An aerial workout sounds scary — hanging upside down in a hammock sash while contorting your body into different positions seems best left to Cirque du Soleil professionals, right? But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: This wacky workout is not only the most fun you'll have in a yoga studio, it's a killer total-body workout and easy for yogis of any level (even if that means you're a total newb to the practice).
All it takes is the right teacher, and an understanding of aerial yoga's best beginner moves. We tapped Amanda Winkler, an aerial instructor from New York City's Om Factory, to break down six moves down for us, so you'll know exactly what to do when you show up to your first class (you didn't think this was the kind of workout you could try at home, did you?). We can't guarantee you'll look as good as Pink at the MTV VMAs, but we can promise you won't be the one picking your jaw up off the floor when the teacher demos the first backbend. You're welcome.
Bridge with Feet in Hammock
Works: Hamstrings, glutes, spinal extensors, and Latissimus Dorsi muscles (this is also a great stretch for hip flexors, abs, pecs, and shoulders)
Place feet in the hammock while lying on your back, with arms resting on the floor alongside your body. Press ankles into the fabric and begin to lift your hips, lower back, and, finally, the middle back, up off the ground. From there, crawl hands towards the center of the mat and interlace fingers. Press backs of shoulders and arms into the ground and lift the chest towards the ceiling. For a more advanced stretch, take one leg out of the hammock and hold it parallel to your other leg while you continue to stabilize the hips and lower back.
Works: Core, deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.
Kneel behind the hammock and place clasped hands through the center of it. Push wrists down into the hammock to engage shoulders and arms. Begin to lean forward from the knees, keeping the body straight as a board. Resist the urge to fold at the hips, finding a suction-like action of the front body moving toward the back body. Breathe, hold, and repeat.
Works: Core, shoulders, arms, and legs
Start in a lunge with the right ankle resting in the fabric, the top of your foot facing the floor. Lower your hands to the ground and push the floor away actively while lifting the left leg up, placing the left ankle next to the right in the fabric. Press both ankles down into the fabric, as you broaden through your back and depress your shoulder blades. Squeeze your abdomen, and continue to engage your core as you maintain this pose for as many breaths as you desire, or as the teacher instructs! For a more advanced ab workout, crunch knees into chest and lengthen legs back into plank, then repeat.
Crow Pose with Ankle Wrap
Works: Wrists, forearms, and upper arms, shoulders, core, hip flexors, and hamstrings
From Aerial Plank Pose, bend your knees and pull your thighs towards your arms. As you bring your legs forward, begin to bend your elbows, hugging your arms in towards center. Keep wrapping your biceps forward to externally rotate your shoulders and broaden through your back to engage your shoulder stabilizers. As the knees meet the triceps, gaze down or slightly forward, hold the pose, and don't forget to breathe!
High Lunge With Ankle Wrap
Works: Legs, back, core, and arms
From a standing position a few feet in front of the hammock, fold your body in half and place your fingertips on the ground. Kick right foot back into the hammock behind you. Firmly engage the legs and hug your inner thighs towards your midline as you begin to lift your torso and arms into the high lunge position. Once in this position, engage your lower abdominals and deep core muscles to support your lower back and lengthen up through your spine and arms.
Works: Feet and ankles, legs, spinal extensors, shoulders extensors, and wrists
Place the fabric directly underneath the bottom tips of the shoulder blades, allowing it to cradle the back of the rib cage. Walk the body into a supported chair shape, positioning oneself slightly behind the rigging points of the hammock. Begin to straighten the legs, rooting the soles of the feet strongly down in the ground. As the legs straighten, the torso lengthens back. Straighten the arms down toward the ground and push the hands downward as you press the chest and abdomen up toward the ceiling.
Images: Nejron Photo/Fotolia; Om Factory Yoga (6)