Looking to Try Aerial Yoga?

Aerial yoga has been in the news a lot lately. Are you wondering what the hype is all about? Or what aerial yoga even is?

Mya recently opened Laramie’s first aerial yoga-equipped studio, Infinite Balance, and I was lucky enough to take an aerial yoga teacher training with her last month. As a “floor” yogi, I had no idea what to expect at my first aerial yoga class. Should I bring a mat? Can I bring water? Will we be upside-down the whole time?

Keep reading for answers to these questions and more, and I hope that you will enjoy aerial yoga as much as I do!

Aerial yoga is built on the same basics as your typical yoga class (breath + movement), but with the added bonus of an aerial silk, or a hammock.

Inside Infinite Balance Studio in Laramie

Inside Infinite Balance Studio in Laramie

The hammock is one long piece of super strong and somewhat stretchy fabric that hangs from a rig or the ceiling via a locking carabiner clipped through both knotted ends of the fabric. At Infinite Balance, Mya hired an engineer to construct the wooden rig you see, which can hold tens of thousands of pounds.

This rig is strong and sturdy

This rig is strong and sturdy

Because of the added expense of acquiring and caring for the aerial rig and silks (and additional training the instructor must have), aerial yoga classes are more expensive than your standard floor class, typically ranging from $20 to $30 per class, depending on where you live. In addition, class size is limited by the number of available hammocks, so be sure to either sign up for your aerial class ahead of time online, or to show up early (10-20 minutes before class start time).

You can prepare for your first aerial yoga class similar to how you would for any other yoga class: don’t eat shortly before class, bring a yoga mat if you have one and a water bottle, wear tight-fitting athletic clothing. One additional concern for aerial yoga is to not wear any jewelry, but especially anything sharp or bulky that could snag on the silk fabric.

The aerial yoga silk is one long piece of fabric that hangs from one point above

The aerial yoga silk is one long piece of fabric that hangs from one point above

When you first arrive at the aerial yoga studio, look around the room for a silk hammock that appears as if it might fall at your hip crease, or the line that forms across your hips as you bend over. If one looks right, approach it and find the “U” shape of the hammock, as demonstrated above, then walk under where the hammock is hanging and see if the hammock fits into your hip crease.

This hammock falls right at my hip crease, so it will work!

This hammock falls right at my hip crease, so it will work!

The instructor will have you set up your yoga mat underneath the silk you have chosen. If none work (i.e. if you are extraordinarily tall or short) the teacher can make adjustments using a ladder, so just ask. He or she may also ask you to pick up any props that you might use during any yoga class, such as blocks or bolsters. You can stay seated on your mat, or do any pose that feels good, until class starts.

I'll just be in this pose until class starts, thanks!

I’ll just be in this pose until class starts, thanks!

If you have never been to an aerial yoga class, I highly recommend attending a beginners’ class, as it can be challenging to get the hang (no pun intended) of different wraps and body positioning the first time. Expertise in floor yoga can help in aerial, but it does not guarantee immediate success, so move slowly and listen to your body.

Here are some of the basic poses, wraps, and hangs you will see in an introductory aerial class.

1. Wrist wrap

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The wrist wrap is great for stretching the chest and shoulders. You get into a wrist wrap by wrapping your hands from the outside (like you’re giving your hammock a hug) in. Once the karate-chop side of your hands are covered, slide them toward one another for the wrist wrap.

2. Hip hang

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You can get into hip hang by approaching the hammock the same way you did to measure if it fit you. Standing behind the hammock, snuggle it into your hip crease, and bend over. From here you can come into many different, fun poses!

For aerial downward-facing dog, press down through the hands until the feet lift up. Press your chest toward the back edge of your mat

For aerial downward-facing dog, press down through the hands until the feet lift up. Press your chest toward the back edge of your mat

3. Rib Hang

For rib hang, come to standing in front of your hammock, facing away so the hammock is along your back. Reach behind you, spreading the fabric wide with your hands under the shoulder blades.

Use "jazz hands" to widen the silk for a more comfortable hang

Use “jazz hands” to widen the silk for a more comfortable hang

Then, begin to walk backwards, away from the plum line (where the carabiner holding the silk is located), until the silk becomes taut.

Lean away from the plum line to feel the silk support you

Lean away from the plum line to feel the silk support you

Relax your shoulders and keep the hips low as you walk forward, back under the plum line.

Rib hang!

Rib hang!

