Your curiosity about aerial yoga may have been sparked by the eye-catching photos practitioners share on Instagram with hashtags like #aerialstrong and #flyingyoga. But the gravity-defying poses you’ve seen may have convinced you that you need serious acrobatic skills to practice aerial yoga. The truth is, aerial yoga is quite beginner friendly. Here’s what you should know about what aerial yoga is good for, as well as answers to five aerial yoga FAQs.
1. What Should You Expect from Your First Aerial Yoga Class?
Aerial yoga classes began to gain traction a few years ago. You can now find hybrid classes, including aerial barre.
Each studio and instructor will have their own approach to aerial yoga, but you can expect certain things to remain fairly consistent. First of all, there will be a silky, sling-like hammock anchored to the ceiling. The hammock will support your whole body weight as you move from pose to pose. Depending on the class, you may use the fabric sling to support you as you hold static poses like headstands, or you may use it to try swing or backflips, or you may use it like a TRX suspension trainer to support your weight while you perform push-ups.
2. Is Aerial Yoga Safe?
If you’re new to aerial yoga, make sure to seek out a certified yoga instructor. Feel free to ask the facility where you plan to try a class about your instructor’s qualifications! This will ensure you get the guidance you need to perform each pose correctly and avoid injury.
Keep in mind, too, that you’ll typically be suspended only about 3 feet or so off the ground, so even if you do slip out of your hammock, it’s unlikely that you’ll hurt yourself. It’s also possible to adjust the height of the hammock to suit your personal needs, whether that’s lower to the ground or higher up for more of a challenge.
Most people can safely explore aerial yoga. Because it does involve hanging upside down, people with certain health conditions may need to make modifications or hold off on trying an aerial yoga class. If you’re currently experiencing any of these health conditions, you should consult with your doctor as well as the class instructor first:
- Eye diseases and recent eye surgery
- Heart disease
- Bone disorders
- High or low blood pressure
- Prosthetic hips
- Respiratory illnesses or any condition that blocks the nasal passages
3. What Is Aerial Yoga Good For?
The benefits of aerial yoga overlap to a large degree with the benefits of just plain yoga, but there are some special ones that come with going airborne, such as:
- Increased flexibility: Using an aerial yoga sling allows for more freedom of movement. You may find you’re able to access yoga positions that you typically struggle with, which can result in deeper and more fulfilling stretching.
- Improved focus: Because aerial yoga tends to be significantly more challenging than “regular” yoga, you may find that you’re more focused as you move from pose to pose. Especially in the beginning, the unfamiliarity will help you stay maximally present and engaged.
- More core engagement: Since gravity will be acting with greater force on your body than usual, your muscles have to work harder. You’ll have to engage your core muscles practically the entire time in order to keep yourself balanced and stabilized.
- Greater stress relief: Not only will you get the same stress-relieving benefits that come with all forms of yoga, but also the joy and gratification of trying something new.
All the benefits associated with other forms of yoga can be reaped when you try aerial yoga. We’re talking about increased flexibility, lower blood pressure, and even weight loss. Plus, there are certain conditions that aerial yoga can be uniquely beneficial for.
If you suffer from back spasms, scoliosis, or herniated discs, spending time hanging upside down can relieve chronic back pain. According to Allan Stewart, MD, director of aortic surgery and co-director of the Valve Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, aerial yoga has the effect because it “can lengthen your ligaments and at least temporarily relax your muscles.”
Aerial yoga has beauty benefits too. Hanging upside down can reduce the appearance of varicose veins and wrinkles as well as bring more color into your face. Can you say #postyogaglow?
4. What Is the Weight Limit for Aerial Yoga?
Becky Stella, an aerial teacher trainer and aerial equipment retailer based in the Midwest, says that one of the questions she encounters most often from students and studio owners alike is, “What’s the weight limit?”
