Aerial arts can be described in many ways, however, relaxing isn’t a word I generally use. That is, until I went to aerial yoga at Jivamukti Yoga in Jersey City. I left feeling stress free and more balanced both physically and emotionally. Aerialists and non-aerialists alike can find unique benefits that aerial yoga provides that can’t be found in just aerial arts or just ground yoga. This hybrid practice is worth a try.
Sarah Wollschlager, aerial yoga teacher and silks performer, guided me through the class and gave me insights into the benefits of aerial yoga. Sarah has been doing circus since she was a kid, starting at The Circus World Museum in Baraboo WI. Later, she started yoga discovered how she could combine the two things she loved most. “Most of my learning process is from self exploration combining the years of dance, yoga, and circus arts I have learned. I love to play!”
For Sarah, being an aerial yoga teacher just makes sense, “It combines everything I am as a human. Mover. Teacher. Healer. I love helping people attain their dreams or goals. I want them to feel better. If everyone felt better, we could live a much more happy and peaceful world.”
I noticed immediately what the hammock provides when added to a yoga practice. The stretches were deeper and more interesting; I felt muscles I didn’t even know I had. The gentle swing of the hammock was very calming, and it helped me get into a more meditative place for deeper relaxation. And in my opinion, it was way more fun than ground yoga (but I’m totally biased!). Swinging, spinning, and stretching in the beautiful space at Jivamukti with positive vibes coming from all directions was a winning combination for my introduction to aerial yoga. Sarah says there are lifelong bonuses of aerial yoga practice, “I will still be hanging upside down well into my granny years! They say you lengthen your life from aerial yoga and from being able to put your feet above your head for 10 mins a day. I am all about that. Give your heart some love. Let it not have to work so hard to pump the blood, and hang upside down!”
Then there are some benefits to aerial yoga that are specific to aerial acrobats. “Often in aerial practice we do “drills” trying to perfect one move or climb. Sometimes we stay on one side too long and after a while the body gets “crunchy”. That feeling of imbalance on one side.” In aerial yoga, you get a chance to strengthen and lengthen muscles, and find balance in your body. And holding the inversions for a long period of time with the support of the hammock was an amazing stretch for my spine and neck; I think I was even a little taller when I left class.
There are also ways that aerial yoga can help us aerialists calm our ambitious spirits. For Sarah, “Emotionally, there seems to be more peace in the aerial yoga practice vs. the nature of aerial training that can become competitive with one’s self or others around you. They’re just very different environments. I am speaking for myself here not for everyone…in aerial yoga I feel more balanced in my body and mind, more peaceful, and able to be compassionate with myself and others”
I experienced the same phenomenon during class. Practicing aerial yoga was a much more internal experience than other aerial arts. When I am doing silks, I’m thinking about the audiences’ perceptions of my body; but in aerial yoga, the only person’s experience I had to think through was my own. This enabled me to refocus my mind on experiencing every sensation and deepening my physical or emotional experience, without worrying about pointing my toes or having good lines. I can be hard on myself, so it was wonderful experience to let go of the performance and focus on the feelings.
So for the evening, I embraced my inner yogi and let her fly. What do you know; my inner yogi is an aerialist too!