I’m sure that most practitioners have, at one time or another, heard of yogis that possess the power to levitate but few have felt that they would ever be capable of achieving such an evolved skill. Well now the ability to float in the air is accessible to anyone…with a little help that is.
I first became fascinated with the prospect of suspended inversions when I watched Richard Gere dangle upside down from his ankles in the 80’s film American Gigolo. The apparatus used then was known as the Gravity Boot and the inventor was a scientist named, Dr. Robert Martin.
Having been a chronic back pain sufferer since adolescence due to a horseback riding accident, the prospect of stretching my body with the assistance of gravity made perfect sense to me and I eagerly purchased my own pair of Gravity Boots to give suspended inversions a try. Unfortunately, I was less than thrilled with the experience. I discovered that suspending from my ankles really did little for my spine and there wasn’t a whole lot else to do besides just hang there. It was not too long before I decided to give away my Gravity Boots and abandon the practice of hanging upside down for a while.
Fast forward many years later, during a teacher training trip in India I came across another method of suspending — this time from broad cotton ropes that supported me at the hips. I really liked how this technique made my back feel, but the ropes were far from comfortable and bruised my flesh.
However, with the development of the YogiGym® Suspension Sling — a parachute hammock with a foam insert and 3 levels of handles, everything changed. The comfortable design and safe structure of the equipment transformed suspended inversions and aerial movements became accessible for individuals regardless of size, ability or age.
It has been 5 years since Suspension Yoga classes were first introduced at The Flying Yogi studio. During that time, many people have reported tremendous benefits from regularly using gravity to decompress their spines and the support of the YogiGym® Suspension Sling to accelerate their advancement in the more challenging yoga postures such as arm balances, back bends and head stands.
Over the years, curiosity about my new-found passion has led me to research the origins and uses of suspending and inverting throughout history.
The benefits to inverting have been recognized by yoga practitioners for centuries. They understood the need to counteract the negative effect that gravity has on our bodies and that being upside down was a basic, natural function mandatory to maintaining good health, longevity and a sense of well being.
Records exist of a 5,000 year old text titled Kurunta (the word means “puppet” in Sanskrit), which references the use of ropes in postures. This text was discovered by the late yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar via his guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of Ashtanga Yoga. It inspired him to further develop this practice with props. As I mentioned earlier, the use of ropes is still being practiced at Iyengar schools today.
There is also evidence that suspended inversions were used as a form of therapy as far back to 400 BC, when Hippocrates inverted his patients with ropes and pulleys to harness the healing powers of gravity.
Centuries later in the 1960s, Dr. Robert Martin, a Californian osteopath, chiropractor and medical doctor, introduced the “Gravity Guidance System”, the first compilation of scientific studies and findings on the benefits of inversion therapy using his invention, the Gravity Boot.
There are many reported benefits of Suspension Yoga. In addition to improved joint mobility and spinal health, Dr. Robert Martin’s research revealed that brain function improved when in an inverted state and that the human body could relax 35% more deeply. Also, improved circulation resulted in blood purification and enhanced immune function. Further medical studies have confirmed that an increase of oxygenation to the brain is instrumental in averting dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Dr. Martin’s studies, what many of us have considered the symptoms of aging are, in fact, the result of the adverse effects that the stresses of gravity impose on the human body and, when we learn to manage our gravity, we can also manage and often reverse the aging process. Symptoms such as loss of tonicity of the skin, prolapsed organs, compressed vertebrae or reduced neurotransmitter activity resulting in depression can be reversed or dramatically alleviated with regular inverting.
When we observe children at play, it is easy to see how we once behaved as human beings a long time ago — swinging by our arms through trees, hanging upside down by our knees, doing cartwheels and somersaults. Sadly, once children start attending school and are forced to spend hours hunched over computer monitors, this joy-filled freedom of movement gives way to an onset of postural problems resulting in a loss of flexibility and reduction in mobility. Unchecked, these conditions continue to deteriorate more rapidly when we become adults, resulting in chronic back problems a well as many other health related issues over time.
Yet many people will avoid inverting because they cannot perform headstands or handstands safely without fear of causing further injurious strain to the body. However, with the introduction of suspended inverting, many of these constraints and concerns are eliminated, liberating the body to stretch more deeply, the spine to decompress more easily and, the mobility to our joints to become rapidly restored as we move freely and happily through space as our bodies were designed to do.
Like its predecessors, Suspension Yoga’s™ primary function was, and continues to be, the development and maintenance of a healthy spine but, through continuous use and exploration, more and more ways of applying this technology are being discovered.
Suffice it to say that Suspension Yoga has become a hybrid practice that incorporates yoga with strength training, spinal therapy and some inventive high- flying fun!