Is “Fly Yoga” Worth It? Science Says It Can Provide 6 Big Health Benefits
Few things stand the test of time like yoga. For thousands of years this method of meditative movement has helped individuals be mindful while keeping their muscles fit and their bones and joints healthy.
These days, scientists continue to explore how yoga supports total mind-body health.
Research shows us that yoga is linked to better sleep, improved digestion and better back pain. According to Northwestern Medicine experts, a regular practice of yoga has even been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, improve lung function, and help treat stress, anxiety, and depression.
But especially if you’re an experienced yogi who wants to achieve more by deepening your practice, aerial yoga can help take you to new heights.
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This modern spin on traditional flows combines classical yoga philosophies and asanas (poses) with the playful physical conditioning of the air arts. Several different options can wing your training, and all of them are suitable for beginners and seasoned experts alike.
Kevin Bigger, Director of Education Training at Om Factory School of Yoga, says the first thing you’ll notice when you attend your first aerial yoga class—sometimes called “fly yoga”—is a fabric hammock placed over each mat. “We do many of the poses you’d find in a typical [yoga class], but part of your body will interact with the hammock in a certain way,” she says.
Aerial yoga also brings its own flair to the ancient practice
Bigger says instructors often include elements of Pilates, Barre, and Dance, along with air conditioning exercises. “We also love to include circus tricks inspired by aerial acrobatics – winds, falls and more!”
The fabric also easily adapts to your goals. It can work to support your body, providing deeper poses and alignment adjustment. This can be especially helpful for new yogis to learn proper form. The hammock support can also help build strength and flexibility as you work towards more advanced positions such as handstands or other inversions.
Whatever your level, this balancing act provides a serious full-body workout. Bigger says aerial yoga moves strengthen certain muscle groups more effectively than comparable “grounded” yoga classes. “Students find that almost every pose in aerial yoga requires a little more effort from your abdominal core,” she adds.
And the physical effects go beyond major muscle strengthening. A small study led by the American Council on Exercise found that participants who practiced aerial yoga for just six weeks reduced many common heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, body fat percentage, and resting heart rate.
Aerial master trainer and founder of global training school Aerial Physique Jill Franklin says aerial hammocks are a close cousin of aerial yoga, but with a greater emphasis on dynamic movement and creativity. “While both have similar skills, aerial hammocks are more of a performance art, something you would see at a Cirque du Soleil show,” Franklin explains.
In aerial yoga, the fabric hangs at the student’s hips for easy access to the mat. However, for an air hammock class, “The hammock is usually hung high above the ground — about three to six feet — and in a way that allows for rotation,” says Hong Yu, principal of the Nashville School of Aerial Arts.
In an introductory hammock class, Yu says you can expect to learn how to safely assemble fabric, hang it upside down, and try a few starting poses. Like aerial yoga, she says, “It’s a great fitness activity because it relies on core stabilizers, upper body strength, and active flexibility.”
With more practice, students develop gymnastics-inspired skills and learn to securely roll, hang, and even drop U-shaped fabric – eventually combining tricks and transitions to create a dynamic routine.
This performance element not only adds creativity and cardio to your workout. Learning and practicing choreographed movement is associated with improved cognitive function, attention span, memory and problem-solving skills, according to 2021 research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Acroyoga is another new way to take your yoga practice to a higher level. However, instead of using an apparatus like a hammock for support, acroyoga relies on partner balance. Yu said, “This is a practice that involves balancing and stabilizing one person – the flyer – a second person – the sole – as they progress through various poses.
The sole supports their partner while lying down, sitting or standing. Meanwhile, the flyer uses the body to control their position in the air. Any acroyoga session should include a spotter helping to keep both partners safe.
Don’t let the concept scare you
While having a yoga background can help beginners maintain balance, stability and bodily awareness, no experience is required. Yu says acroyoga is suitable for beginners, and as students progress, more dynamic moves tend to tend toward acrobatics in general.
Remember that you will want comfortable, form-fitting sportswear for any of these weather activities. Whether you’re on the ground or in the air, here are a few new leggings to shop.