Turn Yoga on its Head

Traditional methods are taken to new heights

By Lynne P. Shackleford
Photographs by Jay Vaughan

AntiGravity Fitness, where students use hammocks suspended from ceiling rafters to create their own sensory journeys, is for yoga novices and experienced yoga students.

AntiGravity poses encourage students to monitor their resistance and find a place of presence by exploring functional movement.

When Lisa Muehlenbein opened Zen Studios in Spartanburg, S.C., in 2011, she envisioned a place where people could come to relax, take yoga classes, enjoy a massage and experience a “sensory journey” when they walk in the doors. Muehlenbein’s studio is relaxing with a fountain and aromatherapy diffusers, and clients feel the stress of the day released when they walk in.

“I envisioned a place to convene the mind and body,” she said. “A place where people can make real, intra-personal connections so it’s more of a community ­— where you can come and take a class and talk with one another. I didn’t want a studio where clients come in and take a class and leave — I wanted a true community.”

To offer innovative and new yoga experiences, Muehlenbein started researching aerial yoga as another offering several years ago.

“I didn’t just want something else for my clients — I wanted the something fulfilling, classes they couldn’t take just anywhere,” Muehlenbein said.

Muehlenbein had seen Pink in concert in 2008 — during which she used aerial yoga with hammocks as part of her show — and through a coincidence the following year, Muehlenbein was waiting on a yoga class to start while visiting Canyon Ranch in Arizona.

“I looked up, and there she was,” she said. “(Pink) was beside me and we chatted about the show I had seen and how I resonated with her music, and it was a really great experience.”

The two hugged and said goodbye, and Muehlenbein began seriously researching how she could bring AntiGravity Fitness to Spartanburg.

She was already familiar with Christopher Harrison’s AntiGravity Fitness — the trademarked gold standard in aerial yoga. She decided to become a fully trained instructor, and she now teaches other instructors in AntiGravity methods.

“Christopher has developed a safe and effective method with his Harrison Hammocks, and I was fortunate enough to train alongside him at the AntiGravity headquarters in New York,” she said. “What I’ve found since we started is that clients — regardless of their age or ability level — love AntiGravity. Many classes have a wait list since there is a maximum of 10 students for one teacher.”

Not only is AntiGravity fun, the zero compression inversions allow students to feel happier, healthier and even taller after class.

Zen Studios offers AntiGravity Restorative Yoga where the hammock is eight to 12 inches off the floor. Students feel decompression in the spine and openness, and the stretches are phenomenal, Muehlenbein said.

“Restorative yoga complements other more active styles of fitness to create balance,” she said. “Those who are feeling tight, who tend to carry stress, or who need a release in the body would enjoy restorative AntiGravity Yoga.”

AntiGravity Pilates merges traditional Pilates techniques for the mat with the Harrison Hammock. AntiGravity Pilates is for those who want more core and glute work.

The Fundamentals AntiGravity Yoga class is a basic entry class for those who have average movement and helps create “awareness of your mind and body.”

“There is a natural progression in AntiGravity Yoga, but the average person can be inverted and enjoy all of the benefits,” she said. “There is mindfulness about it, and with the inversion, you feel successful.”

Inversion research has shown that it releases a “happy hormone cocktail” (serotonin), which helps boost your mood and helps create space in your spine between vertebrae.

“Quite simply, most people love it because it’s fun,” Muehlenbein said. “It’s not traditional yoga; it offers something unique and cool and unexpected.”

And, Muehlenbein said, every client has a chance to “free swing,” or sit in the hammock and freely swing.

“You know, in adult life, we really don’t take the time to swing,” she said. “When we do, it creates a new synapse in the brain to say, ‘Hey, this is fun.’ It also helps with balance and breathing and enjoying the space you’re in right then, at that particular time.”

And, at the end of every class, students take a bow.

“When people leave, they leave with a smile,” she said. “There’s such a feeling of accomplishment — it’s wonderful. My hope is that people challenge themselves to do something more than they thought they could do and have fun doing it.”

Jasmine Smith, who has been practicing yoga for seven years, teaches AntiGravity Fitness classes at Zen.

“What I like to tell people is that it’s really yummy,” Smith said. “It lubricates your joints and creates space in the mind and body and allows clients to meditate through movement. It looks harder than it is because gravity does all the work.”

Smith said the AntiGravity classes teach all the fundamental basic wraps, and clients can expect to learn cool tricks and flips. Clients are drawn to the deep stretches and increased flexibility.

“The Harrison Hammock helps with balance,” Smith said. “The body already knows what to do, so it allows people to let go of the fear and enjoy the class.”

Christopher Harrison, AntiGravity creator, says, “In life, hidden in the force that pull us down, is the energy to lift us up.”

Smith said she’s heard from clients who said it benefits the lower back and hips with flexibility and movement.

“The benefits are incredible,” Smith said. “The clients love it so much that there’s a waiting list sometimes a few days before the class is scheduled, but we try to accommodate everyone, and we’re hoping to have additional classes.”

For now, Zen Studios is in Hillcrest Specialty Row on Fernwood-Glendale Road in Spartanburg. Muehlenbein plans to relocate Zen Studios in Drayton Mill in the newly renovated 114-year-old mill.

“Drayton Mill was a perfect fit for us, and we’re looking forward to opening later this year,” she said. “The developer wants to keep as many of the original elements as possible, and there will be so many great amenities. It’s exciting.”


Muehlenbein said the easiest way to view all of the offered classes and sign up for a class is online at zengardenyoga.com


 

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