7 Ways Aerial Yoga Will Take Your Workout to the Next Level

Hang tight — this isn't your average yoga flow.

An aerial yoga class in progress

Your first look at aerial yoga may have been on Instagram, where pics of gorgeous, gravity-defying yoga poses have been known to proliferate. Admittedly, aerial yoga is picturesque, and looks too technical to be beginner friendly. But you don't need to be an acrobat — far from it — to learn and love this yoga variation.

Aerial classes really started gaining traction in the form of yoga a few years back (the method has since branched out to include hybrids, including aerial barre) and began attracting newbies and devoted yogis alike. The gist: First, hop into a silky sling-like hammock, which is draped from the ceiling and supports your full bodyweight. You'll maneuver the fabric so that you can hold poses (such as headstands) or perform tricks (think: swings, back-flips) inside it, or you'll use it as you would a TRX suspension trainer to support your feet for exercises such as push-ups or your palms for triceps dips.

These out-of-the-box workouts are no gimmick: A study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that 16 women who did three 50-minute aerial yoga classes a week for six weeks lost an average of two and a half pounds while increasing their VO2 max by a whopping 11 percent. It's a small sample size, but the participants' results are still stunning.

In fact, aerial yoga qualifies as a moderate-intensity workout that, at times, can veer into vigorous territory. Classes that are more athletic — such as AIR, which incorporates elements of conditioning, Pilates, ballet, and HIIT — "elicit an even more intense physiological response," says study author Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise and sport science at Western State Colorado University. Translation: More results.

Though aerial fitness may have started as one of those things that you had to live in New York City or Los Angeles to try, its availability has spread. Crunch gyms offer aerial yoga and aerial barre classes nationwide, Unnata Aerial Yoga is featured in studios throughout the country, and boutique clubs have locations in many cities. You can even buy your own hammock and do an aerial workout at home, if you're so inclined.

So it's easier than ever to hit an aerial yoga class — and it boasts more benefits than the huge boost to your fitness level. Here's what really sets aerial workouts apart from the grounded alternatives.

No Skills (or Shoes!) Required

Let the ACE study test subjects serve as examples: A group of 16 randomly selected women, ages 18 to 45, proved you can go into aerial workouts pretty much cold and still get the hang of things. Most aerial yoga studios have classes for first-timers or foundational classes to help you learn the ropes. So if you're intimidated but intrigued, choose a class that's populated with fellow newbies.

Killer Abs Workout

"A benefit of taking your routine off the ground is that you lose your point of stability; you'll start to engage your core immediately without even realizing it," says Lindsey Duggan, a certified aerial yoga instructor and owner of AIR Aerial Fitness–Los Angeles.

"It honestly has been the most effective ab workout I've seen in a while," says Duggan. Indeed, almost all of the women from the ACE study commented on feeling as if their core strength improved dramatically over six weeks, according to anecdotal evidence from Dalleck. (Using a stability ball is also an intense core workout, and your gym definitely has them.)

It's Flipping Thrilling

Seriously, imagine how much fun it is getting to play acrobat for an hour. First, you're lounging in a hammock like you would at the beach, then suddenly you're doing gymnastics tricks that you might not normally try without an assist from the suspension silk. "The fun factor is what gets our clients to stick with the classes," notes Duggan. And you don't need research to tell you that if you enjoy your workout, you'll probably do it more often.

Makes Mat Poses Easier to Master

Been working on your headstand or forearm stand in yoga? Forget kicking up against a wall and consider this: "The silk wraps around your body and supports you in certain difficult poses like inversions, giving you the experience of how a pose should feel," says Duggan. In other words, taking a few aerial classes might raise your game in your regular yoga classes as well. (See also: How to Nail a Yoga Handstand In 3 Weeks)

Counts as Cardio

The scientists working on the ACE study were surprised at just how cardio-intensive this form of yoga can be. "At the outset of the study, we didn't necessarily anticipate that the physiological responses to aerial yoga would align with those of other, more traditional forms of cardio exercises, like cycling and swimming," notes Dalleck. And not only was it cardio-intensive, but it was also muscle-building. "Study participants increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass all over, so it's likely that aerial yoga provides strength-building benefits," says Dalleck. (Expect to see definition in your shoulders and arms especially, adds Duggan.)

Accessibly Zero-Impact

Whether or not you have knee problems, adding some low- or no-impact workouts is great for you, and aerial classes are exactly that easy on the joints, says Dalleck. If you're not a fan of exercises such as running (or it hurts your joints), aerial yoga is a great form of cardio that's challenging while maintaining accessibility. And after all, "the right type of cardio is the thing that you're going to show up and do every day and whatever your body responds well to," Brianna Bernhard, a certified personal trainer, previously told Shape.

You'll Leave Feeling Zen

Research shows that mind-body activities can reduce stress, and aerial yoga is no exception. Many classes end with you lying in savasana, cocooned in a hammock as you gently swing from side to side. Talk about blissing out! (Up next: 10 Benefits of Yoga That Make the Workout Totally Badass)

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