Yoga By Air or Sea

High-flying Workout

Ribbons of silk dangle from the ceiling all over the room. Bright red, royal blue, deep purple, soothing green. The colors add an air of light to the warehouse yoga studio, brightening the simple yet serene space of The Fit Nest. These cloths aren’t just for decoration, though — they’re for soaring. And thus begins my adventure in aerial swing yoga.

After some traditional yoga poses comes the real excitement of flying in the silks. That’s also when the trusting part comes in — trusting that the beautiful fabrics can hold me aloft and trusting myself to let them do so. The Fit Nest owner and instructor Jennifer Hunt demonstrates the “monkey position, ” the base stance for the other exercises.

I watch with mingled feelings of excitement and apprehension. But I need not worry. Hunt comes to my rescue within seconds, verbally instructing the rest of the class while she guides me through the motions. After my third try, I’m hanging upside down, the silks wrapped around my hips and legs, keeping me suspended barely 2 inches off the ground.

I drop my hands from the silks. Hunt cheers beside me.

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As we whip through the rest of class, Hunt helps me flip, twirl and twist my way into a handful of maneuvers in the air, each one leaving me a little breathless with excitement. Her original vision for the studio centered around these moments of exhilaration.

“It’s more about an experience. My mission was to create an environment that is safe for anyone walking in, whether you’ve worked out or haven’t since high school, ” she says. “And fun – if it’s not fun, I don’t want to do it.”

Aerial yoga proves to be not only an intense whole-body workout that my triceps and abs will remember for days to come, but also a social engagement. Veterans pull me into their laughing group, never making me feel like a newbie.

A community has sprung up around these silks, and the sense of friendship pervades over the entire hour of class.

Learning the movements and finding myself suspended in midair, I feel that my body isn’t the only thing affected. “You come one time and you try a move and it’s just way too much, ” says instructor Tjaden Cox. “But, you come back the next time and not only can you do it, you can do it well. It’s such a wonderful sense of, ‘I did that for me.’”

Clients call aerial yoga “addictive.” Erika Turner attended her first class in April and has been coming every day since. “This is a wonderful way to start my day, ” Turner says.

And honestly, you can’t help but feel empowered when you realize that you’ve climbed your way high into the beautiful ribbons. The feeling washes over you involuntarily, and you smile before you even realize what’s hit you. So close your eyes, breathe in, and find your Zen in the silks.  – C.W.

Yoga instructor Susan Kangal shows off a unique variation of the exercise at Dauphin Island. Paddleboard rentals are available for classes.

Photo courtesy of Susan Kangal

Downward Doggie Paddle

I step onto the bright blue YOLO board, crouching low to balance my weight, and push my paddle deep into the water of Dauphin Island, around Colony Cove. My body is tense, both from trying to engage my core and my fear of falling off the board and looking silly. “You look scared to death. Relax, ” calls Susan Kangal, my instructor. After a few more strokes, I start to get the hang of things and catch up to the rest of the group. We paddle to a quiet area, throw anchors down and start stretching. And so I take a deep breath and dive into my first paddleboard yoga class. 

This is only the fourth session for Kangal and her two students, Michael Wing and Bob Morgan. However, they all seem incredibly comfortable on their boards and aren’t afraid to push themselves to try new moves. Before he began the paddleboard class, Wing was a yoga novice. But he runs a rental paddleboard shop, Dauphin Island SUP, so he was comfortable on the boards and able to supply the class. “It’s so beautiful on the water. It just changes your whole perspective, ” Wing says. Morgan, on the other hand, had taken a few classes on land, but enjoys the paddleboard option because he loves getting in the water.

We flow through different poses, some I’m familiar with and some I need a moment to figure out. Child, dolphin, tree, warrior, half moon. Kangal leads, encourages and advises,  but allows students to move at their own pace. Although balancing on a board is much different than on land, Kangal still focuses on fundamentals, such as alignment and engaging the core, to get a good – and safe – workout.

During the tree pose, I manage to move my foot an inch above my ankle before I wobble, lose my balance and fall into the warm water. As I climb back onto my board, I look at Kangal, who rocks from side to side, laughs and follows suit. “I love to fall in, that’s part of the fun of it, ” she says. As the session continues, their attitudes help me relax and realize that paddleboard yoga isn’t a class made up of expert yogis flowing perfectly through their sun salutations. “I think a lot of people are intimidated, ” Kangal says. “They think you have to be really fit and really balanced. It’s really more about enjoying the process.”

As the morning draws to an end, we all take a moment to simply lay on our boards as Kangal swims around to stretch our arms. It’s a cloudy, warm day, and still early enough that no boats are coming or going. The water gently laps around our boards, a slight breeze blows over, and everything is calm and peaceful. I feel accomplished and mellow as Kangal ends with a joyful, “Namaste.” – A.F.

text by Chelsea Wallace and Amber Franklin

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