(Published in Inside Out, Cayman’s home & living magazine, summer 2013)
Cocooned in the soft envelope of my hammock, I close my eyes, relax and let my mind wander.
The Caribbean breeze gently cools my skin and the sound of chirping birds helps to soothe my mind. As I relax further, I start to feel muscle tensions ease, while the worries and stress of the day start to slowly ebb away.
All too soon, I am brought back to the present. In unison with the rest of the class, I open my eyes, tuck my chin in, look up to the ceiling, grip the hammock wrapped around my legs and gently allow myself to come upright.
I have just completed the first of many inversions at the weekly AntiGravity yoga class I attend, the latest fitness practice, which takes yoga up into the air.
The five minute inversion has helped replenish my lymphatic and circulatory system, helped my diaphragm muscles to relax, decompressed tight joints, and increased my kinesthetic awareness, according to Kate Dunne, AntiGravity yoga instructor, massage and movement therapy specialist, and owner of Flow yoga studio.
“When you do that first inversion it really gives you that sense of feeling free,” Kate says.
AntiGravity yoga uses a soft silk hammock, which provides support and resistance. Hung from the ceiling using two overhead pins, the hammock can hold a staggering 2,000 pounds.
By looping the feet and legs around the hammock, holding on to it with the hands, or by wrapping it around the body, participants can hang upside down, hold various stretches and poses or simply kick back and relax. The hammock, Kate says, effectively acts as a supporting pair of hands.
The practice was founded in the 1990s by Christopher Harrison, a Broadway aerial choreographer and former world-class gymnastics specialist. The hammock was originally developed as an aerial performance apparatus; however, he soon discovered the decompression benefits for the spine through zero-compression inversions. AntiGravity yoga – a unique blend of gymnastic-like moves and yoga poses – was born.
“It’s an empowering experience, which is about trusting yourself,” Kate says. “AntiGravity yoga really makes you listen to yourself, to your body and to your mind.
“People don’t know what to expect when they first try AntiGravity yoga. Some people take to it like a duck to water; others need a few practices to get to grips with it.”
Indeed, the first time I attempted an inversion I was awash with irrational fear at the thought of going upside down. My hands clung to the hammock with a death like, sweaty grip. My partner, on the other hand, was more than happy to trust the hammock and let it do all the work, as he hung effortlessly upside down, his legs wrapped around the swathes of silky fabric, his hands gently grazing the studio floor. Kate however took me under her wing and a one-on-one class soon had me doing numerous inversions with ease, from the “skydiver” to the “mosquito”.
“Everyone is different,” Kate explains.
“The key is learning to let yourself go, to not over-think, to trust the hammock and just go with the flow. Once you master the wraps, the placement of the hammock for the different inversions, then you are good to go. I always suggest to people that to get a good sense of whether you really like it you need to give it a few classes.”
Kate was attending a continuing education workshop when a colleague happened to mention AntiGravity yoga. She watched a link, sent to her by the same colleague, featuring AntiGravity yoga’s founder on popular US television show, The View, doing a live demonstration. “I was hooked,” she says. “As soon as I watched it, I knew from that moment that I wanted to become involved.”
Kate has been practising for five years now and was among one of the first group of instructors to become certified in AntiGravity yoga. She launched it in Cayman just a couple of years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
AntiGravity yoga is designed for all ages and abilities. While the practice can challenge core strength and offer a hard workout if you wish, it can also offer a meditative state similar to yoga.
“If there are contraindictions, such as high blood pressure or glaucoma, there are ways to work around it,” Kate says.
“It is a very versatile practice and there is something for everyone. I honour each person and never push anybody to do something which is outside of their comfort level.
“The hammock is such a beautiful apparatus. What is nice about it is that that you learn to become one with it and to truly let go.”
Indeed, as I leave the studio, I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, have a spring in my step, and I definitely feel just that little bit taller.