Aerial Yoga from an Occupational Therapist’s perspective

When I first came across the Yogapeutics site I was hooked. I had heard of aerial yoga before but I had not fully explored it. As OTs using a sensory integrative frame of reference when working with children, aerial yoga is so exciting!  We use suspended equipment every day  with our clients, and we are always challenging ourselves to come up with new activities, novel ways of using equipment and engaging our kids sensory systems.

The complexity and power of the vestibular system is fascinating to me. It is our sense of movement, contributing to our ability to maintain balance and know where we are in space.  The vestibular system is the only sensory system with direct connections to the cerebellum, and these connections are integral in controlling eye and head movements. It projects to the reticular formation and allows our body to adjust breathing and circulation when the body changes position. It effects our ability to coordinate two sides of the body, maintain attention and organization, maintain postural control, effectively use visual-spatial skills and ocular motor skills. This is only a brief overview of the vestibular system and all of its functions.

Swinging back and forth, jumping up and down and spinning are just a few ways in which we work this system.  Inversion (going upside-down) is  a super powerful way to provide vestibular input!  When children recognize where they are in space and have efficient balance, they are better able to  motor plan the movements necessary for engagement in childhood play.   

There is another system which plays a very important role in body awareness and motor planning.  This system is the proprioceptive sense. The proprioceptive system sends us messages from our muscles and joints. Proprioception can be organizing and calming in addition to being critical for motor planning and coordination. When engaged in climbing, jumping and rolling, children activate this system. Pressure from the hammocks, traction from pulling and hanging all provide proprioceptive input to the muscles and joint of the body.

During an Aerial Yoga class our children activate both the vestibular and proprioceptive systems!    In addition, the hammocks  used in certain Aerial Yoga poses  creates a “womb space”, that can be very calming.

As adults we do not get as much vestibular input as children, and many adults are uncomfortable changing their head position, inverting themselves, swinging or moving in space. Having a strong vestibular system is as important for adults as it is children!

Many poses performed inside the hammocks help to develop upper body and hand strength as the child reaches upward and downward to hold onto the hammocks and even pull themselves up activating their upper body.

As OTs we are able to identify areas that may be impacting a person’s functional abilities and their ability to perform a movement or participate in a class. We can tailor the instruction to meet those needs and push the student outside of their comfort zone.