According to Stella, this can be a tricky question to answer, in part because we live in a society where people may be carrying a lot of weight-based shame. “You’ll often see a ‘weight limit’ of around 250 pounds listed for aerial yoga classes, but in my experience, if you ask the studio how this number came about, they may not have a deeper answer.”
In the system Stella trained in, Unnata Aerial Yoga, all components of the equipment, including the ceiling anchors, are rated to be able to hold at least 3,000 pounds. One reason why it’s important that they be able to support such a heavyweight is that when you’re swinging or falling, you can easily generate up to five times your body weight—”I have personally witnessed this with a force meter,” said Stella.
The reason studios tend to list 250 pounds as the weight limit is not because the equipment can’t support more weight than that. It has more to do with the intense sensations that can accompany releasing your weight into the fabric, Stella said. The more weight a person carries, the more pressure will be put on their tissue and bones as that happens. “I generally advise students between 250 and 300 pounds that there will be additional pressure from the hammock. I’ll be there to help them make modifications or add padding.”
Weight limits may vary somewhat from studio to studio, so it’s best to reach out to the location where you plan to attend a class for more specific information.
5. How Many Calories Do You Burn in an Hour of Aerial Yoga?
A recent study done by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that participating in a 50-minute aerial yoga session burns 320 calories.
Study author Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise and sports science at Western State Colorado University said that he and his co-authors were surprised at how cardio-intensive aerial yoga can be. “At the outset of the study, we didn’t necessarily anticipate that the physiological responses to aerial yoga would align with those of other, more traditional forms of cardio exercises, like cycling and swimming,” said Dalleck.
The ACE study also found that after six weeks of attending three 50-minute classes weekly, participants lost an average of two and a half pounds, 2% of their body fat, and 1 inch from their waist. They also increased their VO2 max—a measure of aerobic endurance and fitness—by 11%!
A typical aerial yoga class counts as a moderate-intensity workout, while those that incorporate elements of conditioning, Pilates, barre, and HIIT hit the threshold for vigorous intensity. That means they “elicit an even more intense physiological response,” Dalleck said. In other words, you’ll see more dramatic results more quickly.
“Study participants increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass all over,” Dalleck said. He noted that you’re likely to see the most visible changes in your shoulders and arms.
6. What Should I Wear to Aerial Yoga?
Don’t be one of those people who only pause to consider what the best outfit for an aerial yoga class would be once they’ve already arrived. Prepare in advance to make your first aerial yoga class as pleasant an experience as possible.
Dr. Ariele Foster, a physical therapist and yoga teacher based in Washington, DC, suggests the following guidelines for picking your aerial yoga outfit.
- Opt for sleeves. Basically, you want your armpits to be covered. This will prevent chafing and abrasions on sensitive skin. You’ll also want a shirt that’s fitted so it won’t ride up during inversions.
- Pick close-fitting bottoms. Again, wider-fitting bottoms are more likely to ride out, which can make it harder to position yourself. Pick bottoms that come to your knees at least, and keep in mind that if you go with capris, you may experience skin rubbing in certain poses.
- Consider bringing grippy socks. Many people practice barefoot, but some find that grippy toe socks or yoga socks can help you stop more easily when you place your foot down on the floor. If you already own a pair, it’s better to bring them and not need them than to wish you had them once you’re there.
Some studios will provide yoga mats to place beneath your aerial hammock, while others ask that you bring your own, so be sure to check with the location where you plan to attend a class.
There are also certain things you should not wear to an aerial yoga class.
- Go bare. Of jewelry, that is. Dangly earrings and chunky rings are definitely off limits. Anything that could snag the fabric should be removed.
- Save perfumes and lotions for later. Lotions can make it more difficult to grip the fabric, and both can potentially stain it. In case you’re wondering, yes, essential oils count as perfume.
- Silence your phone. Turn it off or set it to “Do Not Disturb.” Even the buzz of a text alert can take you and other class attendees out of the moment.