You know that sensation of all the blood rushing to your head you experience when you’re upside down? How much do you enjoy that? I would wager a bet not much. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only times I see people upside down is in movies when they have been trapped or tortured. It’s not something I’d associated with good health. But here I was, my head 10 centimetres from the ground, suspended upside down, with only my legs and their entanglement in a “hammock” holding me up.
When my friend F first mentioned a new gym that ran yoga and wellbeing classes I was underwhelmed. First up – the last time I’d joined a gym, it was for four months when I’d first started uni. I lost interest pretty quickly. Secondly, I’d never tried yoga and I was not that interested in spending the time I’d managed to allocate for exercise, stretching. The next time F spoke about the gym though, she dropped in the anti-gravity aspect of the yoga. I was curious. Google imaging “anti-gravity yoga” resulted in photos of people using bits of material hanging from the ceiling to contort themselves into different positions. I didn’t necessarily think I could do any of the complicated-looking moves, but in a couple of images the people were just sitting, laying even – I could probably manage that.
“Ok. Let’s do it Wednesday,” I said, once learning there was a free trial on offer.
So F and I met at the gym at 6am to see what anti-gravity yoga was all about. 6am was rather early for me and so I was proud of myself just having made it to the gym. Any work I did from here was a bonus, worthy of an extra pat on the back. The room where the yoga class was held looked very similar to what Google had shown me, about 12 “hammocks”, as our instructor called them, hanging from the ceiling, this time in a darkened room, which was lit by the glow of heaters and a few dimmed down lights. The mood lighting must add to the relaxation?
Our tiny instructor, with a dreadlock bun and a soothing voice, welcomed us and we started off slowly. After overcoming the first hurdle, which was just getting into the hammock, (don’t judge, it’s harder than it looks!) we moved our bodies to face the side and ended up with all our limbs encased in the material. From there we were supposed to use a “column” of material to pull ourselves in and out. Because I could no longer see the instructor and I didn’t find this particularly hard, I’m pretty sure I was doing it wrong.
Next though, was the part of the class I’d come here for. Our first “inversion”. Instructor Tess made the movement look easy as she gracefully positioned herself upside down, the material wrapped tightly around her thighs in a way that I thought would have been a bit uncomfortable. I had to have two goes at it, but eventually I too was upside down, material wrapped around my thighs in a way that was most definitely uncomfortable. I thought I must have been doing it wrong, as the pressure on my legs was starting to hurt, but as I looked around the room, everybody had their material in the same position. F had her eyes closed and at this point looked totally calm. The other thing I noticed initially, was the feeling of the blood rushing to my head and I wondered how long we were going to stay like this. I trusted that Tess wasn’t going to put us through anything that was going to injure us and tried to relax. But it isn’t really relaxing to feel your head pounding and the circulation to your legs being slowly cut off. Still I persisted with the stretches we did, as did F, who looked like she was enjoying being upside down far less than before. “I feel nauseous,” she said, laughing in the way you do when you think it’s funny how uncomfortable you are.
Aside from the uncomfortable nature of the inversion, the movements had all been rather easy so far. Just as I was thinking this, Tess announced we’d be doing crunches. I can’t really do sit ups properly at the best of times. So my “crunch” was really just me nodding my head. F must have been having trouble too though, as the next time I turned my head to look she was not in her hammock, but rushing towards the door.
Finally, after what felt like ages, but was probably only 5 minutes, we got out of the inversion. We were given plenty of time to adjust to being upright. F came back in the room, and we did a few more fancy things with the material. Then we were upside down again in an inversion I found no less difficult or uncomfortable. This time though we were practicing hand stands, which I must admit, were fun. I did like the feeling of using my arms to hold me up, knowing the hammock was there and I couldn’t fall on my face. I was, to an extent, forgetting about the blood pounding in my head, and the material digging into my thighs and enjoying the sensation. And then we were upright again.
The end was the best part of the class by far, because we literally lay in the hammocks. With a blanket. Our instructor gave us a push and we gently rocked back and forth, while she talked about letting go. I nearly nodded off. I had let go, forgetting that work awaited me in about two hours. It was wonderful.
And then it was over. We got out of the hammocks and put our blankets away. F spoke to the instructor about how the first inversion had made her feel sick, to which Tess suggested it might be her body getting rid of toxins. F had just come back from a week’s annual leave, days of which she spent at a Buddhist retreat eating vegetarian and drinking only water and tea. We ruled out that theory.
When we were leaving the class I asked F about it, thinking she’d left the class to have a cup of water and sit down. Nope. She’d ran to the bathroom to throw up. Well I guess my experience wasn’t that bad.
After the mixed results of this class, we decided to give it another shot the following Monday. This was a fundamentals class, we later learned, which we probably should have done before the aerial yoga class we tried. This class involved sitting on the hammock swinging like a child, lying on our stomachs, arms outstretched and flying (which I couldn’t do at all) and a different inversion which made me feel like my head was about to explode after two seconds in it.
F and I both decided anti-gravity yoga was probably not for us. She would stick to regular yoga and I would stick to classes that raised my heartbeat out of exertion, not panic. But it was an experience I was glad I had, if only for the five minutes of napping at the end.