And there you have it! Feel free to walk backwards and readjust the silk if it is uncomfortable. Rib hang is a great starting place for many poses that require backbending while maintaining a lifted chest.

4. Back straddle

This hang is commonly used to get into inversions (poses where you’re upside-down). Supported inversions are, in my opinion, one of the biggest benefits of aerial yoga since, without the silk hammock, inversions are inaccessible for most people.

How to set up your silk for back straddle

How to set up your silk for back straddle

To get into back straddle, use the same “jazz hands” technique you used for rib hang to spread the silk wide. This time, align the silk with the top of the pelvis, or where the waistband of your pants typically sits.  Lean back into your silk to feel it support you.

Leaning into the silk

Leaning into the silk

From here, many inversions or backbending postures are accessible because the hammock is holding you near your center of gravity.

Wide-legged back straddle, a great way to come into inversions

Wide-legged back straddle, a great way to come into inversions

When you come into an inversion from back straddle, you will hear your teacher tell you to keep your legs wide, like pictured above. Imagine with me, for a moment, that my legs were together in the above photo. What would happen? SPOILER ALERT: I would somersault out of the hammock and embarrassingly land on my butt/face/elbows. Moral of the story is LISTEN to your teacher, even if that means that you have to stop moving for a moment to pay attention.

5. Savasana, or final resting pose

If you’ve ever been to a regular yoga class before, you know this pose. It’s traditionally done at the end of every class for several minutes. Savasana (shah-vah-sah-nah) is Sanskrit for corpse pose, essentially meaning you just lie still on your back with your eyes closed for the duration of the pose.

In aerial yoga, this pose looks a little different.

Aerial savasana

Aerial savasana

Yes- that is me, enveloped in a silk hammock. Essentially, you spread your silk wide, then crawl into it, and lie down. The first time you try aerial savasana may be slightly uncomfortable because of the pressure of the hammock; feel free to do anything that feels good with your arms. I alternate between crossing them over my chest in a X-shape and letting them fall to my sides. The teacher will walk around the room to stop everyone’s swaying so that you can be truly still.

If the aerial version of savasana just isn’t doing it for you, feel free to always come out of the hammock and sit/lie down/mutter to yourself on your mat instead.

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Great! Now you know the basic building blocks of aerial yoga, and what to expect for your first few classes. There are so many directions your instructor can take your class, so anticipate surprises!

Aerial ustrasana, or camel pose

Aerial ustrasana, or camel pose

If you live in Laramie and would like to try a class locally, please visit Infinite Balance’s website to check the schedule. As of the writing of this blog post, the aerial classes on the schedule are as follows:

  • Mondays, 12-1PM: Aerial 1 with Mya
  • Mondays, 5:30-6:30PM: Aerial for Flexibility with Mya
  • Tuesdays, 5:30-6:30PM: Aerial for Strength with Mya
  • Wednesdays, 12-1PM: Aerial 1 with Mya
  • Fridays, 10-11:15AM: Aerial 1 with Mya
  • Fridays, 6-7PM: Happy Hour Aerial with Jessie
  • Saturdays, 11AM-12PM: Aerial with Jessie
Aerial yoga instructor Jessie Quinn doing some weird & awesome stuff

Aerial yoga instructor Jessie Quinn doing some weird & awesome stuff

Please remember to show up early and/or sign up online, as class space is limited, no matter which aerial studio you attend.

Come fly with Jessie on Fridays & Saturdays at Infinite Balance!

Come fly with Jessie on Fridays & Saturdays at Infinite Balance!

If you have any questions, leave me a note in the comments. I hope you try out aerial yoga soon! Namaste.

Love to all!

Love to all!

For those curious, my top in this blog post is from Athleta, and my pants and my mat are from Prana.

Rainy Weekend at Shelf Road, Colorado

For Memorial Day weekend, Matt and I drove down to Shelf Road, Colorado, which is an area of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land outside of Cañon City. We met up with some friends we knew from UNC (that’s North Carolina, not Northern Colorado), John- who is doing a multi-week road trip out west from Asheville, NC with his friend Stephanie- and Kevin, an adventure videographer and photographer now living in Boulder, CO. We knew it would be a little crowded at the campgrounds since it was a long weekend, and we ended up sharing a campsite with a very kind and obliging group of parents and small children, which ended up being fine since we didn’t stay up very late anyway.

