By Beth Fraser, Contributor
Nestled inside a renovated textile mill about 10 minutes from campus is Maya Movement Arts: Greenville’s first aerial yoga studio. Aerial yoga is a new form of yoga in which participants do traditional yoga poses or aerial adaptations of them while hanging from a nylon sling. This sling allows participants greater freedom of movement than traditional yoga and helps them stretch in ways that would be difficult on the ground.
Furman senior Julia Stewart, a music and philosophy double major, has been doing aerial yoga for about a year and a half, and is now completing her instructor certification. I had the opportunity to interview Julia before taking my first aerial class at Maya Movement Arts to find out more about her experience with this interesting new yoga form.
Q: How did you get started with aerial yoga?
I had a friend who did acroyoga [another course the studio offers], and I went with her to a few classes. I was curious about the aerial class the studio offered, so I tried it and and I just loved it. It started out as a source of stress relief and a way for me to break the Furman bubble.
Q: In what ways is aerial yoga different from traditional yoga?
Aerial yoga is basically regular yoga with a prop. Just like traditional yoga, there is a lot of focus on breath and relaxing. The class moves at a slow pace with a focus on easy movement. I would say that the main difference is that in traditional yoga you are mostly pushing off the ground, while in aerial you are pulling yourself up.
Q: What are the biggest benefits of aerial yoga for the mind and the body?
Aerial can be really helpful in dealing with insecurity and body image issues. It helps you realize how capable your body is of doing amazing things. From a physical aspect, you develop a lot of upper body strength and get a great core workout. Aerial really helps you listen and get in touch with your whole body.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in learning aerial yoga?
The hardest part for me has been branching into the dance aspect because I’ve never really been a dancer. It can also be discouraging when you can’t get moves as fast as you want to, but you just have to focus on your own body and realize that you don’t have to be the best or be perfect at any of it.
Q: What should someone new to aerial expect out of their first class?
Beginner classes involve a lot of pull ups and ab training so that the students will be strong enough to do more complicated things later on. Another focus for beginners is learning to support your body weight with the help of the sling. You will get a chance to invert in the sling which is a really amazing feeling.
Q: Do you have any advice for anyone who is interested in trying out aerial yoga?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is okay to want help, support and guidance, and if you feel uncomfortable doing any positions, let the instructor know.
I tried to remember Stewart’s advice when I arrived at my first aerial class later that evening. As I watched the demonstrations of studio owner and instructor Kelly VanLeeuwen and of the more experienced students in the class, I thought it would be impossible for me to do any of the poses they were doing. I had to ask for help multiple times, but with the help of the instructor and the sling, I was able to stretch in ways I never thought I would have been flexible enough for. One of my favorite positions was hanging upside-down in a pose called “The Butterfly.” I also enjoyed the relaxation period called “Savasana” when students lie flat on their backs, completely cocooned inside the aerial hammock. It was an empowering experience to learn that my body is capable of twisting and flexing in such amazing ways, and I walked out of the studio with a new sense of appreciation of the awesome capabilities of the human body.
This class is a perfect combination of entertainment and exercise, which is good for both the body and the soul. I would highly recommend trying it. If you are interested in trying out an aerial yoga class, Julia Stewart will begin teaching at Maya Movement Arts on Mondays and Thursdays, and you can sign up for classes online at http://www.mayamovementarts.com/aerial.