Downtown Camas studio offers aerial yoga

Virtuosity Performing Arts Studio classes add challenge to traditional poses

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



If You Go

• What: Aerial yoga and fitness.

• When: Adult classes are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; youth class is Thursdays.

• Where: Virtuosity Performing Arts Studio/VEGA, 240 N.E. Third Ave., Camas.

• Cost: New client pass $40 for three weeks, drop-in $17, packages also available.

• Information:

CAMAS — Diana Alcomendas stands before the seven people attending her class and tells them to prepare for an inversion.

She grabs the edges of the purple silk hammock suspended from the ceiling, bunching the fabric in her hands and forming a band across the back of her waist. She leans back, balancing her weight on the hammock and lifts her legs off the ground. Her legs wrap around the sides of the hanging fabric, her ankles locking her body in place.

Her head lowers, hovering inches above the ground, and her arms dangle. She takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly, encouraging the rest of the class to do the same.

Alcomendas frees herself from the hammock — unhooking her ankles and flipping her body upward in a matter of seconds. She walks around the dance studio, checking on the seven women hanging upside down from brightly colored hammocks. She stops the swaying of some hammocks and encourages some participants to slowly slide their ankles down closer to their hips.

After a few minutes, Alcomendas directs the women to lift their chins to their chests and use their arms to pull themselves upright.

“If you’re still getting used to your inversions, you might notice a little tingling in your toes,” Alcomendas tells them.

That will subside the more time they spend upside down, she explains.

Alcomendas takes her place at the front of the room, a wall of mirrors giving her a view of the class, and takes the students through the next series of moves — warrior poses that may be familiar to those who take more traditional yoga classes.

Though the participants of Alcomendas’ aerial yoga class spend a considerable amount of the hourlong class off the ground, the class is still rooted in yoga.

“It’s the most similar to traditional yoga,” Alcomendas said. “You will hold your poses but with the aid and challenge of the hammock.”

Gretchen Stelter, 34, has been taking the class with Alcomendas for a couple of weeks, but she’s not an aerial yoga newbie. For about two years, she took similar classes at a Portland studio. Since then, she has had hip surgery and struggles with scar tissue restricting her hip movement. The class, particularly the inversions, has helped loosen that tissue, she said. The class also helps Stelter to relax after sitting at her desk all day at work.

“I like getting upside down,” she said. “It’s fun to have something that’s a little wacky.”

The yoga class is one of several new aerial classes Alcomendas has brought to downtown Camas this fall.

Alcomendas has been teaching dance for 16 years. This summer, she was in New York for ballet classes and training when someone told her about aerial yoga. She decided to check out a class while she was in town.

“I left thinking that was probably one of the most fun classes I’ve ever taken,” Alcomendas said.

Alcomendas wanted to bring the program to Camas, where she works as a dance instructor at Virtuosity Performing Arts Studio.

“It was partly for selfish reasons,” she said. “I enjoy it.”

But she also wanted to offer something new and different for the adults in Camas — for the parents who bring their kids to dance, cheerleading or gymnastics classes at the studio.

Alcomendas returned to New York to undergo two weeks of AntiGravity Fitness instructor training at the same facility where she took her first class, a studio owned by the creator of aerial yoga.

And last month, Alcomendas began offering her first aerial yoga and fitness classes in Clark County.

Alcomendas offers four AntiGravity classes: fundamentals, aerial yoga, suspension fitness and restorative yoga. All the classes use the silk hammocks.

The fundamentals class helps get people used to using the hammocks and the basic grips, arm wraps and leg traps needed for aerial classes. The restorative yoga class focuses on relaxation, stretching and visualization.

The suspension fitness class is more fast-paced and physically demanding, working both small and large muscle groups.

“It’s a killer ab workout,” Alcomendas said.

And aerial yoga emphasizes strength and flexibility, while using many of the traditional yoga poses.

Hillary Gillespie, 35, has been doing yoga since she was 20 years old. A friend told her about the aerial yoga class a few weeks ago, and she had to check it out.

“I get a way better stretch than I do with any other yoga classes,” Gillespie said.

When Gillespie attended her first class, she was apprehensive about the inversions — something that Alcomendas sees from many new participants.

“People automatically think they can’t do it,” Alcomendas said.

But when she stands beside the person and guides them through the move, they’re surprised to find they can perform the inversion with ease, she said.

That was the case with Gillespie, who insists she isn’t flexible.

“I think when you look at it, it looks a little intimidating,” Gillespie said. “But it really isn’t as hard as it looks.”

People also often have concerns about the hammocks being able to hold their weight. But, Alcomendas said, the hammocks are designed to support more than 1,000 pounds.

The classes are open to people of all fitness levels. Alcomendas recommends new people take the fundamental class a couple of times to start. But after that, anyone who can do three consecutive sit-ups can do the aerial yoga and suspension fitness classes and get a good, fun workout, Alcomendas said.

“It’s like a circus art,” she said.