The drive to Shelf Road from Laramie takes us through Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs, so we hit a lot of traffic on the way, despite leaving Laramie before 5PM.

A view of Colorado Springs from the highway. Photo by yours truly

A view of Colorado Springs from the highway. Photo by yours truly

We didn’t get to Shelf Road until about 11, and it rained a little as we set up the tent and chatted. Poor Kevin tried to come in from Boulder down Shelf Road itself, which was closed because of flooding. Colorado normally gets a large amount of precipitation this time of year, and this spring has been no exception. Kevin drove his Subaru up to a bonafide stream running across Shelf Road, and decided to test the current. He picked up a rock which he described as weighing about 30 pounds, tossed it in, and watched with shock as it barely bounced off the road underwater before being swept downstream quickly enough to dissuade him from fording it Oregon Trail-style.

On Saturday, we woke up to sunshine, discovered Abe had made his way from the back of Matt’s car to the front passenger seat (fur everywhere!!), made breakfast, and decided to hit up the Sand Gulch area of Shelf Road since we could hike there directly from our campsite. Unfortunately, the recent rain thwarted us.

John and I, with the

John and I, with the “trail” between us. Photo by Kevin

The guide book describes the trail to the climbing area from our campsite as going down a hill, then following a dry creekbed for a while before a sign points you up a trail toward the near end of the cliff line, or you can keep going down the creedbed for the second trail, which takes you to the cliff’s far end. Unfortunately, as you can see above, the creekbed had turned into a stream. The picture makes it look worse than it really was; the water was actually quite shallow and manageable, but still deep enough to thoroughly soak your shoes and socks, and to scare Abe.

Abe hates water- he doesn’t seem to have inherited a love for water from any labrador ancestors he may have. Matt had to carry him across a couple times, and we were able to coax him across a few more narrow sections.

Stephanie crossing the treacherous trail. Photo by Kevin

Stephanie crossing the treacherous trail. Photo by Kevin

The worst part of this amended trail wasn’t actually crossing the stream, but then bushwhacking our way alongside it as we searched for the trail where it exited the water and took us to the climbing. Never a dull moment!

We did a couple of warm-up routes before rain and thunder loomed in the distance. Up on a cliff is not exactly the best place to be during a thunderstorm, so we cleaned our routes (climber-speak for “retrieved all of our gear”) and retreated back down toward camp. Abe hates thunder, so Matt and I vacated the climbing area before John, Stephanie, and Kevin. Because we couldn’t follow the trail due to the stream it had become, Matt and I (and Abe) got separated from the rest of the group. The storm passed fairly quickly (but lasted long enough to make the trail muddy and the rock damp) so, after it ended, Matt and I headed back up to the climbing area- crossing the creek again on the way- to catch up with everyone else. We hiked part of the length of the cliff and didn’t see them, so we sat down and had lunch. Finally, convinced they must have either gone back to camp or to a different climbing area (there isn’t reliable cell phone service near the actual climbing), we packed up and headed back down toward the menacing creek, crossed it several times to navigate the “trail,” and made it back to our tent. Everyone was down there waiting for us- oops.

The view from our campground. My photo

The view from our campground. My photo

When you’re in a canyon like you are in Shelf Road, the steep hills and cliffs block oncoming bad weather and make it almost impossible to anticipate storms. This is why hikers and climbers in the mountains get caught in surprise thunder- and snowstorms so often. By the time you see and hear the weather, it’s sometimes too late to act upon it.

In the meantime, after we reunited at camp, the weather had calmed down again and the sun was shining like nothing had ever happened. Since the rock was still too wet to climb, we took a break. Some opted for naps; John and I opted for a private yoga lesson! John took a great video from Saturday, including sped-up compilations of morning and afternoon climbing as well as our yoga session. Check it out!

While Matt was relaxing on the ground outside of the tent, and next to Abe, one of the little girls sharing the campsite wandered up and said to him, “Do you want to hear something embarrassing?”

Matt said, “Uh, okay.”

She responded, “I peed outside- over there,” and gestured to some bushes and cacti behind our tent.

Matt said, “Yeah, I think a lot of people do that.”

The little girl insisted, “No, I peed outside,” possibly referring to the pit toilet located inside a shelter about twenty yards away. After this heartfelt confession, she walked away and rejoined her family.

We decided it had been long enough for the rock to dry out, and got ready to do some more climbing. Literally as soon as we began buckling our packs, it started raining again. “I thought this was supposed to be a desert!” Someone said. The cacti everywhere had tricked us.

