RACINE — Imagine doing yoga while suspended in midair. That’s the basic concept behind a popular, newer form of yoga called aerial yoga.

Rather than standing on one foot, while bending the other knee up and outward, resting the sole of that foot on the inside of the opposite leg — as one does in a traditional yoga “tree” pose — aerial yoga allows one to achieve such poses without the feet touching the floor.

Instead of balancing on a mat, aerial yoga participants wrap themselves in span of strong, stretchy fabric (like that used by aerial performing artists in the Cirque du Soleil) hung from the ceiling like a vertical hammock. And they use that fabric to support themselves as they move through a variety of poses, ranging from something as basic as a “downward dog” to a more complex position in which the body is suspended completely off the ground, upside down.

While it may take a little getting used to (before trusting the fabric to hold you), once you are comfortable enough to let go of it with your hands, the feeling is almost like that of being buoyant in water, said Jessika Mikol, founder and instructor at Spiral Space Yoga Gallery, at Racine’s DeKoven Center, 600 21st. St.

“It is like having a hug around you,” said Mikol, who has been teaching aerial yoga classes for six years, and practicing yoga for more than a dozen.

Serene, cozy, engaged

Participants in one of her recent introduction classes said they enjoyed the feeling of being wrapped in the fabric of aerial yoga.

Mikayla Oberlander, 23, of Racine, described it as serene, while Rachel Grayson said it was cozy.

Grayson, a resident of the Washington, D.C., area who attended the class while visiting Racine for a family event, said she found aerial yoga to be very different than other, more traditional yoga she’s practiced.

“You really have to be engaged,” she said, adding that she hopes to find an aerial yoga class to attend when she returns home.

Oberlander said she began practicing yoga after injuring her knee playing soccer, and finds it to be a great way to get in tune with her body. She has experienced several varieties of yoga said she appreciates the challenges that aerial yoga presents, as well as the feeling of accomplishment that follows.

“I had to face my fears,” she said, smiling. “It takes an incredible amount of trust.”

Start with the basics

Like mat yoga, aerial yoga at Spiral Space involves mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, breath awareness, stretching and strengthening. And, while having studied mat yoga is not a prerequisite for doing aerial yoga, Mikol recommends starting with an introductory aerial yoga class. It is important to learn the basics first, in order to practice it safely, she said.

The fabric stretches, so participants can do whatever movements are needed. Yet it’s strong enough to hold up to 1,000 pounds, as is the hardware that attaches the hammock to the ceiling, she said. By adjusting the height of the hammock, aerial yoga routines can be adapted for various levels of ability and comfort.

“The beautiful gift of this kind of yoga is that the fabric can be adjusted to accommodate just about any person, of any size,” Mikol said.

She has led aerial yoga classes for pregnant women, she said, as well as mother-daughter classes. And Mikol, who is also a certified personal trainer, is available for private instruction.

Creative collaborations

Spiral Space Yoga Gallery is one of several studios in the Racine area that offer aerial yoga classes and workshops. The gallery, which opened about a year ago, also offers mat yoga — and another form of aerial classes called aerial hammock, which Mikol said use the fabric but are more dance-oriented.

The aerial hammock classes are taught by Amy Querin, who moved here from Fresno, California, where, as founder of the Fresno Dance Collective, she was very involved in the arts and cultural scene.

“I am very excited to have Amy teaching here,” Mikol said.

Such collaborations with other creative people are what Spiral Space is all about. In addition to its yoga facilities, the second-floor space offers a visual arts gallery, where the work of Denise Zingg is currently being shown.

Zingg is owner of the Spectrum School of the Arts and Community Gallery, which occupies the same building. She and Mikol have collaborated on several projects, Mikol said. And, at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 18, Spiral Space will offer a Guided Relaxation & Gazing Meditation event, focused on Zingg’s beautiful, seasonal mandalas, and featuring a gallery talk by the artist.

Mikol said she also collaborates with another DeKoven neighbor, Elizabeth Emer, whose Moonway business offers massage therapy and other bodywork. It all fits well with Mikol’s vision for Spiral Space to be a place where the healing arts merge with visual arts.

She named the gallery Spiral Space, Mikol said, because she’s always been drawn to the constant evolution of a spiral, and she sees the space as a place for movement, change and growth as part of that evolution.

For more about Spiral Space, go to https://spiralspaceyogagallery.com.

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Features Reporter

Lee Roberts is the features writer for The Journal Times, covering a wide range of subjects, from the local arts scene to profiles of interesting people and places in our community. She is also a part-time page editor.

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