Defying gravity: What I learned from aerial pilates

OK, so this is not related to anything Japanese, but it’s something that I’ve thought about sharing since I started it.

Because you know, fitness and taking care of yourself.

I’ve done pilates before, but just the regular ones on the mat. You follow the instructor in twisting and concorting your body into poses that a regular person wouldn’t do, and you’re supposed to feel all refreshed and energised at the end of the hour.

Not me. I had rashes from poorly cleaned mats. And I felt no different from when I started. It did correct my posture and elongated my spine, though. But I went back to full on cardio (running, cross-training, rowing, etc) at the gym since those are far more accessible and hassle free than booking classes and competing with other gym members for slots.

But then I switched gyms, and running got very boring after a while. I hadn’t done pilates in a while, and since aerial pilates is becoming a new thing for workouts, I decided to give it a try. 

chillax
Credit: Atlantic Fitness Center. What my instructor calls the “chillax” pose.

My first try did not go well. I discovered my fear of falling. Even though I was promised that the hammocks could hold weights of up to 180kg. I was very tense.

Then I got dizzy, nauseous, and lost all sense of balance for the next two hours. Eating was a challenge, for fear of throwing up.

Everything in me screamed not to go back, but deep down, I relished the challenge. It was refreshing, alternative, and definitely less back-breaking than a run.

I decided to try again two weeks later. It wasn’t much better, but I decided to trust the hammock. I hung upside down unassisted for the first time. I let my arms swing freely below my head. I even attempted two upside down ab crunches.

The nausea I first experienced was also gone.

My abdomens punished me for my efforts for three whole days. I bought Salonpas patches for the first time in years.

areial pilates
Credit: Lifestyle Asia

My third session was on a late Monday night, with a different instructor. She was more gung-ho. She challenged us to stand on the hammocks and perform one-legged poses. My fingers begged for mercy, trembling as it clung to the slides of the hammock for dear life.

I did not fall.

Then she challenged us to do what I later found out was the vampire pose.

Vampire pose
Credit: Star Pilates Bangkok

That’s it, I thought. She wants me dead. The hammock’s not going to hold me.

But it did.

I mounted the hammock as instructed. I made sure it sat comfortably behind my hips. I wrapped my arms up and swung my legs in the hammock, lifted my butt, and did what my punitive brain thought was the impossible.

Not only was I upside down. I was doing a backflip. With the hammock secured around my limbs.

I felt like I was in primary school again, when I went crazy in the playground, doing backflips and turns around the metal monkey bars in a skirt.

20110117-aerialyoga
Credit: Blogto.com

I now have six patches of Salonpas plastered all over my arms, and another session looming ahead tomorrow. But I didn’t share all that to show off. I am nowhere near as dexterous or fit compared to the others.

But through my experience, I learned more about myself. Not just health-wise (and how unfit I am), but how I needed to learn to let go. The fear of falling on my face haunted me, but I had to trust the hammock. Because of that, I became less tense than when I first started. Paradoxically, I also had more control over my body. I could do poses just like the other experienced ones! Albeit not as flexibly.

And in a way, it was a tangible reflection of how I’ve managed my own life. I’ve been so tense because of fear, which has kept me from perfoming my best, from being my best.

So regardless of what my body tells me – the muscle aches, the screams, the grunts in class –  I will continue to push on, and make time for this. It will continue to challenge me and confront every angle of my fear for sure. But I’ve always come out of it feeling accomplished.

Besides, there’s always this to look forward to at the end of class.

aerial pilates hammock
Credit: Flying Hammock
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