Imagine the average yoga routine: twisting, stretching and contorting into poses. Now, imagine doing this while suspended above ground using a single hammock. Add some circus acrobatics and dance-inspired moves and you have anti-gravity yoga, a new routine that puts a serious twist on Zen.
Created in New York City by world-class gymnast and Broadway performer Chris Harrison, the trendy workout has recently made its way to Montreal. The concept has already had some important exposure worldwide. Pink performed on a hammock at the 2010 Grammy awards, and even President Barack Obama’s inauguration featured anti-gravity performers.
I decided to find out what all the hype was about by trying out an anti-gravity yoga class offered at the Montreal Athletic Association fitness club. I was the only newcomer in the class but I began with high expectations. The other participants were clearly head over heels (literally) in love with the workout.
“Hanging upside down is actually really de-stressing,” said Catherine Girouard, a devoted attendee to the weekly classes. “It’s different, and at the same time there’s that circus-act feeling that I like.”
With no preconceived expectations, I was blissfully unaware that within 10 minutes my face would be dangling inches above the hardwood floor. At first I panicked, having underestimated this fear-factor style of yoga. Moving into “monkey” position, with my head down and no limbs touching the floor, I tried to relax. Soft classical piano music played in the studio but all I could think about was the safety release form I had signed at the front desk prior to the class.
Instructor Suaad Ghadban effortlessly contorted into positions like “chandelier” and “hanging vampire,” which are just as impressive as their names. She must have been the kid who climbed trees and swung around from monkey bars in the playground.
“It gets so much better after your first time,” Ghadban reassured me. “It’s hard to trust a piece of material holding you up. But that fear is what keeps people paying attention to doing the moves properly, so the workout is actually more effective because of it.“
I started becoming more conscious of the strength of my legs as they held me up in the hammock. After a few easier moves like the “swing,” which is exactly what you would imagine it to be, I started to appreciate the adrenaline rush I was experiencing. I was also pleased at how hard my muscles had been working.
“It’s a really effective way to get a workout,” said fellow classmate Joanne Fourneau, who seemingly mastered most of the anti-gravity poses.
As we reached the relaxation segment towards the end of the class, I felt my muscles loosening up. Lying in the hammock, suspended about a foot above the ground, I felt like I was floating on water. My heartbeat was finally settling back to normal. When I stepped out of the hammock, I was surprised to feel a major tension release in my back, similar to the feeling which occurs after a massage.
“It’s an amazing decompression for the spine. It’s perfect for anyone with back problems, especially for those who have problems with regular yoga because of the pressure it puts on joints,” explained Ghadban. “Another benefit is hanging upside down. It gets all the blood flowing upwards and it gets rid of stress. I call it the brain cleanse, and it makes everyone leave class feeling happier than before!”
As the class wrapped up, I was happy just to be back on my feet. I enjoyed the muscle strengthening, and my arms and legs burned the next day â€“ a sign of success but a warning for anyone who is interested in the class: the routine is more comparable to boot camp than yoga. It was definitely fun, but I would not necessarily consider it relaxingÂ For now I think I will stick to yoga on solid ground, but maybe one day I will go back for round two if I am ever feeling brave enough to defy gravity once more.
Anti-gravity yoga classes are offered at the MAA located at 2070 Peel St., with over 10 time slots per week. www.clubsportifmaa.com
Similar classes are also offered at Zen Tai Studio located at 5165 Queen Mary Rd., suite 511. www.zentaistudio.com
Yoga beginners are welcome at both locations.