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Aerial yoga craze catapults fitness to new heights

| Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011

Fitness workouts have gone airborne.

With aerial yoga, participants leave the floor, trusting a piece of fabric -- a "silk" made from synthetic nylon tricot -- suspended from the ceiling.

"Aerial yoga is very popular in other major cities, so why not Pittsburgh?" says Darieth Chisolm, WPXI news anchor and owner of Fullbody Fitness Club in Brentwood. "People are always looking for something different and ways to cross-train and incorporate new things into their workout schedules."

Locally, Fullbody Fitness, Spin on Fitness in Jefferson Hills and Verve, Downtown, offer aerial yoga.

"These workouts leverage your own body weight," Chisolm says. "There is a lot of cardio and strength exercises and flexibility, so you get the ultimate cross-training workout,"

Shelley Wain, owner of Spin on Fitness, adds a twist to her classes -- a pole for added stabilization.

"Anything I can do in the air appeals to me," Wain says. "So the minute I saw this, I wanted to do it. With aerial yoga, you can achieve stretches that you would not be able to do on the ground. It really helps you decompress, too. The biggest thing for people is feeling comfortable that the silk is going to hold them. It will."

These silks can hold up to 2,000 pounds.

"Everyone who has come to the classes so far has been pleased with it," says Stephanie Mosco, who teaches at Spin on Fitness. "Once they get over the fear of it and learn to trust the silk, they have fun and get a wonderful workout."

Amie Guarino Yadouga of Upper St. Clair says she never really worked out on a consistent basis until she met Wain.

"I am hooked," says Guarino Yadouga, after an hourlong class on Tuesday. "At first, I thought I might not be able to do this, but once you learn the techniques you become more comfortable with what you can do."

Lindsay Orlando, from Jefferson Hills, agrees.

"I love it," she says. "I had done some workout videos, but aerial yoga is wonderful. It is comfortable here at Shelley's, and it's private. Plus, the workout is totally worth it."

In addition to offering aerial yoga, Fullbody Fitness has partnered with Reebok and Cirque du Soleil for Jukari Fit to Fly and Jukari Fit to Flex, exercise workouts that blend Cirque du Soleil artistry and Reebok athleticism. The collaboration between Reebok and Cirque du Soleil began in 2007. Fullbody is the first club in Pennsylvania to offer a Jukari program and the first in the United States to offer both Fit to Flex and Fit to Fly.

"People in America are on the move, and these programs will help them reach their goals," says Reebok's Tracy Murphy. "The goal is to also make fitness fun. We asked people from all over the world what we can do to make fitness fun and not mundane. The artistry from Cirque du Soleil is incorporated into the exercises."

But that doesn't mean that the fascination with what the performers at Cirque du Soleil do will go away, says Lyn Heward, Cirque du Soleil's creative director.

"There is a difference between exercising for fun and what a seasoned performer has been doing his or her entire life," Heward says. "These programs do give a taste of what the seasoned performers do, and ... the people taking the class can dream just a little bit about what it is like for a Cirque du Soleil performer."

Part of the intrigue is in the ability to fly, Heward says. As children, we enjoyed swinging on swings, going around in circles and doing cartwheels. As we get older, we can still do those types of movements -- aerial yoga and the Jukari programs help people balance air time with muscle training for a full-body endurance workout. But having trained instructors is an important part of the process.

"Flexibility is so important in everyday life in every action that we do," Heward says. "With these programs, you can do something that will help improve your lifestyle and have fun doing it at the same time."

Tammi Hanak, an instructor at Fullbody Fitness, says that once participants try it, they aren't afraid anymore. "You should never feel like working out is a punishment. You should find celebration in it. It is a challenge, but it should be a fun challenge."

The moves aren't as intimidating as they look, instructors say.

"You are doing gravity-defying type movements, and you use a lot of muscles in your body, so you will be sore, but that is part of the workout," Chisolm says. "You can say that you did it and had a good time doing it, and have gotten results in terms of toning and getting in shape and learning a new skill."

Chisolm, an avid runner and marathoner, says that because her knees were suffering, she turned to the air.

"I wanted to open the best of the best," Chisolm says. "So I put together an awesome team of certified instructors. We worked with engineers to make sure the structural framing is secure for aerial workouts.

"Jukari means playground, so come to the playground to have fun and get a great workout," she says.

"We hope to empower people through movement and dance," says instructor Maddy Landi, who is the artistic director at Knot Dance Company, housed at Fullbody. "When people say they are afraid to try these classes, I tell them about a 65-year-old woman who had open-spine surgery who I taught aerial yoga to. She came back and told me how she never felt so strong after doing aerial yoga. I say she is my inspiration, and I tell people if she can do it, you can do it."

Aerialist Erin Carey says the instructors at Fullbody Fitness make the classes work for everyone. She travels around the country performing acrobatic moves that most people only dream about.

"We make it approachable for anybody with any body," she says. "We try to make it a wonderful fitness experience and don't want anyone to be intimidated. These workouts also are great non-impact workouts, which is great for those with joint issues. You can learn the techniques at your pace and your skill level."

Photo Galleries

Taking flight

Taking flight

Aerial yoga craze catapults fitness to new heights.

Additional Information:

Where to try aerial yoga

Fullbody Fitness Club: 4070 Brownsville Road, Brentwood Towne Square. Grand opening, 5-9 p.m. tonight and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Details: 412-692-1600 or

Spin on Fitness: 1731 Gill Hall Road, Jefferson Hills. Details: 412-651-1270 or

Verve: 142 Sixth St., Downtown. Details: 412-471-1575 or

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