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Aerial Yoga Brings Workout Enthusiasts to New Heights

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | August 6, 2012 7:15am

ASTORIA — It's downward-facing dog — only up in the air.

Aerial yoga, which features students contorting their bodies in fabric hammocks while dangling above the ground, is gaining popularity among yoga practitioners in the city, enthusiasts said.

"The interest is growing, and people really like it," said Kristina Santos, manager at OM Factory, a Manhattan yoga studio.

Several studios around the Big Apple — including The Yoga Room in Astoria, Unnata Aerial Yoga in Williamsburg and Yoga Works on the Upper West Side — offer some version of the midair meditation, which enthusiasts said gives them a feeling of elation, as well as a head rush.

“It’s very difficult, but it’s an awesome feeling,” said Sarah Springer, 28, a waitress who has been practicing aerial yoga at The Yoga Room for a few months now.

At first, the acrobatics took her our of her comfort zone, but she felt really great after the class, she said. 

Anna Morgan, 28, an instructor at The Yoga Room, said that interest in aerial yoga has been taking off, even though the high-flying moves can be intimidating to some. 

“We spend a lot of this class upside-down, which for a lot of people is scary," she said.

Morgan teaches Unnata aerial yoga, which was invented by Michelle Dortignac, a Brooklyn-based yoga teacher who is also an aerial acrobat, she said.

According to the Dortignac’s website, Unnata is the Sanskrit word for “elevated,” meaning physically and spiritually elevated.

Participants practice traditional yoga poses while suspended a few inches above the ground, with the hammock supporings them by the waist, legs or arms.

“Aerial yoga is basically a combination between vinyasa yoga" — also called "flow" yoga because movements form a flowing sequence — "and aerial acrobatic training,” Morgan said.

“So essentially we stay pretty honest to the philosophy of yoga, where we are focusing on lengthening the body, strengthening the body, but also getting to deeper more energetic effects.”

One of the benefits of the technique, which Morgan said is safe and requires no previous acrobatic experience, is the natural elongation of the spine.

“Essentially, because you’re upside down and you have gravity working for you, you’ll find that your spine will just click into place,” she said.

Morgan added that aerial yoga often leaves her students feeling bubbly.

Andrea Gonzalez, 36, who recently participated in the class for the first time, said “at the beginning, balancing on the piece of cloth was a little scary."

“But eventually you feel comfortable with the postures and the poses, and you realize that you can just let go," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes we are so afraid of trying new things and trusting our bodies. This type of yoga allows you to do that."