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Hanging out

Hanging out

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BLACKSBURG

The roomful of children at In Balance Yoga’s studio, fluttering like butterflies while suspended in colorful silky fabric, is a beautiful sight – and also very envy inducing. They seem to be flying.

Aerial yoga classes – and aerial yoga parties – have started up again at the North Main Street studio. This form of yoga, instead of using foam blocks and straps for support, employs silk hammocks in which yoga practitioners suspend themselves, occasionally upside down. Aerial yoga is a hybrid yoga practice combining traditional yoga, Pilates and dance with the use of a hammock.

Aerial yoga classes are so much fun that individuals are renting the In Balance studio and teacher for private sessions. Families are now hosting aerial yoga birthday parties, says owner Nicole Fitzwater Lafon. Last week the studio echoed with laughter and exclamations of amazement during an aerial bachelorette party.

“Our aerial yoga classes are very beginner friendly for kids and adults,” said Devin Beyma, studio manager. “With kids, think of it as using ‘playground muscles.’ Classes start with very basic poses and progress to being upside down if participants want a change of perspective.”

“I just feel so supported in the restorative aerial yoga class. It’s very relaxing,” said Annie Reid, a flow yoga instructor.

The yoga room is outfitted with mirrors and silky teal hammocks hanging from the ceiling. Think fabric swings built to hold 500 pounds. Instructor Jennifer McDonald’s classes alternate between aerial poses and floor work, where the silks support practitioners’ weight and take the stress off their joints. For kids, the fun factor is being up in the air. Imagine the joy of playing acrobat for an hour.

“I love working with kids; they’re so excited about working with the hammocks,” said McDonald, who also leads yoga classes for adults, as well as an aerial yoga class for moms and small children.

“Someone may come to the studio a little nervous but by the end of the session, they’ve learned some new shapes and are eager to be photographed in the silks,” Beyma said.

Austin Sterk, 6, needed McDonald’s help with the first few poses, but by the end of the session, he was able to help her demonstrate moves to the rest of the class.

“I can do it,” he crowed.

After a warm-up of standard yoga poses – shoulder rolls, cat-cow stretches, and warrior poses – the class was ready to roll with the hammocks. People who haven’t ever attempted a handstand may surprise themselves by mastering an inverted pose in this class. The kids lined up the fabric swings behind their hips while standing, leaned back, swung their feet overhead, bent their knees into the silk, and voila – a sort of graceful frog hanging upside down pose.

The whole purpose of the hammock, besides being fun, is to help you improve flexibility and build strength, while allowing you to do more challenging poses without added pressure on your shoulders, spine, or head. Inverting the body can be helpful for decompressing the spine, yoga instructors say. That’s because the act of hanging upside-down can temporarily take the pressure off the spine and alleviate back spasms. Some practitioners even say their backs temporarily feel longer after doing inversions during a yoga session.

“That’s not just your imagination,” Beyma said. “Gravity is working in the opposite direction from the way it usually works. Inverting is like traction for the spine.”

Toward the end of the session, the class stretched out inside the hammock into shavasana, a face-up recumbent pose. The kids became completely enveloped in the hammock’s fabric, as in a cocoon. McDonald asked them to reflect on what they were able to do and to go to their “happy place.” Then the parents arrived, and in a flash the kids were flipping, twirling, and climbing the hammocks for their Instagram photos.

In addition to the kids’ aerial yoga every Saturday at 10 a.m., In Balance will be offering beginning and intermediate aerial yoga for adults, floating meditations, and strength, yin, and restorative aerial yoga.

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