Attending an AntiGravity Yoga class in Abu Dhabi is an experience that promotes fitness, fun and freedom all in one
Review: Swinging to fitness with AntiGravity Yoga
I’m on my stomach, half-wrapped from my knees to my chest in eight metres of silk, swinging from side to side in “whoosh”.
The AntiGravity Yoga pose has whipped up the enthusiasm of the entire class at YogaOne, a studio in the Mangrove One compound at Al Seef Village Mall, Abu Dhabi, and I can hear my fellow yogis cracking up behind me.
As I move to the right and the left, at least a metre above the floor, I feel so light, so free and so full of joy that, all of a sudden, unexpected tears rush to my eyes.
Our teacher, Pem Fassa, had warned me this might happen. “You go back to your childhood,” she explains. “One girl at the end of the class sent me a text, she said ‘I have not laughed like that for months’ … so you bring that element of free fun.”
Although there are several aerial-yoga options in the UAE, YogaOne is the first to bring the variety, invented by New York choreographer Christopher Harrison, to the capital. Its twice-weekly sessions and pop-ups – more regular classes are on the way – are proving so popular and book up quickly, it’s hard to get a spot.
Fassa, who is originally from Switzerland, studied under Harrison in New York this spring. Harrison, a former gymnast and Broadway choreographer, has taught the method to celebrities including Rihanna, Mariah Carey and Pink, who famously used the silks at the 2010 and 2014 Grammy Awards. The singer has also been up in the air again during her current tour’s encore, which means she could be swinging onstage at du Arena during her Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert in November.
At YogaOne there are eight engineer-installed AntiGravity stations per class, each featuring a silk hammock attached to sturdy straps, hung from a metal frame bolted to the ceiling.
There are a lot of fun variations – chill versus child’s pose, taut dog versus downward – and other poses that are completely new, including vampire, teepee and spiderman, an inversion. You can hide away from the world for a few minutes inside some of AntiGravity’s more cosy, fort-like poses, including lotus. It’s also a workout: you have not done crunches until you’ve done them hanging upside down.
Harrison developed AntiGravity Fitness in 1991, after dancers in his troupe complained about compression of the spine.
Fassa explains: “As they were playing around with silks, he said: ‘Wow, hanging upside down, zero compression, absolutely wonderful for your spine, for your health, for clearing up the mind and bringing space into the body.’”
Hanging safely upside down creates space between vertebral discs and reduces spine compression, which can alleviate back and neck pain. The practice builds core strength, helps with tightness in the body and creates a greater awareness of one’s centre of gravity. It also releases the body’s so-called “happy” chemicals: dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins.
Fassa’s practice has already helped to heal her own lower back pain from doing ashtanga yoga. And just one session cleared up my own pesky issues – mid-to-lower back pain and compression causing sciatica – for days afterwards.
Alessandro Alegge, a pilot from Italy, is another fan. He says: “I love it, because after so many years of playing tennis, I had physio for shoulder pain, and they told me the best thing was to hang, so sometimes I just come in and hang.
“And as a pilot flying routes for 12 to 16 hours, hanging upside down helps my back feel better,” he adds.
American Ruthie Alexander, a regular yoga practitioner, says her first experience left her feeling “longer, taller, mentally clear … and [with] a great sense of joy”.
“To begin with, I have really horrible scoliosis and I know this type of practice is going to really help, because of the lengthening of the spine, and I felt that so much,” she says.
“I couldn’t even believe it, when I went into that inversion, it was like ‘whoa’, everything just stretched out. And then when you flop back around again, it was this big rush of blood going to your head. It was amazing.”
Although some people have issues trusting themselves to turn upside down, most don’t. And Fassa is firmly in control of the situation, rushing over to calmly help out whenever anyone gets in a bind or a tangle – as I do at one point, when I feel too weak to clambour higher up the silks.
No one seems worried in our class, particularly in those moments when we are blissfully hanging upside down. “You are completely secure in your hammock. Nice belly buttons everyone,” jokes Fassa. “As long as your feet are locked, there’s no way out.”
Watch for pop-ups or sign up for Pem Fassa’s regular AntiGravity Yoga classes on Tuesdays from 6.45pm to 8pm and Thursdays from 10.30am to 11.30am at YogaOne (YogaOne.ae, 055 716 4845). Men are welcome; Dh85 per class