Defying gravity with aerial yoga – Democrat and Chronicle

The latest yoga trend defies gravity, and it has come to Rochester.

AntiGravity Yoga is a fitness practice that uses a silk hammock as a soft trapeze for resistance and support as participants hang upside down and are suspended in the air. They say it makes them feel airy and light while helping to relieve compressed joints and align the body from head to toe. Trainers say it provides the benefits of yoga without straining muscles.

Founder Christopher Harrison, a Broadway aerial choreographer and former world-class gymnastics specialist, began incorporating the aerial technique in 1999 during his own training.

“Let’s take it up into the air,” he recalls saying the first time he hung the material from the ceiling. “Thus the silk hammock was born.”

Locally, Aerial Arts of Rochester has aerial yoga, aerial silk, aerial dance, hoop and trapeze, cirque fitness and circus arts classes in a studio at ArtisanWorks, 565 Blossom Road ( A new round of classes starts Jan. 9; all but one class was sold out in the fall.

“The industry is still a new industry, and there are lots of different ways we can grow and expand,” says William D’Ovidio, who runs the studio with wife Jennifer.

Besides aerial yoga being different, the people drawn to it are friendly, D’Ovidio says. Also, it can kick up a weight loss or fitness routine, he says.

The Henrietta couple decided to become teachers after taking a workshop a year ago. Since, they have helped choreograph and train actors who performed in Rochester Institute of Technology’s production of Danser et Voler and participated in several fundraisers including Fashion Week of Rochester.

Jennifer D’Ovidio previously ran XPolse pole dancing fitness studio in Fairport, but that space did not have room for the aerial classes, so she and her husband, whose background is in martial arts, moved to the ArtisanWorks building.

In aerial yoga, the hammock, which is lowered to waist height, is connected from two overhead points. It acts like a swing or trapeze and can hold up to 2,000 pounds. It is manipulated several ways during a class, as participants hold onto the fabric to move into a sitting position and the hammock wraps around the body to form a cocoon. Legs are stretched out to a restful position. Feet are looped around the hammock for support before participants turn upside down, allowing their hands to drop and softly graze the floor.

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Workouts in the hammock blend traditional yoga poses and principles with elements from aerial arts, dance, gymnastics, Pilates and calisthenics. But mastering the positions, as with any new fitness routine, takes some work.

“It was something new,” says David Gaffney of Manhattan after his first AntiGravity Yoga class at Harrison’s studio in New York City. “It was a real challenge, too.”

Originally launched at Crunch Fitness gyms in 2008, Harrison’s AntiGravity Yoga will be available in more than 50 locations by the end of the year, half in the U.S. and the others around the world, from Italy to South Korea.

The AntiGravity hammock is trademarked — though a few other companies now offer similar programs and products — and trainers must go through a certification process to ensure safety for participants.

The AntiGravity hammock has made its way into numerous award shows and rock tours. Pink sang while flying on the hammock during the 2010 Grammy awards. Even President Obama’s inauguration featured performers on the hammock.

In Kennesaw, Ga., about 25 miles north of Atlanta, Mardeene Mitchell, 69, was among nearly a dozen participants in a Friday morning class. Watching the instructor from the back of the class, Mitchell struggled with some moves such as the upside-down inversion and received a helpful push from the trainer.

Still, Mitchell attempted every pose, and after the class, she emphasized one of the program’s biggest selling points.

“It’s the kind of thing you look forward to instead of some workouts you dread, and you think of it as work and this is just fun,” she says. “It really makes you feel like a kid again.”

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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