LOS ANGELES - A growing number of health clubs around the world are offering exercise that allows people to stretch and strengthen their bodies while hanging in the air, often upside down. It's called AntiGravity Yoga.
At first glance, students hanging upside down on hammocks made of silk cloth hanging from the ceiling seems more like acrobatics than yoga.
“When I first saw people hanging upside down from hammocks and calling it yoga I thought they were crazy," said Marie Bice. "But it ended up being a lot of fun and just swinging it felt very playful.”
That’s student Marie Bice. She says AntiGravity Yoga is not all play. It’s also hard work, with benefits.
“I don’t have a lot of flexibility in my back and doing this work has really helped my back with that," she said.
Instructor Heather Blair says hanging upside down helps the body in a way that regular yoga does not offer.
“You actually have spinal decompression so when you’re upside down your vertebrae actually open up so the space in between the vertebrae opens naturally and gently," said Blair.
Student Chris Meierhans has done traditional forms of yoga. But this is his first AntiGravity class.
“I would like to increase flexibility," said Meierhans. "Of course, I’m a guy, a runner, so my hamstrings are very tight.”
Blair says when Believe Fitness Studio first started offering AntiGravity classes over a year ago, people became interested very quickly.
“You literally can be of any fitness level," she said. "You can have injuries. It doesn’t matter how old you are - anyone can take the class. So it’s been a huge draw for us.”
Dancer, choreographer, gymnast and creator of AntiGravity Yoga, Christopher Harrison:
"I created it so even my mother can do it," said Harrison.
Harrison first created this form of yoga for athletes, then modified it and started teaching it to the public in the United States in 2009. Since then, it has gained international attention. Several countries, including China, Indonesia, Russia and Brazil, now offer AntiGravity Yoga classes.
“AntiGravity Yoga is a combination of pilates, a little bit of yoga, aerial arts and suspension training so it’s not just yoga," said instructor Heather Blair.
The fusion of stretch and strengthening exercises allows students to achieve movements that traditional yoga does not have - from flying while suspended on the hammock, to using the hammock to hang like a bat. It is also more of a cardio-vascular workout than first time student Chris Meierhans expected.
“I had no idea that it was that much work," he said.
But creator Christopher Harrison says the yoga philosophy is still at the core of this workout.
“You can expect still to be studying yoga because it is a practice of awareness, of body, mind and spirit," he said.
Like traditional yoga, each class ends with meditation. But in AntiGravity Yoga, meditating means resting in the air while cocooned in a hammock.