By Kim Fuller Published in the Vail Daily
With no hope of becoming a butterfly, I didn’t want to emerge from my suspended silk cocoon. Inevitably, instructor Tanya Miller began to lead the aerial yoga class out of our swaddled, supine positions set within each soft sling. I moved gradually to an upright seat on the silk, letting my legs dangle beneath me.
ABOVE: Instructor Tracy Long demonstrates a lotus inversion during a beginner AIReal Yoga class at The Westin in Avon. The lotus inversion, despite appearances, is very safe for beginners to aerial yoga due to the bind that the hammock fabric provides.
We rocked gently in our hammocks for a final quiet moment before Miller guided the session to its close, and then everyone began to walk about the room with an air of slow-motion levitation.
The new hour-long aerial yoga sessions at The Athletic Club at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa are based on a methodology called AIReal Yoga, founded by Carmen Curtis out of Ventura, California. The style uses a looped fabric, called a hammock, to move with a practitioner on a single-point, overhead swivel.
AIReal Yoga is the first and only form of aerial yoga accredited by the Yoga Alliance, and The Westin is currently the first studio in the Vail Valley to offer the practice. Curtis recently came to Avon to train The Westin’s AIReal Yoga instructors, Miller, Morgan Flahive-Foro and Tracy Long.
DEEPEN YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
Miller is The Athletic Club’s yoga lead and said you don’t need a strong yoga background to do the all-levels aerial practice.
“There’s a wide variety of things that you can explore in the hammock, so I think physically it’s going to give you a wider range of things you can do and explore in strength and flexibility,” she said.
According to the AIReal Yoga description, “the hammock is there to help you, assist you, hold you, deepen stretches and allow all to invert without compressing the spine.”
The mounted gear can hold up to 1,000 pounds, so there is no weight limit for the practice. Miller said Curtis has helped overweight people develop a yoga practice, and pregnant women have already come into The Westin to hang and stretch out their spines.
ABOVE: A beginner AIReal Yoga class at The Westin in Avon finishes with a hanging shavasana on Thursday.
People who do already have a yoga practice can use the fabric prop to deepen poses in new ways.
“Imagine, like, the best partner you could have ever wished for in your life is now this beautiful hammock,” Miller said, “so you get to deepen your stretches and increase your strength.”
Previous injuries can be accommodated for by pose modifications with the hammock. Miller said there are 10 different ways of getting into plank pose, for instance.
“If you have a wrist injury, you don’t even need to be on your wrists,” she said. “You can be on your back, have your feet up and lift your hips.”
I maintain a regular yoga practice and found my first experience with AIReal unique and fun. The classes can definitely present physical demands, such as pike hip lifts in a plank pose with two feet lifted in the hammock, but modifications were available for those with aversions or injuries.
Inversion (upside-down) poses are what can really make the aerial practice stand out, since you can fully hang from the hammock.
I am looking forward to trying some aerial inversions, which are only allowed after completing one of the intro classes at The Westin. Four introduction classes are required before attending one of The Westin’s regular AIReal classes.
‘A NEW EXPERIENCE’
Deshka Neill, of Edwards, took the same class I did, and it was also her first time.
“It’s been a while since I have done yoga, but I used to a lot more and I am trying to get back into it and get my flexibility back,” she said.
Neill described the introduction session as less of a “workout class and more of a new experience.”
“I like the fact that you have the support from the hammock because it helps you stretch a little bit more” she said. “Like when you are doing downward dog, you have something to hold your leg up — I think that is a cool aspect because you have something that can push you a little further.”
Jennifer Razee, fitness director at The Athletic Club, has done a few of the introduction classes and said she always feels “really long” after them.
“I have been having some trouble with my lower lumbar spine,” she said, “I went for a swim after one of these classes and felt a tremendous difference.”
Miller said the practice is beneficial for both women and men of all levels of strength and flexibility.
“Our goal is to set it up so it’s a safe experience for everybody,” she said, “and you should feel like you can expand yourself in ways that you may not have imagined.
“You might not be able to do wheel (pose) on your mat, but you can definitely to it in this hammock.”
AIReal Yoga classes are available weekly, with a $20 fee for drop-ins or 10-class punch cards available for $150. The classes are free for Athletic Club members. For more information, visit www.athleticclubwestin.com. Sign up for class by calling 970-790-2051.