As a child I would relish the long summer holidays, when my friends and I would set up makeshift hammocks by tying sheets to trees and spend the day swinging happily in the shade. This enjoyment has lasted into adulthood, as I’m now a sucker for a hotel with hammocks by the poolside cocktail bar. So, imagine my delight when I heard about an exercise class where hammocks are used as the apparatus of choice. I couldn’t wait to get in the swing of AntiGravity Yoga, which was developed by New York-based fitness guru Christopher Harrison, a former Broadway dancer, gymnast and aerialist who wanted to give dancers a secure material to hang from as they comfortably strengthened their core.
Looking up at the straps and buckles fixed with swaths of silk that are suspended from the ceiling in the fitness studio, I feel surprisingly nervous. My teacher, aerialist and yoga professional Valentina Candiani, measures my height against the red, silky hammock to get the fixings just right. Can she guarantee I will be safe? “These hammocks are specially designed and are certified by an engineer to hold at least 2,000lbs,” she says. “That’s about the weight of a baby elephant.” Phew.
Before we start, Valentina shows me how to gather the sides of the hammock so that I can lean backwards and slip inside. I then envelop myself in the fabric by wrapping it around me – I feel as if I were back in the womb. Swaying gently from side to side suspended several feet above the floor, it feels oddly comforting, cocooning and peaceful.
It doesn’t take long for me to build my confidence, and soon I have manipulated myself into a position where my feet are entwined in the top attachments of the hammock and I am hanging upside down – this is the “monkey position”. I feel an invigorating rush of blood to the head.
While still hanging upside down, I put my feet together and bend my knees, lifting my body up. It’s hard, and I can feel my core working. Valentina explains how good this is for the back, as it allows the vertebrae to stretch and realign.
It’s a real effort to hoist my arms up, and then lift my legs over and out of the silk to unravel them. Once my feet are back dangling beneath me, I am told to lift them, as if using a skipping rope, but not making contact with the floor. The muscles in my arms, stomach and legs begin to quiver.
During the wheelbarrow move, where my feet are in the top of the hammock and my hands walk forward into the plank position, I begin to shake considerably as my muscles go into overdrive.
As the class continues, I recognise some of the moves, like the downward dog, but here they are given a new – suspended – spin. Diminutive teacher Valentina’s acrobatic background (years performing at the Moscow State Circus) means she makes it look wonderfully easy. Although I would have probably fared better as a clown than an acrobat, she is very encouraging. I push myself through all of the moves – at least giving them a try, even if I can’t achieve her level of fluidity and elegance.
The class wraps up and we lie in the hammock, swinging gently. It’s a wonderfully relaxing end to a physically challenging experience.
The bottom line:
AntiGravity Yoga is different to anything I’ve tried before. Turning my perspective of yoga on its head was a seriously cool experience. Although hanging upside down may seem fairly daunting at first, it is suitable for all fitness levels as you can work at your own pace.
It was as fun as it was challenging, and I worked my core to the max. Words of caution, though: don’t eat before a class, as the upside down and swinging motions could cause you to lose your lunch!
Spa Junkie is the founder of FaceGym. She pays for all her own travel, accommodation and therapies.