Aerial Yoga or Inversion Yoga, Which is Better?
Aerial Yoga is a great workout, excellent for relieving stress, and most of all, fun. Natasha Poly, Vanessa Hudgens, and the pop singer Pink all enjoy dangling from the ceiling like elegant human chandeliers from time to time. It gives you the benefits of yoga inversions plus a whole lot more. But before we go hooking a hammock to the rafters, let’s take a look at the benefits of traditional yoga inversions.
Of all the postures in Yoga, inversions are definitely the coolest looking.
Any well-thought-out yoga practice will have a combination of postures: bends, twists, standing, balancing and the like. But when it’s time to take a photo of someone practicing yoga, the lens gravitates toward the handstands, the well-known sirsana and other such striking poses.
From a technical point of view, the inversion definition is any pose that gets you inverted – heart above head, and hips above your heart. In that light, poses such as dolphin pose and downward dog are technically inversions. So there are many yoga poses for beginners which would fall into this category, and most are not as difficult as handstands and forearm stands. A beginner can start off very gently and then gradually move into the more challenging and exciting poses without missing out on the benefits of inversion.
So apart from looking dramatic, what are the benefits?
Balancing upside-down isn’t a position we would naturally assume, it takes courage. Every time we face a little trepidation and overcome, we build our confidence. You may not be able to tell anyone just how scared you were of collapsing in a screaming heap, but you will know, and you will feel different.
One of the causes of poor posture is weak postural muscles, inversions improve posture through strengthening these muscles and giving the spine greater mobility.
Your body is quite good at remaining vertical when your feet are on the ground, but when you are upside-down, everything has to work harder just to maintain balance. The more impressive inversions can take good core strength to maintain.
Not only are the muscles themselves working to keep you up, the systems that control those muscles are getting a workout they wouldn’t normally get. The motor control systems of our body improve with use, just as muscles do.
David Coulter, Ph.D., teacher of anatomy at University of Minnesota for 18 years wrote:
“If you can remain in an inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries.”
Pat Layton, physiology teacher at the Iyengar Yoga Institute likens an inversion to a solid running session.
“You have to run really hard—get the heart pumping hard—to circulate blood down to the feet and up the back….but inversions are a healthier way to get the benefits, particularly as you get older.”
Layton also believes that inversions keep the lungs healthy. In our natural vertical state, the lower lung is more compressed than the upper lung. Therefore, unless we breathe deeply, air will always move into the upper part of the lung. Inverting relieves the compression in the lower lung and fills the upper lung with blood. A solid aerobic session will get the lungs working to capacity, but inversions are certainly easier.
A Word of Caution
Many people, including doctors, have said that years of prolonged inversions have led to impaired mobility in the neck, or chronic pain for some people. Headstands and shoulder stands put a lot of compression on the upper spine. Therefore, if you are susceptible to this kind of problem because of previous injury or genetics, you could find yourself on a long road to recovery. If you are practicing inversions, this may be something for you to look into.
If you are thinking you would like the benefits of inversions, but aren’t sure if you are up to the challenge, there is an alternative. It doesn’t have the same compression on the upper spine, it still calls itself yoga, and best of all it’s FUN
Also known as anti-gravity yoga, is the brainchild of aerial performer, gymnast and Broadway choreographer, Christopher Harrison. It takes inspiration from Pilates, yoga exercises, and calisthenics, applies it to aerial acrobatics and then, best of all, makes it attainable. The equipment, which looks like hammock, supports you as you twist and turn and flip upside-down in a multitude of poses.
Although it has its origins in acrobatics, this fantastic stress-dissolving workout is enjoyed by people of all ages and levels of physical ability. As one grandmother commented:
“It does take minimal coordination. I do mean minimal because that is all I have. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. It just takes a little faith.”
Faith in yourself and faith in the equipment. It may look flimsy, but those that’s mountain-climbing rated gear you’re swinging on. The hammock itself is rated to hold just under a metric ton.
People with heart conditions, back problems and recent eye surgery or glaucoma should see their doctor before they give it a try. It’s also not recommended for women who are pregnant. (Sorry, you’ll have to stick with prenatal yoga for a little longer.)
What Aerial Yoga Does for You
As we walk, stand, sit and generally go about our daily routine, gravity is literally trying to compress us. When we lie down, we get some relief, because the compression changes direction, but it is not reversed. Hanging upside-down reverses the effect of gravity on our spine. The benefits of inversion are not new, medical professionals have been using inversion tables for decades. The difference with aerial yoga is that it is combined into an overall workout that makes you stronger, more supple and leaves you feeling energized.
Many people who have used Aerial Yoga regularly have noticed an increase in core strength. Lindsey Duggan, the owner of AIR Aerial Fitness–Los Angeles reasons this way:
“A benefit of taking your routine off the ground is that you lose your point of stability; you’ll start to engage your core immediately without even realizing it,”
Hey, this is still yoga, but like you’ve never seen it before. Poses that are difficult on the ground are easy with a little help from the hammock.
Total body workout
When you’re balancing in mid-air, the body has to do a lot just to keep you there. Switching on your muscles helps to tone and strengthen them.
Not every workout, improves your balance, those tiny, reflexive muscle movements that keep us upright in all conditions need training too.
Similar to inversions, aerial yoga benefits blood circulation, assists the lymphatic system and gives the lungs a good cleansing.
By far, the benefit that sets this workout apart from the others is IT’S FUN.
Hanging upside down is a rush, that’s why kids do it. As one instructor noted, “You’ll flip just for the thrill of it.” You walk away pumped with adrenaline, flushed from the blood flow to the head, physically worked, and if it’s your first time, with a feeling that you faced your fear and won. It’s hard to beat.
What about you, what do you prefer?
Yogis have been benefiting from turning themselves upside-down for millennia, but what are the advantages? Is it worth the risk? What about aerial Yoga?