Get Some Air

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Aerial Pilates classes offer a heightened version of a traditional mat workout

As a self-described exercise hobbyist, I am always on the prowl for new workouts to try around town and beyond. I seek out challenging classes at studios when I travel and enjoy experiencing the latest fitness trends in larger cities and here at home.

But… I’m also a creature of habit (and someone who wants a lot of bang-for-my-exercise-buck) and have been working out regularly at Iron & Grace on Old Forest Road for almost a decade. So you can understand my excitement when my old faithful gym announced they would be offering a trendy new class that’s taking hold across the nation—Aerial Pilates. I jumped at the chance to dangle from the ceiling and embrace my inner acrobat.

While I, like you, had a lot of questions about how this would go, I knew I would be in good hands. Iron & Grace co-owner Alaya Sexton has taught Pilates all over the world, taken thousands of hours of continuing education in many fitness realms and also has her 500-hour yoga certification. As a side note, after I had my son three years ago, I swear Alaya’s traditional Pilates classes helped bring me back to life—and to size. Lying on or standing on a mat, I would enjoy (or let’s be honest, suffer through!) a combination of poses to lengthen, strengthen, and condition my core, while improving my joint integrity, posture, and balance.>>

A few years ago, Alaya took a 50-hour training program called AIReal yoga, which led her to design this new Aerial Pilates class at Iron & Grace. Classes began in September and I was one of the first to sign up.

Aerial Pilates draws from all of the traditional elements of Pilates listed above—but instead of lying on a mat, you hang from a silk hammock that’s suspended from the ceiling just a few inches above the ground. This forces you to use different muscles. “It is simply a new environment to practice, a different place to develop your balance, focus and core control,” says Alaya. “We are in a variety of positions that cannot be achieved without the hammock.”

The body naturally responds to the swing and instability of the hammock by “spontaneously contracting your core to find support,” according to Alaya. This is a new and different challenge for the body and utilizes muscles that may not be reached in other classes. “There is a distinct sense of play and release that you cannot get from any of the specialized Pilates equipment or matwork,” she says.

When you get past the awkwardness of climbing into the silk, the workout consists of a variety of postures and movements to strengthen and lengthen the body. For example, during my class we did “hundreds” while suspended in the hammock, a classic Pilates move where you extend your legs and lift your head while doing 100 beats with your arms. I also learned that breathing in Aerial Pilates is very important, just as it is in traditional classes. Your breath helps you move through difficult poses.

During an aerial workout you may also find yourself inverted or upside down—don’t let this intimidate you. There are some amazing benefits to it! “Many yogis claim inversion is the key to anti-aging and appearing younger. The ‘traction’ position used in inversion can help ease symptoms for people who suffer from back spasms and herniated discs,” Alaya says.

Fellow aerial workout enthusiast at Iron & Grace, Virginia Myers, says Aerial Pilates requires concentration and a willingness to get out of your comfort zone. “Being in the silks in the air feels equal parts liberating and challenging. It is as difficult as you want to make it,” Myers explains, adding that Alaya provides modifications to cater to a range of fitness levels.

Aside from modifications, Alaya also keeps class sizes very small (6 people max) to provide special attention to all participants. While I had some Pilates experience before taking her class, I have worked out alongside people of varying fitness levels. Everyone can do something and reap benefits no matter where they are in their fitness journey.

If you are ready to sign up, be sure to arrive to your class early so you can adjust your hammock. “The height of your hammock is dependent on your height so individual adjustments need to be made before class starts,” Alaya says.

Also, women should wear comfortable leggings or long pants and a shirt with sleeves to protect their underarms. The hammock will be wrapped under your armpits so this ensures you don’t have any chafing. (Men, don’t feel left out—you are welcome too!

And when Alaya mentioned how Aerial Pilates has a “sense of play,” she wasn’t overexaggerating. At the end of each class, you get to swing on your hammock—which is not only an incredible release, it’s so much fun!

The day after my first Aerial Pilates class I felt a satisfying soreness in my abs, arms and legs. I was surprised to find my hands were sore, too, but then realized of course they were—from gripping the hammock.

Aerial Pilates is a chance to get off the mat, get out of your plank and experience a new level of exercise with muscles you didn’t even know you had. I am already looking forward to my next class and hope to see you there.

Reserve your class time on the MindBody app or call Iron & Grace at (434) 944-8633.

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About Author

Rachel Dalton comes from a restaurant marketing and management background in Richmond but now is a wife, mother, writer, exercise enthusiast, very amateur chef, traveler, super planner, dog rescuer and lover of all things local to her new hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.

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