Walking into Open Barre studio, you are greeted by all the essentials of a yoga class: big open space, mats and barefoot patrons. However, there is one other addition in this studio. Suspended from the ceiling by sturdy straps and secured by military grade hardware are a series of individual hammocks made from a stretchy, jersey material.
“It's so weird. It looks like a little bat cocoon or something,” said instructor Ryann Pinkerton of her usual workout scene.
This studio is tailored for aerial yoga, the latest evolution of the centuries old practice. It combines the stretching poses of classic yoga with the challenging lifting of aerials- choreographed movement in the air.
“It just combines to make this fantastic workout that works your body head to toe. You'll sweat, but at the end of it you feel so relaxed. It's just a beautiful thing," said Pinkerton.
Pinkerton has the petite, lean frame one expects of ballerinas. She has an extensive background in both yoga and aerials, which is why she makes motion of pulling your entire body up into tangled positions seem so easy. Believe me, looks can be deceiving. I'm no yoga guru, but I’ve taken my fair share of classes and I do some strength training.
When Open Barre invited me to try their class, I felt confident that I could keep up and maybe even relive some of my own days as a ballerina. The class started out pretty easy with some of the traditional yoga warm up stretches: versions of cat, cow and downward dog. It wasn’t long though, before the skill level escalated.
As the class stretched over the hammocks, contorted into the hardest crunches I’ve ever done and pulled our bodies up into gravity defying poses my muscles shook, twitched and burned with the effort. Each move, even the "easy" ones, felt like it worked every muscle in the body. However, it’s the core that is hit the hardest. Pinkerton told me later, that is the whole point.
"Everything radiates from your core, everything starts from there. That is your base, the beginning of your being," Pinkerton explained.
There are classes for every skill level, and the moves get easier with experience.
"I feel like I can really advance with this. It's something different," said Mandy Gurtner.
Gurtner and her mother have been taking the class for a few weeks. She said it's a nice balance to her usual weight lifting routine and uplifts her in more ways than one.
"Trust yourself, push your limits and see how far you can go. It's kind of like, 'How far can I go today and what can I do tomorrow?'" said Gurtner.
Trusting yourself is a big part of the exercise. As Pinkerton explained, you have to make gravity work for you, finding your balance without the help of the floor and depending on muscles you didn't know you had. However, when you pull off a really challenging move - like the vampire which leaves you inverted and suspended above the floor in a type of superman pose - the confidence boost is worth the burn in your muscles.
"When you come back to your center, you're like I've got this, I'm holding on and I'm strong," said Pinkerton.
Pinkerton also said that the best part of the class is finding out just how fun hard work can be. Even during the class’s most challenging moments, the students found time to laugh at botched poses or just enjoy the sensation of swinging form the ceiling.
"That's the beauty of it. You're in the air. It's that natural human thing of wanting to fly, and you get to fly in here," said the instructor.
If you do decide to take flight with an aerial yoga class, it is important to find an instructor that is experienced or even certified in the class. That way, you can be guided through the moves without injury. Aerial Yoga classes at Open Barre start at $22, and package rates are also available.
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