Just putting it out there to the folks at Cirque du Soleil: when you need an aging, experienced aerial acrobat, I’m available! And, I’m here to tell you that you may just feel the same way after you attend your first aerial yoga class.
On my recent visit to Phoenix, I was fortunate to visit my first yoga studio that is not only totally donation based, but that also offers yoga hammocks that provide an anti-gravity asana-based experience aptly named FLYoga. Ra Yoga, in the heart of downtown Phoenix, offered the perfect setting for my virgin aerial yoga experience. The studio is just a few blocks away from the US Airways Center and is housed in a cool warehouse building that looked to be inhabited primarily by artists. After walking up some stairs and a maze of hallways following the ra Yoga signs, I finally stepped inside the urban-chic studio with an exposed brick back wall, hardwood floors, and windows overlooking mountains kissed with a gorgeous pink sunset, all offset by the ominous flowing red silk hammocks hanging from the ceiling. Only one thought crossed my mind: what the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this class?
As with all my virgin yoga experiences, I have a confession to make: I was pretty damn intimidated when I walked into that studio and saw a group of energetic yoginis flying from the ceiling performing a few warm-ups. Hell, these were not warm-ups; they were full Cirque du Soleil acrobatic moves. My hyperactive imagination kicked into full gear, and all I could picture was my ungraceful crash, how loud the thud would be when I hit the floor, and if the embarrassment on my face would be redder than the color of the aerial silks. There was no way those silks were going to hold me, and worse than that, I had invited my awesome editor Dominique* to attend the class with me, so there would be someone I knew to witness my yoga demise.
It didn’t help that the waiver you have to fill out at ra Yoga is about ten times longer than any waiver I’ve ever filled out at a yoga studio! On the upside, the fact that they didn’t require me to wear a helmet or any protective gear gave me a small sense of comfort.
As the fear was starting to get to me, I heard this funny voice in my head, the voice of Kathryn Budig gently prompting me, “Maria, are you going to approach FLYoga from a place of fear, or a place of love?” I figured if Kathryn could overcome her fear of jumping from a plane at 20,000 feet, I could handle climbing up into the aerial silks for a yoga pose or two.
DeLene Kettleson, the FLYoga instructor that evening, did an awesome job of easing my fears and getting me set up for the class. Thankfully, she started us off seated with some breath meditation that was aimed at calming the nerves of newbie white-knuckled flyers.
We then proceeded to go up into the hammocks and just hung out for a while. It seemed like an inordinate amount of time to just hang there, and not knowing what to expect, I was having a bit of a hard time letting go and adjusting to my anti-gravity state. In fact, I started to get a tad bit of motion sickness, so I was really glad when we put both feet back down on the ground and did some asanas with the assist of the hammock to allow us to get deeper into the stretches. The motion sickness subsided, and I’m told that when you become a frequent flyer it goes away completely. I’m very prone to motion sickness, so I was not surprised that it had an effect on me, especially in light of the fact that I had not drank enough water that day.
Like my experience with wall yoga, downward dog with the assist of the hammock allowed me to go deeper into the pose than I’d ever been. We went through a really cool flow of warrior poses, triangle, and then half moon pose to warrior 3. In those last two poses, I typically have trouble keeping both my balance and my hip from screaming at me, but those silks magically supported me and transformed the vinyasa flow into a flying dance. If you want to see a few pictures of what the poses look like with the aid of the silks, check out the Pictures page on the ra Yoga website.
Want a great workout for the abs? Plank and reverse plank with the aid of the silks is awesome. The ra Yoga website states that the class is centered to work your whole body, to develop strength, flexibility, motor dynamics, spinal alignment, endurance, reflex sharpness, and balance, and that it does! What they don’t tell you is that the class is a hell of a lot of fun. I really loved the sense of play that was evoked during the class, like when we just swung in our hammocks like kids on a playground. I don’t think I have ever laughed more during a class and felt totally comfortable doing so. We all need to embrace our inner-child a little more often, and FLYoga is an excellent way to get you to the playground.
