Omaha aerial yoga classes combine hammocks, acrobatics

Aerial Bombshell owner and instructor Lyndi Rongisch demonstrates a scissors move at her Omaha studio. The hammocks allow for a greater range of motion and a deeper stretch than traditional yoga poses done on the floor.

You're holding on with two hands, a little nervous to let go, but you do. Suddenly your body is airborne, supported only by fabric draped from the ceiling.

Oh. That wasn't so scary. Kind of fun, actually. And you're not nervous anymore.

Until the instructor tells you to flip upside-down a few minutes later.

This is aerial yoga. It's called aerial hammock at Aerial Bombshell, a small fitness studio tucked inside a west Omaha strip mall that started offering it in February.

The class blends yoga poses with acrobatics, wraps the two in a hammock, and flips them upside-down, literally. There's stretching and strength exercises, even a little cardio. And meditation that sometimes turns into a catnap.

“I've fallen asleep in (the hammock) a handful of times myself,” laughed instructor Lyndi Rongisch, who owns Aerial Bombshell.

Aerial yoga is new to Omaha. Even nationally, it's a fringe workout, compared to its traditional counterpart.

AntiGravity Yoga is the trademarked, chain version, which officially launched in New York City in 2007. There now are about a dozen locations in the United States, mostly concentrated on the coasts. The nearest of the trademarked classes are in Ohio.

Yoga Journal managing editor Dayna Macy said the magazine's editors don't know much about the practice, so those who do are on the cutting edge of a trend.

The hammock — aerial yoga's defining piece of equipment — looks more like a bunched-up curtain, anchored to the ceiling so it forms a horseshoe. It feels like silk that isn't quite as slippery and stretches but not quite like spandex.

Rongisch led a group of five women during a Wednesday evening class. They each picked a hammock — their choices look like feathers plucked off a peacock: purple, royal blue, navy, teal and silver. They started stretching, their feet still planted on the floor.

The hammocks allow a greater range of motion, and therefore a deeper stretch, than the floor.

They did lunges: Their hands gripped the hammock, and their arms pulled them up a few inches each time they hopped forward, first with the right foot and then with the left. They moved quickly to elevate their heart rate. Students did scissor kicks, too, their bodies now horizontal. Then again in slow motion.

“These ones burn even worse, huh?” Rongisch asked the class. They grunted in response.

Eventually they transitioned off the ground completely, attempting Cirque du Soleil-style tricks in the air.

“You feel like you're flying,” said class member Rhegan Lundborg, of Omaha. “Like you're Superman.”

This is what she came for.

“It's a whole different experience, being up in the air with no cushiony mat below you,” Lundborg said.

During one pose, the class sat Indian-style with the bottoms of their feet touching, hands in a praying position in front of their chests — but they were suspended above the floor and upside-down.

Aerial yoga instructors say the class is good for your spine because you're airborne — it alleviates the pressure gravity creates.

“If you're on the ground, the weight of your muscles is on your body while your body is pressing on the ground,” said Patty Failla, an aerial yoga instructor at Fit Farm, a small gym near 43rd and Nicholas Streets in Omaha. “While you're airborne, you're not compressing anything.”

She said you might even grow an inch or so after a 60-minute session, though the effect doesn't last.

Neither does its spinal decompression benefits, according to Gilbert Willett, a professor of physical therapy education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“Any time you're standing or sitting, there's going to be some pressure on your spine,” he said. “Your body is designed to take that.”

Though aerial yoga might offer temporary relief, the key to keeping your spine and other joints healthy is movement in general. The saying among physical therapists, he said, is “motion is lotion.”

This particular class isn't for everyone.

Willett advises against it for people with high or low blood pressure or glaucoma. According to the AntiGravity Yoga website, those with osteoporosis, recent surgery, pregnancy, sinus infections, inflammation in the spine and same-day Botox injections — just to name a few – should steer clear.

Other risks are more obvious.

“If you're hanging upside down, and you fall on your neck, there could be a fracture or paralysis,” Willett said. “ ... In a class, they would be very careful, but it still is a worry.”

That's why classes at Aerial Bombshell are small. Rongisch only has six hammocks, including the one she uses to demonstrate each move.

Fit Farm, which opened in January, has just two. Failla gives lessons by appointment. She sometimes incorporates the hammocks into personal training sessions, too.

Her practice draws heavily from yoga, with few tricks and stunts. Instead, she modifies yoga positions normally performed on the floor — boat, butterfly, tree, pigeon, cat and cow, among others.

“We go very gently and very cautiously into these poses.”

Just how gently depends on the client. Failla said she successfully took a woman in her 60s through inversions, the technical term for those upside-down moves. In her case, the hammock supported 75 percent of her body.

Eventually, Failla would like to teach classes of eight to 10 but only after an introductory one-on-one.

“We are a new gym ... We want to experiment with it before we make the investment,” Failla said. Fit Farm and Aerial Bombshell rely heavily on word of mouth to attract clients.

Failla said because it's “uniquely fun and creative,” aerial yoga has potential to spread to other small studios. She called the one at Fit Farm an adult playground, with aerial hammocks the swings.

“There's a kid in all of us,” Failla said. “Did you like to bike as a kid? Do you like to jump rope? And who didn't like to swing?”

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