Hanging upside down in a silk-made hammock sounds like something reserved for acrobat performers – yet in Virgin Active Health Clubs along with several other athletic centres, the everyday sports enthusiast is doing just that. The idea is to improve strength and flexibility. Minutes into an AntiGravity Yoga class, you find your body swinging, then twisting and finally stretching in ways you could never have imagined. Think of a challenging pilates or yoga class, and then place yourself in a hammock. Though make note: do not consume food or drink within hours from the start of class – ‘losing your lunch’ gains a new meaning here.
What? Like many fitness gurus, New York-based Christopher Harrison decided a career as a Broadway dancer, gymnast, tumbling specialist and Tony Award-winning aerial choreographer was not enough. In the 1990s, he created a version of aerial acrobatics that consisted of a silk rope hanging three feet, rather than 30 feet, from the ground. The idea was to give dancers a supported material to hang from in order to comfortably strengthen the core. The term ‘suspension fitness’ has since been coined alongside AntiGravity Yoga, broadening its reach outside the dance world to the average person eager to get fit (and get flying).
Is this right for you? Whether you’re a burgeoning world-class gymnast, a yoga aficionado or simply curious to try an alternative work-out, AntiGravity Yoga is a fitness technique worth testing out. The key is confidence and the willingness to let your body relax and literally let go. Daunting as it may seem to rely on one single silk rope, also referred to as a hammock, the class starts with cautious swings, sitting with your feet hanging free, and then works up to a ‘possum’ where your body is fully wrapped like a ball, or completely lengthened.
Before you know it, you’re pulling yourself upright into standing, and then… ta da, hanging by your arms with your feet pulled to your chest. Despite every single upper body and abdominal muscle shaking uncontrollably, you’re somehow managing to maintain a ‘Vitruvian Man’. As confidence builds, the wonderfully encouraging instructor (Vivianne Jonsson-Boulogne in this class) insists you try bolder moves, like inversions where you hang in the ‘monkey’ position supporting your upside-down body by your feet intertwined in the silks.
It’s intense, but it’s a class where you want to continue trying the next exercise, which increases with ‘wow factor’ as you go along. To calm the nerves as the level of difficulty increases, Vivianne assures us all the silk ropes are tried and tested to hold a baby elephant weighing in at roughly 1,000 pounds. So other than bouts of dizziness and nausea (which are normal in the initial classes) – you have no excuse but to give it a whirl.
Why is this good for me? In addition to creating utmost confidence in your body, the exercises also stimulate your kinesthetic awareness, including agility, balance and strength. On a quieter level, the technique requires stillness both in the body and mind, and somehow lying in a brightly coloured hammock helps one do just that.
For those in need of lengthening, some dancers insist the hanging positions enable you to extend your body to such a level that it in fact increases one’s overall height. This is debatable, but the activity is proven to increase joint mobility along with decompression and hydration of the vertebral discs. You’ll also experience a release of the happy endorphins.
Where? Virgin Active Health Clubs have embraced Christopher Harrison’s aerial fitness method, with AntiGravity classes in Aldersgate, Kensington, Bank, Broadgate and Mayfair. Additional Virgin Active ‘Classic Clubs’ in London will soon offer the flying class as well. Third Space Premier Health Clubs in Soho and Marylebone are now also fully kitted up with the silk hammocks, as are several smaller studios including London Dance Academy near Old Street and Gravity Fitness and Dance based in Hendon.
When? Classes are generally one hour and run in the mornings, lunch-time and evenings. Check specific time-tables for further details.
Offers: Within both Virgin Active and Third Space, classes are purely for members only. However, My Gravity Fitness offers single classes at £20 and six week block bookings at £110 while London Dance Academy offers 5 drop-in classes within 30 days for £55.