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Aerial fabric classes give fitness a lift

When you walk into the yoga room at Uptown Climbing it’s obvious that more than just an average yoga class awaits you. Hammocks hang suspended from the ceiling. In Jamie Ray’s aerial yoga and intro to aerial fabric classes, students use the fabric to get deeper stretches, gain some upper body strength and, most importantly, have fun off the ground.

It’s been a while since I was in an introductory aerial class (just a disclaimer, I’ve been taking aerial silks classes on and off for years) so I jumped at the opportunity to take a class, no pun intended. The Air Seekers class, called “First Up,” is designed for true beginners and it should be taken before exploring Ray’s other aerial offerings.

I was initially skeptical that the class would give me a good workout, but the mix of exercises on the ground and in the fabric left my entire body pleasantly sore the next day. The class worked muscles in the shoulders and lower back, hip flexors and basically everything in the core.

Ray’s instructions for the floor movements and fabric-based poses were easy to follow, which allowed me to really focus on my form. Ray directed the class from the center hammock, reminding us to breathe, drawing attention to which muscles should be doing the heavy lifting and offering words of encouragement.

We began the class on the ground with only some body parts suspended. First, each student grasped his or her hammock while kneeling to stretch out the shoulders and back and get used to the fabric’s elasticity. We then moved on to exercises with feet in the hammock or with the fabric looped around the chest.

About halfway through the class I folded in half over the hammock in downward dog with the loop pressing into my hips. When all of the students were in this position, Ray asked if we were ready to fly. I lifted my toes off the ground, pushed my legs apart, scooted my hands forward to the top of the yoga mat and pressed the backs of my hips into the fabric. I normally can’t hold a handstand without at least one foot against a wall so it felt amazing to get some assistance with this move.   

Next, we climbed all the way in. When you sit in the fabric it feels like a swing, but with a much greater range of motion. The poses progressed from seated to standing to flipping upside down in “inversions.”

The class ended with an airborne twist on the restful savasana conclusion of a traditional yoga class. We cocooned ourselves in our individual fabrics and sunk into the material, letting the fabric hold us aloft while Ray dimmed the lights and turned the music up. If you ever accidentally fell asleep in a hammock because you were so comfy, then you know how relaxing this feels. I did not want to leave that position.

Ray especially enjoys teaching aerial fitness to beginners.

“Before the technical knowledge sinks in it feels magical,” Ray said. She likes to share that magic with people who’ve never seen aerial apparatuses before, much less climbed into them.

Ray also assured me that although aerial fitness might look intimidating, or even impossible, all great aerialists started as beginners. She joked that anyone with the stamina to walk up the stairs to the gym’s yoga room is in good enough shape to take her class.

Ray doesn’t come from a fitness background herself—other than climbing trees as a kid—but decided to take an aerial class after seeing a picture on Pinterest one day. Then she was hooked. With a new space of her own, Ray is excited to share aerial fabric’s fundamentals with the Baton Rouge community and inspire people to bring some flight into their fitness routines.

Photos by Ronni Bourgeois

Amanda Richey

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