Aerial Yoga - Beyond the Mat, part 1

This is a personal story, about my experience of Aerial Yoga and how I found healing and courage within that silk hammock. 

Before I was the owner of the studio, I heard that aerial yoga was being offered locally. It was something I really wanted to do, but for some reason, I was holding back. Many months passed, maybe a year, between when I first heard about these aerial yoga classes and when I actually attended my first class. Why was I holding back? Not because of fear, maybe a little bit because of finances, but mostly because it had become a habit to suppress my own wishes and desires. I had gotten too used to putting others first and too comfortable with neglecting myself. I felt like there were parts of myself that hadn't seen the light of day in over a decade. But I was getting bolder because the habit of suppressing my truth had not saved me from pain, and in fact, may have added to my pain. I was coming to a point where I had enough of making myself smaller for the comfort of those around me. I was ready to voice my wishes and to take steps forward to shed all that was no longer serving me. And believe it or not, taking aerial yoga was an important step. It was a bold declaration to say, "This is what I want and I am using this time and money for MYSELF". Some of you reading this will understand EXACTLY what it feels like to do something for yourself and struggle against feeling guilty about it. This was aerial yoga for me.

Externally, I could point to the difficult situation I was going through at the time, and the major changes happening in my life because of that situation, and say that this was the cause of my heartache. But in truth, the external circumstances were just the fuel to spark much needed internal changes. The internal changes were much more significant than the situations that forced this transformation.  It really did feel like a forced transformation, for I had held on so tightly to what I knew from the past, until there was nothing left to hold on to. The foundation upon which I had built my life for the past 22 years had crumbled and I was in what felt like a never ending free-fall. Often called "groundlessness" this powerful energy actually brings with it a great freedom. When everything falls apart everything is possible because we are given a wonderful opportunity to rebuild something new, something more aligned with our highest good. But usually the cold terror that's felt in this free-fall obscures our ability to see that freedom  And this is what I was going through when I began taking aerial yoga classes. I was struggling to redefine myself within these massive changes and struggling to see my own worth while hoping against hope that after the smoke cleared, I would be able to find something valuable in the ashes. Going to aerial yoga was part of this transformation. It fed the deep need to revive my soul and to find something that brought me joy. I had no idea that aerial yoga could give me so much more than merely a joyful hour of swinging fun. 

  I had  taken one class before, at a different studio, where the hammocks were hung low to the ground, so this class was a much bigger adventure because in this class, when I sat in the hammock, my feet were off the ground.  So, there was a certain degree of courage required to attend my first aerial yoga class at Just Breathe Yoga & Fitness studio. But there was no way I would let fear stop me. Honestly, at this point, several of my long held fears in life had already happened, and after your worst fears come true, there isn't much left to fear anymore, and certainly not a yoga class. 

So there I was, clueless and a little nervous, feeling awkward but open to the experience. And what an experience! Ashley, is the instructor for the beginner class. How can I describe Ashley except to say that she is part sunshine and stardust, part mermaid and angel. She has a smile that lights up the entire studio and laughter flows so easily from her heart. Besides being a very knowledgeable and skilled teacher, she has this magical quality of making everyone feel like they are AWESOME! For real, I could spend half the class flopping around in the silk, struggling to get at least a little close to the pose that was demonstrated and the way she cheers me on and oftentimes physically assists me, somehow I leave class feeling like I am a strong, graceful, and amazing woman.  And it's not just Ashley, but the entire class encourages each other and helps each other. When you are hanging upside-down in the hammock, it is easy to become directionally disoriented, especially in the beginning. One time I was hanging upside-down and Ashley explained how to flip back around, but somehow there was a disconnect between my brain and my body and I just wasn't processing the instructions correctly. Ashley was already helping other beginners in the class so the woman next to me literally hopped right out of her hammock without hesitating and helped me to flip back right-side up. This is how all the students behave in class. They applaud when someone gets a pose that they couldn't achieve previously. They cheer you on and create an environment where we can laugh at ourselves and smile at our imperfections. Sometimes there is a pose I can't do, and they say, "don't worry, you'll get it next time." It is actually a very freeing experience to not have to be GREAT at something, but to just be content with what I can do on any given day and not feel bad for what I couldn't do well or do at all. Everyone can just be themselves. It is a wonderfully supportive environment. 

So much healing came from just being in this really fun and supportive environment, swinging and flipping and laughing. But that isn't even the extent of my experience. Class ends with a savasana, the relaxation pose. In aerial yoga when the students recline fully in the hammock, and it's called "cocoon pose" and that is exactly how it feels, like being in your own safe cocoon. Ashley tells the class the type of essential oil she has that day and instructs everyone that if they would like a drop of this oil on their palm, to leave one hand out of the hammock. She comes around to each student, and after placing the drop of oil on your palm she asks if you would like to "swing or be still". I always say "swing". And so she gives my hammock a gentle swing and I rest there, enveloped in my safe cocoon and surrounded by the scent of the essential oil, listening to beautiful music - it is amazing! The energy of loving care Ashley gives to all of us is reminiscent of being a child getting "tucked in" to bed.

All of this that I have written so far gives a very clear picture of how aerial yoga has been, and continues to be, an incredibly healing experience. But there is more. Yes, much more. Before savasana ends and before we come out of our safe cocoon, Ashley reads some poem or paragraph. These beautiful readings are often on topics such as self-love, letting go, healing your heart, being true to yourself, and reminders that you are worthy. So many times the reading she chose for the day spoke directly to whatever I was going through at the time. It felt like the exact words I needed to hear at the exact time. It happened so often that I stopped viewing it as a coincidence and just accepted the fact that the Universe was speaking to me through these readings. How many silent tears fell in my safe cocoon! These were not tears of sadness, but tears of gratitude for all that I was able to release, and for all the love in the Universe that I was able to feel in those moments. 

So when people ask me about aerial yoga, I can say honestly that it is SO MUCH FUN, and does so much to increase confidence. It is a journey of trust that starts by trusting the teacher, and learning to trust the hammock, then to trust your own body and your own abilities. Strength builds over time, in the body and the spirit. I thought it would be difficult to explain my experience of aerial yoga, but after writing this I realize that it's not so difficult to explain, but perhaps difficult to believe that so much healing and transformation can happen because of aerial yoga. But this is my truth and I am eternally grateful. 


Emily Wagner
February 14, 2019 @03:33 pm
Such a beautiful description of what I feel during Ashley’s aerial yoga classes. I’ve shed many a tear in that cocoon as well. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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