cleaner and more precise, there will be less faffing with the silk and less shuffling about on the hoop. My head is clearer which means I am able to get more in the zone. There is less noise and more space for me to focus and bring all my attention to what I am doing. Ultimately if I can become one with my apparatus I usually have a way better time on it! 6. Improve posture. Yoga is very effective at helping you develop proper posture – it will help sculpt your back into the kind of poised posture that’ll make you walk taller and feel immensely better about yourself. Every aerialist should have a good posture – no one wants to see sloppy, slumped shapes. The more you can lengthen through the spine, relax the shoulders, keep the belly sucked in and hold your head high throughout your transitions in the air – the better everything is going to look and feel. 7. Avoid injuries. Each yoga pose targets specific muscles which helps increase your flexibility and thereby reduce your risk for injury. Doing yoga will help you become better able to tune into your body’s limitations and pain responses so you can avoid pushing too hard and therefore avoid injury. 8. Relaxation. Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath and focus on the here and now. This breath. This pose. This moment. This shifts the balance from your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight part of the brain) to the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming and restorative part of the brain).

And now let's chat about Pop Fit and why I fell in love with hammock conditioning and how come it's so awesome...

Ten reasons why I find hammock conditioning the best

1. It’s beginner friendly. It’s really easy to provide modifications to most of the exercises so students can tweak exercises to their own levels of difficulty and ramp up when necessary. It’s up to you how hard or how easy you want to go - so beginners and advanced alike can work out in the same class and get what’s right for them. Also means beginners get to see the results of training which can be very motivational. 2. It’s all core all the time. Using the hammocks require you to constantly remain engaged and stable throughout your entire body. You develop balance, strength, flexibility (using a full range of motion ensures your joints are moving freely which aids flexibility) and core stability simultaneously so not only do you get a full body workout but you build a rock solid core. Your core is more than just 6 pack abs - it’s at least 29 muscles that make up the trunk of your body and simple body weight movements can be used to engage all of them. So you won’t just get tighter abs you’ll gain better posture, learn the basic aerial shapes, learn about inverting (going upside down) as well as improve overall performance. 3. At any fitness level it’s challenging. You start with the basics and then progress by adding extra reps, extra control (usually the slower you do an exercise the harder it is), take shorter breaks, add longer holds, use straight legs instead of tucks, do combos - there is endless variety in what you can do to make the simplest workout tougher. And with each added modification the progress is obvious. 4. You’ll see results quickly. Body weight exercises get results partly because they involve compound movements - meaning numerous joints and muscles are engaged in each move. And research states that improved core strength translates into improved strength gains throughout the entire body. 5. Hammocks are easier than silks. It’s a lot easier to get the hang of inverts when there is a loop to support you. A lot of people find silks super hard to start with simply because there is a lot of time spent up in the air. This can be somewhat de-motivating because unless you have enough upper body and grip strength to hang, then it’s gonna be super hard getting even the most basic tricks down. Hammocks ease you in gently into doing aerial. Well ease you in, in a sort of intense kinda way. (Those of you who have done my Pop Fit classes know what I mean). 6. It requires minimal to no equipment. Yep no fancy pants machines, contraptions, weights or kettle bells in this studio thank you very much. Just aerial equipment and pull up bars if you please. Also perfect for training at home - just need a pull up bar and the know how! 7. It's about your power-to-weight ratio. This leads to a certain body type which is driven by efficiency. Think here of the body of a gymnast, compared to that of a power lifter... A strong, muscular body, yet lithe and agile. Also body weight exercises encourage weight loss since the lighter you are the easier it is to do. 8. It’s achievable for most. After a few months of well-structured and disciplined training, results are achievable for most. Bodyweight exercises offer some clear targets to shoot for - imagine the satisfaction of achieving a pull up for the first time or a straight leg invert. It is something very tangible here’s something you couldn’t do only a couple of weeks ago, and it has now become a reality. 9. Bodyweight exercises offer an incredible number of variations. And as you progress through them and develop, your training keeps changing and evolving, always keeping things new and fresh. Ultimately I hope that it inspires you to do more aerial, whether hand in hand with an aerial course or something you do separately, my main wish is for you to find a way of fitness that is rewarding and enjoyable for the rest of your life (yep you’ll still find me doing aerial when I’m in my nineties for sure!). 10. It's a lot of fun. Yep that's the best bit - we workout and we have a great time. When you're having fun you'll probably stick with it. Workouts shouldn't be a chore or a punishment - exercising with a group and doing all these crazy moves... well more could you want in a workout right! Wanna try a Pop Fit workout or Aerial Yoga class? - See timetable for details as we have regular classes every week. Ever done aerial yoga or hammock conditioning? I would love to know if it was love at first flight for you! Feel free to comment below...