I make my way to Bree Mcilroy’s Loving Earth Yoga and Wellness Studio in Fort Kochi to explore Aerial Yoga. The New Zealander recently added this Americanized version of calisthenics to the various yoga versions she offers. Aerial Yoga combines Pilates, dance and Yoga. Previously, Bree had introduced vegan fare to the city and with it a lifestyle of slow food and mindful fitness.
The studio’s white walls and baby-blue doors and windows are inviting. Bright daylight falls in strands of glass tiles on the roof, with eight gray and baby blue silks (hammocks made of stretch fabric) hanging from the high truss. Eight contestants – seven women, one man – stand on blue mats next to their designated side. A gentle sea breeze fills the room.
Irena Mohini, an Indian classical dancer from Belarus, assists Bree in class.
Tall and slender Irena begins by asking the students to sit on the edge of the side, close their eyes, take a deep breath and straighten their spines. They are instructed to slowly bring their knees to their chests and sit astride the silk loop. † The exercises begin and the participants do different poses – Cupid, Turban, Back Straddle, Hip Hang and Butterfly just to name a few.
Silk as prop
Practitioners use the side as a support to lift, twist, bend, swing and swing themselves in movements that require the body to balance and stabilize in mid-air yoga poses. While Irena conducts and guides, Bree moves from one hammock to another to correct the students’ postures.
Shalabhasana (locust pose) has the students flat on their stomachs in the hammock. A strenuous pose, it requires them to lift their legs slightly, lift their head and exhale, balancing in the silk cocoon. “We use the material to help practice. The side support allows the spine to decompress and stretch. It’s about finding stillness,” says Bree, a 650-hour certified yoga teacher who does yoga poses in the air version before doing them on the mat. She explains aerial yoga as a full-body workout that helps not only build strength, but also surrender and relax.
The Turban Pose “a very cute one”, has the head fastened to the silk loop with the legs on the floor. The body swings back and forth and makes small movements. The camel pose follows.
Within an hour, the group is sweating but radiating that they’ve been through a taxing but exciting regimen. “It’s like trapeze art,” says a mother of a newborn who wants to get back in shape.
The session ends with Shavasana, (corpse pose), “everyone’s favorite” as it allows the group to relax after a strenuous workout.
The final is the expression of gratitude to the side, to others and to yourself.
Because new students fear the hammock of tipping, Bree explains: “We explain the entrances and exits carefully; the silk is wrapped around body parts and uses places that allow us to defy gravity.”
Arunima Gupta, a contemporary dancer and part of the class, found that she was pushing her limits. “Being suspended in a yoga pose is really liberating,” she said.
A walk-in class costs ₹800 and a one-month course (four lessons) costs ₹2600.
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