“Just Let Yourself Fall Backward”: An Introduction to Aerial Yoga

“Just let yourself fall backward.”

As instructor Lori Bryant uttered those words I found myself sitting in on a silk trapeze hung from the ceiling of a one room yoga studio on Queen Street West. She was asking the class to lean backward from a sitting position, to let the silk slide upwards to the backs of our knees and leave us hanging upside down in mid-air.

I also found myself wondering what had possessed me to try aerial yoga in the first place.

The practice, which is true to its name, is an adapted form of yoga which incorporates  silks to enhance poses on the ground, as well as to achieve poses in mid-air.

When I stumbled upon Fly Studio online, I was instantly intrigued. “Who wouldn’t want to spend an hour swinging from a ceiling?” I thought. Having secured a friend to join me for a theoretically fun embrasure of our inner yogi’s I ventured to the studio.

Fly’s studio is quaint, with one half of their space dedicated to reformer pilates and the other to aerial yoga. The latter features 10 purple silks hung from wooden beams. The small capacity of their classes creates an intimate environment — if you can call hanging inverted from a ceiling with other people intimate.

Despite having practiced yoga diligently for many years, I was suddenly very intimidated by the task before me and started stretching like it was an Olympic sport. I could feel the weight of my friends gaze, it said “Couldn’t we have just gone for drinks?”

Mercifully, the practice began on the ground, moving through traditional asanas. Bryant slowly began to incorporate the silk into grounded poses, using it to deepen a lunge, and create adaptions of warrior three and half-moon. The use of the silk enhanced each pose, allowing for a deeper stretch and eliminating any fear of toppling over.

As the class moved off the ground it became as much about trust as yoga. Bryant demonstrated an inversion for the class. “See?” she said, with her head swinging inches from the flood, supported only by what appeared to be a frighteningly precarious loop of silk around her left leg.

This time it was a “you’ve got to be kidding me” glare sent over my friend's shoulder.

I was determined. Despite the visions of skull fractures dancing through my head I released my hold on the silk, loosening first my hands and then one leg.

The adrenaline of achievement (and blood) rushed to my head. It was an incredibly freeing feeling and the stretch through my back was unparalleled to any floor asana I have ever tried. I enjoyed it, despite the gnawing anxiety that I would be trapped in what I dubbed “uncoordinated-bat pose” forever.

As the class switched back and forth between grounded and aerial poses, I discovered my personal secret to aerial yoga: you’ve got to let go. Not committing to the poses fully meant that you ended up scrambling awkwardly for the floor; it was only by embracing the practice that it became hugely rewarding.

As great as each small achievement was, they couldn’t compare to the meditative portion at the end of the class. As in most yoga classes, the last few minutes were spent in shavasana, or corpse pose. At Fly, however, the meditative final minutes were spent lying suspended in a cocoon of silk as it swayed slowly to soothing music in a darkened room.

Finally, aerial yoga made complete sense.