Chances are you have seen a picture of aerial yoga before and wondered what on earth would possess people to take an international symbol for rest and relaxation – the humble hammock – and engineer it into a contraption of mid-air contortion.
But suspension training in all its forms is working its way into the fitness zeitgeist, becoming ever more mainstream. Remember, there was a time not that long ago when conventional yoga was considered exotic and ‘out-there,’ before its undeniable benefits persuaded people to overcome any initial scepticism.
Your own opportunity to try out AntiGravity Aerial Yoga might be closer than you think, courtesy of the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay, as it invited the creator of the movement, Christopher Harrison, to transform their gym staff into instructors of this hybrid fitness phenomenon.
Time Out was lucky enough to meet the man himself and receive a crash course in flying fitness.
Origins: the man himself
AntiGravity began in New York in 1991 as a team of acrobatic dancers. The aerial sling was devised as a tool to take their performances to the skies. Soon, the athletic performers realised that time spent suspended upside down was easing back ache and reducing injury, and so it became an integral part of their personal physiotherapy. But it wasn’t until Christopher Harrison rigged a sling for his ageing mother that he realised the powers of inversion could benefit almost anyone, and thus began his mission of bringing the wonders of antigravity to the world.
Through years of development, AntiGravity fitness techniques were honed so they could be safely used by men and women of all ages, body types and fitness levels (in Bahrain it’s open to guests aged 16 and above). Thousands of movements have been catalogued to deliver the benefits of full-body exercise and inversion – the virtues of which yogis have extolled for thousands of years – in a low-impact manner for the joints and spine.
The AntiGravity brand of fitness and entertainment has since captured the hearts and minds of thousands of converts, with celebrity fans including Mariah Carey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Pink and Richard Branson.
What to expect: the technique
Situated in a light-filled wing off the unisex gym floor of the Four Seasons Spa is a large, purpose-built rig from which several silk hammocks hang. Harrison AntiGravity Hammocks can withstand around 300kg, so could theoretically support a baby elephant. Before class begins, the instructor will ensure your hammock is adjusted for your height.
The technique focuses on breathing, core strength and balance, bringing yoga to a third dimension with zero-compression inverted postures.
Expect to sweep forwards and backwards, supported by your sling while reaching, flexing and stretching. The fluidity of these largely hands-free movements evokes a sense of the freedom of flying.
There are so many possible sequences of poses that each class should feel fresh and dynamic. Harrison has even devised his own take on the classic sun salutation. Music enhances the uplifting experience, allowing your imagination to project you on to a stage or into the stars.
When the time comes to invert, the instructor will take you step-by-step through the process of shaking out and folding up your hammock. You then stand in front of the sling with your thumbs hooked into the fabric, pulling it down behind you; in one swift movement you hop up while tugging the edge of the fabric towards your knees, and voilà, you’re sitting comfortably in your sling. Next, you straddle your legs up and around the fabric, bringing your feet together while allowing your upper body to fall back towards the ground. Here you are safely suspended upside down, a short way off the floor. There are various steps you can take from this point, but merely passively hanging in this locked position will allow the traction of gravity to work kinks out of your neck and back, while the myriad other perks of being upended work their magic.
How you’ll feel: The mind-body-spirit connection
Although we were prepared for a unique and exciting alternative to conventional work-outs, we were not expecting the practice to be as mentally and spiritually enriching as it turns out to be. AntiGravity Yoga – or prati gurutva – has been inspired by both the movement and philosophy of traditional yoga in order to bring about holistic ananda (joy).
A core tenet of the practice is that ‘in life, hidden in the forces that pull us down, is the energy to lift us up.’ Throughout the class Christopher finds analogies in each phase to help us better understand ourselves and the world around us. If the apprehension of attempting a new move dares your sympathetic nervous system to fight or flight, you gain empowerment by choosing flight.
Furthermore, the playfulness and adventurousness of the motions engage your inner child. These added emotional benefits will spur you to overcome any initial disorientation or light-headedness experienced in your first couple of sessions.
We believe that once you give AntiGravity training a go you’ll fall head over heels – literally.
Pay BD55 for a one-hour training session and get access to the spa facilities (packages available). Group classes (maximum six) cost BD240. Four Seasons Spa, Four Seasons Bahrain Bay (1711 5000).
The benefits in brief
• Enhances mind-body-soul connection
• Releases endorphins
• Relieves stress
• Anti-ageing properties
• Realigns length of your spine
• Improves posture and mobility
• Oxygenates entire body
• Flushes lymphatic system
• Recalibrates organ function
• Boosts metabolism
• Reduces aches, pains and injuries
• Emotionally empowering and fun
What to wear and how to prepare
For comfort on the sling your clothing should cover your underarms and knees. It is also advisable that your clothing be form-fitting, for reasons which become apparent when hanging upside down. This is also a barefoot activity.
In order to avoid damaging the slings, jewellery should be removed. Also watch out for sharp finger or toenails, and avoid applying moisturiser or hand lotion before class.
As with all exercise, it is advisable to give your food time to digest before training. Ensure you are well-hydrated, but bear in mind that gulping down fluids immediately before inverting may cause discomfort.