I recently visited Chicago and top on my to-do list was taking an Aerial Yoga class in one of the downtown studios. Yes, that’s “aerial” as in air…as in doing a lot of poses hands-free while being supported by nylon ribbons hanging from the ceiling. And yes, it’s as nerve-wracking and challenging as it sounds!

My fitness journey began in the weight room training with old school bodybuilders who valued aesthetics and muscle mass over functional training and strength. After a few years training with them, I liked how my muscles looked but I didn’t like how restricting they felt and at the time, I didn’t know that movement and muscle could coexist. One of my 2017 New Year’s resolutions was to challenge my body outside the gym and increase my functional fitness. I’ve been lifting consistently for over 7 years and even with my personal training background, it’s difficult to get out of my weight-lifting comfort zone. Before I signed up for the aerial class, I really didn’t know all that my body was capable of, so I played it safe by doing what I knew I could do – lift weights and do cardio.

Fitness isn’t one-dimensional. Trying new exercises, thinking on your feet, moving side to side and using your own body weight are just a few of the ways you can challenge yourself physically. I learned a lot from trying Aerial Yoga and I was definitely sore that next morning! Much of what I learned had nothing to do with the physical aspect of taking the class and more to do with my comfort zone and general limiting beliefs about my fitness.

These are my 3 biggest takeaways from that one time I tried aerial yoga:

Fear is just false evidence appearing real

I had an unfounded fear of my body’s abilities. I can lift heavy on “back day” and hold a minute plank but relying solely on my upper body and core while being supported by nylon was something I couldn’t have prepared for with my regular training routine. I was genuinely surprised and really impressed about what my body was able to accomplish in that class! I did several modifications of the more advanced moves and I didn’t spend as much time upside down, but I did my best with each move. I thought I was going to fall and I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough or better yet, if that nylon ribbon was strong enough to hold me. I’ve been working on it but I still struggle with flexibility so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to reach my foot from that position (pictured). I proved myself wrong and got some awesome photos while I was at it! Too often we fear our bodies and give in to our limiting beliefs, keeping us in the same place year after year.

Limiting beliefs – thoughts about our self-identity and ourselves that just by believing them, we don’t take action and they constrain us in our thoughts, actions or words.

The body will only go where the mind will take it

If you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think you can, you can. It’s really that simple because even if you don’t succeed in the way you’d hope, you’ll get closer with every try. You’ll think you’re at your physical limit and then you’ll dig deep and tell yourself you can do it and voila, you did it! It sounds so simple but sometimes just telling yourself, “you can do this” makes the difference between quitting and doing an extra rep. I’ve witnessed this with clients and I use it on myself all the time! In order to reach any goal, you must first get your mind right.

“Believe you can and you’re hallway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Your comfort zone and your safety zone are two different things

Most things we avoid because they make us uncomfortable are actually pretty safe. Sometimes they’re even fun! Now, I’m not saying go dive in the deep end when you know you can’t swim – just wanted to put things in context before you keep reading. By ‘safe’ I mean you’re not in immediate danger or risking your life. Most times, challenging is not the same as dangerous. It was challenging for me to use my upper body and pull myself into a pull-up from a seated position. But I wasn’t going to die trying. Being upside down was totally outside my comfort zone as was having my feet off the ground while being upside down, but I wasn’t risking my life. Taking aerial yoga required that I put my full trust in the instructor to guide me safely through each exercise and I thought, “This is exactly how my clients must feel!” Even when I work with seasoned gym goers, my training style is often completely outside their comfort zone. But, it’s safe and they’re not risking their lives by mixing up their workouts.

My workouts have been so different since that class. Now that I’m back in my regular gym, my comfort zone, I’ve been looking for new ways to challenge myself. I know my upper body is stronger than I thought and that I don’t always have to use free weights to challenge my strength. I know that if I get stuck physically, mentally I can get over the hump.

When you step outside your comfort zone you instantly bring into your life more of what you want; you get out of a place of lack. I was nervous about trying that style of yoga so I avoided anything that was even close to it, which made me less flexible and actually hindered my normal workouts. Stepping outside my comfort zone has brought more physical and mental strength, improved flexibility and more fun to my workouts!

Shout out to Hannah Wolf, owner of AirFit Southloop Chicago, for guiding me through such an awesome workouts experience!

aerial yoga