You're in good hands if you take an aerial yoga class with Michelle Dortignac. She is the Founder of Unnata Aerial Yoga and I had the pleasure of taking one of her classes in its early inception about a decade ago. These days, she's conducting teacher trainings in New York City and internationally. In recent years, aerial yoga has become a huge hit in the yoga community, and it is recommended that you sign up for the class a couple of days in advance and show up fifteen minutes early to sign in and find a hammock that will work for you.
The subtitle of the class is "Inner Stability" and it's a good class for anyone looking for an introduction to aerial work in general, as well as those looking to further their practice. During class, Michelle maintained a good balance of demonstrating, spotting and checking for anyone experiencing issues with the hammocks. The hammocks are about two or three off the floor and for the hanging upside down component, students are able to reach their arms to the floor should they feel nervous, and need some sense of grounding.
Michelle began class with three lengthy Oms then took us through a series of Cat and Cow. This was followed by some gentle warm-ups including putting the hammock around our backs like a backpack and twisting from side to side. Coming back to the floor, we also warmed up our legs and abs.
First, Michelle had us twist the hammock so it was a little higher off the ground and to make it easier to secure our feet. From all fours, we lifted one leg back behind us, reaching for the hammock with one foot, and hooking it through the hammock then lifting the bent leg off the floor to hover in this intense abdominal workout.
Next, we took a Cat/Cow variation, inhaling the bent leg off the floor for a brief pause, bringing the leg back down and shifting our hips back for a Child's Pose variation.
Coming to standing, we put one leg in the hammock, first placing the hammock above knee level. With the standing leg still on the floor, we came into a twist. We then took the hammock to ankle level, and pulled the fabric down the leg to the base of the top of the back thigh, "like pantyhose" as Michelle said. We then bent the leg and came into a standing Pigeon Preparation, draping our torsos over the foot. After taking a dreamy few breaths in this position, we stepped one foot on the hammock and came into a seated position with one leg crossed over the other. After holding this position for several breaths, Michelle instructed us back down to the ground, and had us observe how one leg felt longer than the other.
For the next series of poses, we took the hammock out in front of us as we came into Shalabhasana or Locust Pose position with the hammock supporting the torso area. From here, we could bend our legs, wrap our feet around the hammock and come into a Dhanurasana or Bow Pose shape.
Following these delightful backbends, we hopped back into the hammock, this time in a seated position and came into an inverted Supta Baddha Konasana. Michelle welcomed us to hang upside down as long as we wanted. However, for those new to being upside down, she offered the option to come back up after a few breaths and do a straddle in the hammock as a break. She then offered a second opportunity to go upside down so as to become more comfortable with inverting. I personally took the option to hang upside down for as long as I could as I felt a great decompression in my back, as well as enjoyed the floaty, relaxed feeling inverting gave me.
Grounding us back down, Michelle directed us to the floor where we held a Pigeon Preparation position. However, here our torsos stayed upright, and we reached for the hammock with our hands as a way of keeping our spines erect and to also allow the lower part of our bodies to sink deeper into the floor.
We were given the option to do Savasana in the hammock or on the floor if we wanted more grounding. Michelle asked us, whether on the floor or in the hammock, to create an awareness at the back of the skull. Savasana in the hammock is wonderful, and I felt myself fully supported and cocooned.
After a ten minute Savasana, Michelle gave the option to leave at 8:45 or stay for a ten minute meditation. For this meditation, we either sat in a Sukhasana position on the floor or could lay down with our knees bent. We followed Michelle's lead in chanting a series of long Oms. Following this blissful meditation, Michelle commented that if ten minutes seemed like a long time, imagine what a mere five minutes of meditation a day at home could do for our peace of mind.