Cactus, the liar! My photo

Cactus, the liar! My photo

We went climbing anyway, this time hiking to a different area of Sand Gulch called the Freeform Wall, which involved precisely ZERO river crossings, to everyone’s relief.

Deciding what to climb. from left Stephanie, John, Matt, and me. Kevin is taking the picture

Deciding what to climb. from left Stephanie, John, Matt, and me. Kevin is taking the picture

We climbed another few routes and I got shut down by a height-dependent dynamic move to a small pocket on the start of a 5.11c. Afterwards, we hiked back to camp and cooked dinner under some intermittent rain showers.

The next morning, we drove up to a different campground to hike into a climbing area called, ironically, The Gym. We spent about 15 minutes in the car waiting for the rain to stop before beginning the approach, which involved a much smaller and more manageable stream crossing. Nonetheless, Abe didn’t appreciate it.

The rock at Shelf Road is limestone, which is essentially squished marine life from when this part of the country used to be underwater. Sometimes you can spot fossils in the limestone while climbing. Limestone is also heavily featured (meaning lots of great places to put your hands and feet), but has a tendency to be sharp, which is tough on one’s skin.

John on Head Cheese, a solid 5.12d, at The Gym. Photo by Kevin

John on Head Cheese, a solid 5.12d, at The Gym (also, helmets are cool!). Photo by Kevin

I top-roped (meaning we already put the rope up, so I didn’t have to) a pumpy 5.11+ with a roof called Pulley Mammoth (roofs are kind of my nemesis) and led a fun 5.10b called The Crack of Dawn which followed a very distinct flake up a sheer face. Matt got on a really challenging 5.12c called Gym Arete Direct, which joins up with Gym Arete, a 5.12a, but has a particularly tough start with very small holds.

Matt on the 5.12a part of Gym Arete. Photo by Kevin

Matt on the 5.12a part of Gym Arete. Photo by Kevin

Before the sun set, I wanted to get in a route we had passed on the hike up called The Raw and the Roasted. It was a beautiful 5.11c sheer face climb, and several people were climbing it as we’d hiked by. We climbed a fun 5.9 to the left of it called Ga-Stoned Again, so I’d heard a couple climbers fall at the top of the route.

We don't have any photos of this route, so here is a photo from MountainProject.com of The Raw and The Roasted 5.11c

We didn’t take any photos of this route, so here is a photo from MountainProject.com of The Raw and The Roasted 5.11c

The first three bolts of the climb are very easy, a 5.9 sort of warm-up, as you approach a ledge from which the clean limestone face emerges, and the real climbing begins.

Since we moved out to Wyoming, I’ve been working on my leading technique and all the little things leading a route entails, almost more than I’ve worked on my actual climbing technique. On a sport climb, every 5-15 feet or so, depending on the route, are bolts that have been drilled into the rock. The first climber to put up the route ties the rope to her harness and brings up as many quickdraws (essentially two carabiners connected by very strong fabric- see this post for what it looks like) as there are bolts. As she reaches a bolt, she clips one carabiner on her quickdraw to the bolt, and then clips her rope into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw, which is now hanging from the bolt. This is purely a safety measure and essentially keeps sport climbers from hitting the ground or hitting any protruding rock feature (e.g. a ledge) below them should they fall. There are 13 bolts on The Raw and the Roasted, plus an anchor (made up of two bolts next to one another, marking the top of the climb), so it’s a pretty long route.

Face climbing, where the rock is almost exactly at a 90° angle, is probably my favorite type of climbing. It requires balance, body awareness, finger strength, and finesse. It’s beautiful to both do and see done.

In the picture above, you can see a small roof by the climber’s right knee. I kept climbing and clipping quickdraws methodically, pulling past a hard move around that little outcropping and continuing onto the face. I shut out any fear of but-what-if-I-fall-here-oh-wow-that-would-be-scary and kept going. The handholds were smaller and required more finger strength at the top, but I did it! I on-sighted (i.e. ascended a climbing route without falling, and with no prior practice or advice on how to successfully complete) a 5.11c on our first climbing trip of the summer season! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of the summer for us.

We plan on meeting up with John and Stephanie again as they continue their road trip, and we hope to climb with Kevin again soon, but he sure is a busy man. If you’ll be in the Colorado/Wyoming area this summer and want to spend some time outside, let me know!

To the summer! Love to all.