I think that being a FLYoga instructor might be one of the most challenging yoga teaching positions. You need to possess a great deal of strength and confidence to assist students into the poses, especially the anti-gravity feats. Let’s just say that DeLene more than earned her due that night, and I can’t tell you how grateful both Dominique and I were for her help. I actually felt a little sorry for the rest of the students because she was in the back corner (yeah, I picked the back corner of the room to place my mat, imagine that) throughout most of the class to help us newbies.
About halfway through the one and a half hour class, we got to one of the first truly aerial poses. It was a pose where you hang upside down with your legs wrapped around the silks to hold you up. I tried it once, chickened out, and just figured I would wait out the pose for the next one. DeLene was not having any of that and channeled just the right amount of chutzpah to build my confidence. After three attempts (she has patience of gold), she finally got/hoisted me to this place.
DeLene explained to me after class that she can tell by the student’s body how tense they are and how she can best help them into the poses. I was afraid to ask her what my body was telling her. I’m sure it was laced with fear-based obscenities, but once she got me upside down there was no stopping me…
One of the most unique poses of the night was Dracula pose. I can’t quite remember how we got to this place, but basically you are hanging face down with a red silk cape flowing back behind you like a fierce-flying Count Dracula.
Savasana, aka Cocoon in FLY-speak, was quite simply sublime. We climbed back up into our silks and wrapped them around us to form a tight cocoon. As DeLene came around to still the hammock so we wouldn’t be swaying, her playlist just happened to land on my all-time favorite savasana song, “Be Here Now” by Ray LaMontagne, to perfectly set the mood (BTW DeLene’s entire playlist was kick-ass, and I’m gonna have to get her to share it so I can post it here on The DDD Cool Yoga Music page). During cocoon DeLene gently placed her hands on our shoulders, temples, and our third-eye, which made for an incredibly grounding experience.
We were gently awakened from our cocoon and found a comfortable place on the floor for the closing of class, which DeLene delivered with one of the most touching and heartfelt messages I’ve ever heard at the end of a yoga class.
I got to chat up DeLene after class, and after thanking her profusely for her support (literally and figuratively) throughout class, I asked about her yoga story. She explained that she was at an unhealthy stressful place in her life when she found yoga. After only two classes, she was hooked enough on the practice and the benefits it was bringing to her life that she signed up for yoga teacher training. She worked full-time for five more years as she began her teaching and has just recently taken on yoga teaching full-time. Her yoga story was definitely an inspiration to me as I hope to get to a place someday where my work is totally centered around yoga.
I have to say that I am totally in awe of ra Yoga. The fact that they provide their classes for free or donation blows me away. They suggest a $5 donation for the FLYoga classes, and from the website, it appears that they donate the proceeds to benefit local Teen Program charities and for their own non-profit Feed the Homeless Program where they get up bright and early every Saturday morning to feed the homeless.
This is the quote you will find on the homepage of their website:
Guruji: “Yoga is possible for anybody who really wants it. Yoga is universal. Yoga is not mine. But don’t approach yoga with a business mind, looking for worldly gain. If you want to be near God, turn your mind toward God and practice yoga.” (Anderson, Yoga International)
If you live in the Phoenix area, please check out and support ra Yoga (follow ra Yoga on Twitter and Facebook) and maybe even become a frequent flyer! If you are interested in taking one of their FLYoga classes, you have to sign up in advance through the website as space is very limited. If you live in the Cleveland, Ohio area and want to take flight, I’m happy to report that The Studio Cleveland offers aerial yoga classes and Synergy Sports Massage in Berea has just started aerial yoga classes as well.
Thank you DeLene and ra Yoga for helping me take my first yoga flight and for all the seva work that you do! I’m truly inspired by your efforts.
Is your yoga Super Fly? If so, let me know and leave a comment below.
*Dominique is a talented editor that I can highly recommend. If you would like to get in touch with her for assignments, you can reach her at dominiquechatterjee at gmail or check out her profile on Elance.