The Benefits of AntiGravity Yoga

AntiGravity Yoga is a hot new fitness trend making its way across Canada. Find out what it is and whether it's right for you

The Benefits of AntiGravity Yoga

Source: Web exclusive, April 2010; photo by Bill Davis

AntiGravity Yoga is a new kind of workout invented by aerial performer Christopher Harrison’a former gymnast and Broadway choreographer. It involves performing a series of exercises inspired by yoga, Pilates, calisthenics and aerial acrobatics in a hammock-like apparatus, in order to achieve a total-body workout. Think Cirque du Soleil for gym-goers and yoga buffsIt’s also incredibly fun.

Currently available in Canada exclusively through The Athletic Club, AntiGravity Yoga is making its way across Canada after garnering a great deal of attention in the United States. Even celebrities are getting in on the AntiGravity action; pop singer Pink used one of Harrison’s hammocks for the daring routine that she performed during the 2010 Grammy Awards (which was choreographed by a member of Harrison’s company).

The benefits of AntiGravity Yoga

Apart from being a major stress-buster due to its high fun quotient, there are some serious health benefits associated with AntiGravity Yoga. ‘Anyone that has back issues should be doing this class,‘ says Bill Davis, director of group fitness for The Athletic Club in Brantford, Ont. ‘It’s better than an inversion table. It gives you the chance to hang freely, allowing your spine to lengthen. People who have taken the class here always comment on how much better their back feels afterward.’ Instructor Katlynn MacDonald can attest to this. After suffering from sciatica for years, she has found that practicing AntiGravity Yoga helps to relieve her pain.

In addition to decompressing the spine, AntiGravity Yoga can help to increase strength and flexibility, as well as bring you greater awareness of your body. ‘It’s a real mind-body-spirit experience,’ says instructor Sandra Caniglia, who has been practicing yoga for the past 10 years, and is also an avid runner. ‘It really does help in other areas of our lives, too. The core work is a huge benefit for running and I’ve found that I can recover faster.’

More than yoga

AntiGravity Yoga isn’t just a yoga workout’it combines several different exercise styles. ‘Lots of people who aren’t into yoga still do AntiGravity,’ says Davis. Even the instructors come from a variety of fitness backgrounds’MacDonald’s background is in gymnastics and dance, while another instructor’s specialty is Pilates.

While you’ll still find yoga favourites like "downward dog" and "cat-cow," you’ll also get to experience new moves like "the awesome possum" and "the chandelier." And Davis notes that every class features inversions, so that participants can enjoy a spinal decompression.

What to expect

So how do you prepare to have your world turned upside down? ‘Drop all expectations,’ says Davis. Like any brand new experience, it’s important to have an open mind. ‘Listen to your instructor, and most importantly, trust the hammock. We wouldn’t let people do this if it wasn’t one-hundred percent safe.’

While it may be difficult to feel comfortable doing backflips in a lavender-coloured silk hammock your first time out, it may ease your mind to know that each hammock can actually support up to 2,000 lbs (970 kg). As for the hardware that attaches the hammocks to the ceiling? ‘It’s all mountain-climbing rated,’ says Davis. Once you’re able to overcome that initial fear, you’ll be able to enjoy all that the class has to offer.

Some cautions about AntiGravity Yoga

Due to the nature of the class, with its flips and inversions, AntiGravity Yoga is not recommended for women who are pregnant. Also, if you have recently had eye surgery or suffer from vertigo, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before giving the class a try.

But when it comes to your fitness level, there are no restrictions for AntiGravity Yoga. Even if you’ve never taken a yoga class in your life, you’ll be amazed at how much you can do. ‘It’s really accessible,’ says MacDonald, noting that she’s seen people of all ages in her classes. ‘Different bodies, different fitness levels’everyone gets something different from it.’ In fact, MacDonald says it’s very common to see moms and daughters in class together, swinging in hammocks side by side.

Flying high after class

After an hour of swinging back and forth, flipping upside down and pushing your body in a whole new way, it’s hard not to leave the class with a big smile on your face. ‘You walk out of it, and you just feel good!’ says MacDonald. So don’t be surprised if you get hooked on the hammock. ‘It’s like an addiction, almost,’ says Caniglia. ‘People come in and say, ‘I just need to hang upside down!”

According to Davis, AntiGravity Yoga should be available in all nine The Athletic Club locations by January 2011.

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