Aerial cocooning, as presented in Jefferson Hills, offers unique take on yoga

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Liz Haggerty isn't sure what caused her bad back: Working as she grew up on the family farm, driving a truck or her desk job.

But the pain sent her to a chiropractor, who treated her and advised her to do stretching exercises.

Then Haggerty, 28, of Belle Vernon, found a workout called aerial cocooning. A take on aerial acrobatics, aerial cocooning is done closer to the floor and allows her to stretch her back without losing her balance.

Cocooning uses long lengths of strong fabric that bear her weight.

“I go to class, stretch (my back) out, and I feel so great afterward,” said Haggerty, who takes classes at Spin on Fitness in Jefferson Hills.

Practitioners depend on the fabric, known as silks, to support them in yoga poses, stretch and hang upside down.

“It's so much easier to get into the poses” with the help of the silks, said Shelley Wain, 47, of Jefferson Hills, owner of Spin on Fitness who teaches Haggerty in her home studio.

Wain is certified in group fitness and boot camp instruction by the American Sports and Fitness Association.

“I have a bad back. I have people who have bad backs. Once they take the class, they say, ‘I never felt so good,' ” Wain said.

The upside-down position in the silks helps decompress the spine and realign the vertebrae, Wain said.

Using the silks lets class members “hold yoga poses a lot longer. A lot of people who aren't good at balance in regular yoga find it helps you and makes (the workout) so much easier,” she said.

“With the silks, you have unlimited motion, and you don't have to worry about falling,” Haggerty said.

Wain has half a dozen sets of silks she uses for a maximum class of six students. Some students must learn to trust the silks to hold them.

More trust is needed for more advanced “flips,” in which silks are wrapped around the legs and body and unwrapped quickly.

“It took me awhile to let go, a couple of months. She was right there beside me,” Haggerty said of Wain.

Wain bought her silks from Aerial Chiffon of Las Vegas, which provides them for professional aerial circus companies.

“If you get bored, you don't keep at” a fitness routine, Wain said. “I just think aerial cocooning is a lot of fun and something different.”

“My back is great,” said Haggerty, who attends classes weekly. “I haven't been to a chiropractor since I started using the silks.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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