Fitness Friday

Stimulate Your Relaxation Instinct With Hammock Yoga

Go ahead, let it all hang out.

By Brittanie Shey June 30, 2017

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Image: Shutterstock

Hammocks are all the rage these days. Urban hammocking is a thing (lookin’ at you, Axelrad) and summer just calls for slowed-down, lazy days with your butt in a swing built for adults. 

So what could seem more relaxing than hammock yoga? Sometimes called anti-gravity yoga, aerial yoga or trapeze yoga, hammock yoga incorporates straps and a wide strip of cloth suspended from the ceiling which students use to swing, hang and otherwise manipulate the muscles and joints.

At DEFINE body & mind, the hammock yoga classes make up part of the studio’s “mind” offerings, and incorporate inversions, trigger point therapy and yin yoga-style poses (yin is a form of slowed-down yoga meant to work connective tissue). The Montrose location offers several classes a week all designed to relax deep tension and calm your brain.

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Hanging upside-down like a bat at DEFINE body + mind.

Image: Kathryn Smith

Ready for a little science? Our bodies have both a sympathetic nervous system (known as the “fight or flight” instinct) and a parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”). Our sympathetic nervous system includes things like the adrenaline response, which was handy when we were hunter-gatherers and had to fight for survival on a daily basis. Nowadays, things like work, traffic and other general stresses keep that sympathetic nervous system activated something like 20 hours a day.

The good news is that you can learn to trigger your own parasympathetic nervous system with skills like breathing and meditation techniques. That’s the idea behind DEFINE’s mind classes. Use of the hammock, and especially inversions, allow gravity to gently traction your spine and joints into relaxation. In the class I took, all of this was set to soothing classical music.

Which is not to say those classes are easy. Hoo boy, did this catch me off-guard. I was expecting 75 minutes of hammock-lounging, but a good portion of the class’s work took place on the floor on yoga mats. At one point, we used barre balls (super-squishy medium-sized rubber balls) to activate trigger points in our shoulders, hips and groin. Many people in class loved this, but I carry all my life’s anxieties in my shoulders, and found those trigger points excruciating. On the other hand, unlike a lot of people, I am perfectly comfortable in all manner of inverted yoga postures, so hanging upside-down like a bat under the Waugh Bridge felt great to me. For some, flipping upside down might test their comfort zones or sense of safety.

You’ll also use your upper body to help hoist you into the hammock by way of the straps, and the hammock itself to stretch out long muscles like your hamstrings and quads. At the end of class, I left the studio feeling like I’d just had a Thai massage—a little beat up, but definitely looser and relaxed. I can’t wait to go back.

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