HARTFORD — The yoga studio uses the kind of bright fabric that the acrobats in Cirque du Soleil ride up and down, but this class doesn't require the abdominal strength or bravery of those kinds of performances.
Unnata Aerial Yoga, a class that elevates some yoga postures off the ground, is accessible to non-gymnasts, and to those who have never tried yoga before.
Jayne Dean, 51, started Hartford's first class this month, bringing an exercise option that's hot in New York and was popularized there seven years ago.
She told her inaugural class of five women: "With the hammock, we find our own way. It doesn't have to be perfect or pretty."
She told them to move in and out of postures if they need to. Dean, whose main job is as a therapist for children, couples, families and individuals in West Hartford, said she was always interested in the intersection between psychotherapy and movement. "When you involve the body, when you do movement, it cuts the defenses," she said.
She didn't get involved in teaching classes that aim to use movement to change your inner state until 11 years ago, when she learned to teach "Shake Your Soul," a yoga-inspired dance class. She still offers that class monthly.
"I stumble on it, it resonates and I go for it," Dean said, explaining how she decided to get trained in the yoga dance instruction and in Unnata Aerial Yoga. Unnata is Sanskrit for elevated, and can refer to both physical and spiritual elevation.
"We're holding until we can sense a shift. Or several shifts," she told her students.
The women hung bent forward, suspended from their hips. They knelt on all fours, with one ankle in the fabric, twisting and using their abdominal muscles to extend that leg. They flipped upside down, the fabric looped around their hips and butts, legs spread in a V.
It may sound hard, but none of the postures requires great strength or agility. "Aerial yoga is accessible to most bodies. Aerial silks is not," Dean said.
Dean had taught standard Hatha Yoga after getting certified at the Kripalu Center in western Massachusetts, but she said her back problems prevent her from doing half the postures. With the support of the fabric, she can do more of the movements without pain.
She said while it may not look like hard work, aerial yoga does use the biceps and stomach muscles. "We're working with gravity to open the body," she said. "From the more open place we can work on strength."
Eva Redfield of Manchester saw aerial yoga on a reality show set in New York City and searched online to find Dean's class.
The regular yoga class she tried eight years ago was hard on her joints, she said. She has a herniated disc in her lower back, and while it was painful on the Saturday morning before class, she said, "now it's not bothering me at all."
"I'm hooked! I love it, it's a lot of fun," Redfield said after her first class. "I like how it makes me feel calm and relaxed."
At the end of class, the women lay completely wrapped in the fabric, looking like giant caterpillars in royal blue cocoons.
Hope Roecker of Southington decided to try aerial yoga because she'd taken the Shake Your Soul class with Dean. "She makes me feel at ease," she said.
Roecker is a regular yoga practitioner. In aerial yoga, she said that at first, "I was a little afraid about the weight, being a bigger girl," but she soon learned the fabric was strong enough to hold her no matter how she moved.
"I love the freeness of it. You feel like a little kid on the swing," she said. "Nothing can hurt you."
The classes cost $25 each. Right now, Dean is offering mini-sessions of three classes across four weeks, because she doesn't feel ready to accommodate drop-ins with such a new style.
If she gets a completely full class of seven students, she'll net about the same as her therapy hourly rate, and even at six students, she would come close. When she taught standard yoga, sometimes she only made $21 an hour. "Yoga is a really hard way to make money," she said.
With the aerial yoga, she invested nearly $2,000 in equipment. "I do want this to generate some income," she said. She estimated it would take years to pay that back, but she's already had one extended family sign up for a private class. If she gets regular requests like that, recouping her investment may be quicker.
The next class of Unnata Aerial Yoga will run from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 7, 14 and 21 at 17 Niles St., Hartford, for $75. It's open to anyone 15 years and older. For more information, email email@example.com.