When senior Lane Justus has the time, she visits the Diva Dive, an aerial fitness studio in Fayetteville where she can practice aerial yoga, which combines yoga poses, pilates and dance moves with the use of a hammock.
Justus, a biology, Spanish and political science major, has a busy schedule with 21 credit hours and two theses to complete for her Spanish and biology majors, she said. Using an apparatus called a fly gym, Justus practices several aerial yoga forms, including the splits position, which stretches out her lower back.
The fly gym uses a main fabric sling, two side fabric slings and wrist holds made of synthetic cotton, allowing the user to stretch. There are various levels of elasticity, which allows the fly gym to move in different ways, said Jordan Lim, a diva dive instructor and UA alumna.
The smaller slings support the legs, which allows positions like splits poses. The user can reach up to the main sling and pull up, allowing the body to feel weightless, Lim said.
In addition to splits poses, the user can go into wheel pose, which focuses on the back. Wheel pose can tone the back and calf muscles. There is also pigeon pose, which is a resting pose that uses both legs with one bent behind and the other bent toward the shin, parallel to the hip bones, Lim said.
“You realize how much stronger or how much more flexible you really are than you thought,” Lim said. “If you were on the ground you would feel this resistance and your body might start to stop or hesitate.”
Lim started doing aerial yoga after hearing about it from her sorority sister and loved it so much that she eventually became an instructor, she said.
“I loved it for my first class,” Lim said. “I thought it was such a fun way to work out, and I had never been so engaged during a fitness class before.”
Lim thinks that aerial yoga can help people become more comfortable with themselves, she said.
While Justus has not practiced aerial yoga as much since last semester, she still tries to find time to do it, she said.
“It’s really nice to come and be here, because when I’m here, I’m not thinking about everything else that I have to do, and also it’s kind of like a family here,” Justus said.
Justus thinks aerial yoga might seem easy at first compared to ground yoga, but it is incredibly strenuous because it requires a lot of hard work and determination, she said.
“I would say that it is a lot more difficult,” Justus said. “It puts a lot of emphasis on body-weight strength. You’re always having to hold up your own body weight, but it’s also a form of dance.”
In addition to strength, aerial yoga requires balance to hold down body weight, which makes poses like spits position possible, Justus said.
Aerial yoga requires a lot of forethought and strategy, Justus said. Justus always gets in trouble with her instructors because she forgets to do things like point her toes to the ground to maintain a better posture, she said.
“Once you get a move and hold yourself up, you have to think ‘Oh, I need to point my toes,’ or you think, ‘Oh, yeah I could do that, like, no problem,’” Justus said.
Justus thinks that aerial yoga is a unique and fun way for people to challenge themselves, both physically and mentally, she said.
Sally Ashcraft, 38, the owner of the Diva Dive, thinks that aerial yoga relieves joint pressure, and that it is a good alternative for people needing low-impact exercises, she said.
When Ashcraft was younger, she worked for the circus and eventually became interested in aerial arts, she said.
After working with the circus in the ‘90s, Ashcraft was inspired to provide a place where people can practice different types of aerial fitness, including aerial yoga. In the 2000s, she heard about aerial fitness as a way of staying in shape, and after the studio where she practised closed, she opened the Diva Dive, she said.
“We started the studio in 2013,” Ashcraft said. “Me and two other girls wanted to have an aerial-fitness studio. So we got started, and we have been going strong for almost six years.”
Though her previous co-owners have since moved on, the Diva Dive offers other fitness classes that focus on flexibility training and ballet, she said.
In addition to helping with flexibility, Ashcraft thinks that aerial yoga can be very therapeutic, she said.
“You want a good teacher to show you all of the passages that you want to do to move through each position and pose,” Ashcraft said, “but I think my favorite moves are the ones that kind of stretch your hips.”
In terms of overall well being, Ashcraft thinks that aerial yoga is good for personal health, fitness and longevity, she said.
In addition to the Diva Dive, there is another gym that offers aerial yoga called Flip Side Ninja Park in Lowell, where Erika Jasso, a UAMS graduate student teaches advanced aerial yoga, she said.
Jasso was drawn to aerial yoga because she is not flexible, and she needed something to help her with that. Aerial yoga stretches the body like ground yoga, but requires more strength training. In order to do aerial poses, including inverted ones require stability in various parts of the body, which requires strength, she said.