The other day I read something that really resonated with me. I don’t remember the exact words, but the essence was: without fear, there can be no bravery. In other words, if you’re not afraid, you can be bold, daring, and audacious, but you can’t be brave, because bravery is defined as the act of overcoming fear.
I’m afraid. I’m anxious pretty much all the time. But in light of what I read the other day this anxiety, which I consider my greatest obstacle, provides me with a ton of opportunities to be a hero, to be Mel Gibson in a kilt or Merida with her bow and arrows. To be brave.
Last weekend, a group of friends and I took our very first aerial yoga class. For those not familiar, aerial yoga is a lot like yoga, except you do it while suspended in silk hammocks. I should preface this by saying I’m afraid of heights. I’m also afraid of looking stupid, falling, and death. There was A LOT of fear going into this class. But I got up that morning and pushed my fears aside. I was brave. I went to that aerial yoga class – shivers, deer-in-headlights eyes, stomachache and all. AND I LOVED IT!
The aerial yoga class we attended was offered by Bikeorbar. Bikeorbar specializes in spinning, but they also offer a variety of classes including rowing and twerk. (I want to interject here to say that I've sampled the Bikeorbar spin and twerk classes and they're intense and fun and the instructors are all incredibly energetic! Two thumbs up.)
The Beginner Aerial Yoga class tops out at eight students, so my fear of being unsupervised - a major fear going in - was put to rest immediately. Also, the hammocks only hang about two feet from the ground, so there’s very little risk of serious injury even if a fall should occur. It didn’t. Nobody fell. We were very closely monitored, and everything proceeded at a slow and controlled pace.
The first thing we learned was how to get on our hammock. There's a way of getting on and standing that ensures the hammock doesn't swing all over the place. It involves hip placement and foot placement and doing things in order, but once I had it down, it was easy. After that, we did a couple of stretches and poses, most of which involved having one foot on the ground and using the hammock to help you pull your body into the stretch. This part of the class was the most yoga-like. It was the last time I felt like I was doing something familiar, because after that, we learned how to flip.
Before going in, I read the class description multiple times. In it, it explicitly states that participants can feel free to sit out any inversions, and no one will be asked to invert unless they’re comfortable doing so. I was 100% sure I wouldn’t be comfortable "inverting." Imagine my surprise when I found myself upside down within the first fifteen minutes of class! That’s how capable I felt!
I’m lying. I didn’t feel capable. I felt terrified and uncertain. When our instructor, Alex, was demonstrating the first inversion, I knew there was just no way it was going to happen. But then I had that silk hammock around my waist and it felt snug and safe. I leaned back, arched my body toward the ground, and felt completely supported. So I…kicked. And then I was upside down. Just like that. I WAS UPSIDE DOWN!
I felt so amazed at my own – may I say it? – BALLS that I did it again and again. I gave every single move a try. It was amazing!
I'm not alone here. We were all amazing. Every student in that class managed every pose. Sometimes a little help was needed. Sometimes it wasn't. But Alex was there to gently assist, or simply step back and observe.
It helped having friends with me. For starters, it kept me from backing out of class! We did the whole nervous laughter thing. We high-fived. We cheered each other on and took pictures. Afterwards, we debriefed and discussed. I gathered some notes from that discussion and I’m including them at the end. They were a collective effort.
I liked the class way more than I thought I would. I liked the feeling of accomplishment that came with succeeding, and the freedom of movement the hammock gave me. I'm not an athlete. I was always picked last for team sports in school, and with good reason. I'm incapable of catching anything you throw at me, and I don't like to run. I have a very weird relationship with my body. When I was doing the poses and flips in aerial yoga, it felt like my body and I were finally on the same wavelength. We could do this! I felt like some kind of superhero finally discovering their abilities. I felt powerful and capable in a real athletic way, not a feeling I'm familiar with, but one I realized I've craved for a long time. I've tried yoga, and it was okay. This was better.
So, thanks to Danielle, Elizabeth, Julia, and Karen for joining me on this adventure. You gave me the support and the metaphorical (and occasionally literal) boost I needed to get up on that hammock and discover my inner superhero. We were superheroes together! Thanks for being my fellow Wonder Women.
Tips and stuff:
You might bruise. That hammock hugs tight against your skin when you sit or lean on it. Check out Liz’s bruises. (Also, those guns!)
Socks work better than bare feet, but not grippy socks. Grippy socks don’t slide on the silk the way you need them to.
Take a barre class right before the aerial yoga class! This is my own personal tip. We all took our regular Sunday barre class before heading over to aerial yoga, so I was all hopped up on endorphins, which I think went a long way toward keeping the fear at bay.
Speak up. Ask a lot of questions. If you’re not sure about a move, ask.
At Bikeorbar, at least, it’s okay to curse. I drop eff bombs when I’m scared. I didn’t this time, but I warned our instructor it was a possibility and she was totally cool with it.
You’re stronger than you think. Really. I promise. You never know what you can do until you try. You’re so much stronger than you know.
Bikeorbar is located at 904 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, NY.
Thanks so much to Robert, one of the Bikeorbar owners, for showing us around and answering all our questions before class. Also for taking pictures and showing us how airdrop works.
Thanks, also, to our aerial yoga instructor, Alex, for being so patient and thorough, and for not letting us fall.