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'Aerial yoga' enthusiasts stretch their way to health in hammocks

Participants in an aerial yoga class held at Aerial Yoga Studio Mana in Tokyo's Minato Ward enjoy headstand positions alongside their teacher, Manao, left. (Mainichi)

Find typical yoga to be boring? If so, you may want to consider heading straight over to an aerial yoga course, where you can stretch yourself into various yoga poses and hang upside-down -- all while suspended from a hammock.

    Aerial yoga, which is also known as anti-gravity yoga, permits easy stretching and encourages relaxation with its swaying motions, which also makes it suitable for elderly individuals.

    I decided to join a course at Aerial Yoga Studio Mana in Tokyo's Minato Ward, which is run by a woman named Manao. Prior to the class, she pointed out to me the yoga style's attractive benefits.

    "Anyone can easily turn themselves upside-down, which helps improve blood circulation," Manao noted. "Some students also report that the practice helps with things like getting rid of cold sensitivity, as well as swelling, stiff shoulders, and constipation."

    We lay down at first on our mats, and then proceeded to hook our ankles into our hammock and begin rocking back and forth. Because of the support that the hammock provided, the move required almost no exertion on our part as our bodies began to experience the sense of relaxation.

    Tomoko Tsukawa, left, and Sachiko Furuya float in the air with the assistance of their hammocks during an aerial yoga class held at Aerial Yoga Studio Mana in Tokyo's Minato Ward. (Mainichi)

    "Reinforcement from the hammock means that anyone from their 20s up through their 70s can take part -- even people who are not accustomed to exercising," Manao noted.

    Class participant Tomoko Tsukawa, 37, who is self-employed and lives in Tokyo, said that she started taking aerial yoga courses around six months ago. "When you're suspended above ground, the force of gravity allows you to accomplish even those movements that you can't do on the ground. It's like your body just stretches naturally."

    The studio's hammocks are made out of the same elastic material as those utilized during circus performances in the United States -- and are capable of supporting weight of more than 1 metric ton. They are held in place with hooks that are used for mountaineering and rock climbing.

    Our next move in the class was to drop our bodies diagonally while being supported by the hammock. We kept one leg raised up in the air, with the other leg -- along with the hammock -- serving as our only reinforcements.

    Making the hammock your center of gravity is certainly something that requires courage.

    Sachiko Furuya, 56, Saitama Prefecture whose mat was next to mine, remarked, "It was hard at first to put my trust in the hammock, but after I did so, it felt really good."

    Furuya said that she had been taking the class once a week for around six months, and admitted that in the beginning, her body was quite stiff. She said that she had not enjoyed attending standard yoga classes, because she was unable to correctly perform the poses.

    "In aerial yoga, your body moves easily," she continued. "Doing the inverted poses makes you feel like you're floating."

    Next, Manao began gradually incorporating acrobatic movements that featured the special characteristics of the hammock.

    Hooking the cloth around our lower waist, we placed our hands on our mats and were then given assistance to take our hands away. Our legs were left floating in the air -- our bodies parallel to the ground -- with only the hammock for support. It felt like we were flying.

    The studio's ceiling has been painted in a light blue -- calling to mind the sky -- along with images of clouds.

    "I wanted to transport people away from their everyday lives, and allow them to experience something like a dream world," Manao explained.

    At the end of the lesson, we wrapped ourselves up in the hammock and swayed back and forth as we quietly rested. Both the rocking motion and the feeling of the cloth helped me relax my mind. It felt, I would say, something like being inside a cocoon.

    "Going inside of the cloth allows you to go inside of yourself," Manao explained. "The feeling of being wrapped up is extremely effective for being able to achieve relaxation."

    Doing yoga in a hammock requires nothing more than wearing pants and a long-sleeved top. A trial lesson at Studio Mana costs 3,000 yen, and there is a 5,000 yen membership fee required to take subsequent classes, which cost 3,500 yen each. Inquiries should be made by telephone to 070-1001-8975. (By Makiko Nishida, Lifestyle News Department)

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