AntiGravity Yoga at Westminster College brings new dimension to yoga practice

Published: Wednesday, May 23 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Some people at Westminster College are seeing the world upside down and flying through the air, all while getting a good workout.

That’s because they are practicing AntiGravity Yoga.  

It’s a fusion fitness technique derived from aerial arts, Pilates, calisthenics and dance. Students use silk hammocks, suspended from the ceiling like a swing or trapeze, to perform zero-compression inversions and stretches.

This suspension fitness program was created by Broadway aerial choreographer Christopher Harrison in 2008, and Westminster College is the only school in the world to launch an AntiGravity Yoga program.

Tamer Begum, Harrison’s nephew and a Westminster senior, brought the program to the school last fall after discovering it a year ago when his uncle was in town for teacher training. After taking the class and studying with several yoga instructors, he was hooked and felt he had to bring it back to Westminster. Within three months, Begum said they had 150 students come into the studio.

Begum said the classes can help those who suffer from back and neck pain.

“The majority of the students that come to class find that by hanging upside down, utilizing the hammocks to do zero-compression inversions, it actually helps decrease their acute and chronic back pain much more significantly than they would find in a regular yoga class,” he said.

A lot of people think yoga classes are only for those who are young and in good shape, he said. But that’s not the case with AntiGravity Yoga. Begum wants people who are not currently active or maybe a little overweight or a little uncomfortable to come to the group classes.

“I love those people because after every single class the students feel like they are successful with their practice,” he said. “They leave (saying), ‘Oh, you know, that was fun, actually.' 'I did a flip my first practice,' or, 'That was a great leg stretch.’”

He also found people who are older can benefit from the class as well. He said they like it because they are able to hold onto an apparatus for support when they are doing more challenging yoga poses, and they don’t need a block or strap like in regular yoga.

Students who take the flying fitness class do upbeat cardio moves, while working core strength, arms and the entire body. In the slow-flow classes, students do traditional yoga poses like a warrior sequence or sun salutation, using the hammock for more support.

While people who take the class don’t need to be in great shape, Begum did say the classes are not recommended for people with glaucoma, heart problems, high blood pressure or recent spinal surgery.

Begum conducted a clinical trial as part of a senior project. He wanted to see the benefits of AntiGravity Yoga in regards to chronic back pain compared to regular yoga. He did a six-week study with 14 participants; half doing AGY and other regular yoga.

“I found 80 percent of those involved in the experimental group (AGY) found a significant decrease in their overall back pain much faster and much more efficiently than the ones in the control group (regular yoga),” he said.

The classes are 75 minutes long, though Begum hopes to extend it to 90 minutes in the fall. Classes are over for now, but will start up again Aug. 22. They are open to students, faculty, staff and alumni only.

The classes are small. There are only seven students per class. “(It’s a) nice intimate environment, where there’s not too many people, but it’s just enough that we can still vibe off each other and have fun and laugh together,” he said.

E-mail: vvo-duc@ksl.com

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