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Roman Acevedo on Aerial Yoga and Opening His Own Studio, Ra Yoga, in Downtown Phoenix

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See also: Weekly Freebie: Three Spots for Summer Yoga in Metro Phoenix See also: Astrophysicist Jeff Hester on The Poetry of Science, Hot Yoga, and Bertrand Russell

"Working out" might bring to mind images of slaving away on machines at the gym, running long hours in the heat, or generally toiling away somewhere, anywhere that you don't actually want to be. But getting in shape doesn't have to feel like work if you love what you're doing.

Yeah, you've heard that before -- probably from the few people who genuinely enjoy doing three sets of 15 reps for each muscle group on a carefully planned schedule. But what if there was a workout as tough as cross-training that retains the joy of bounding around the playground as a kid? No one's making any promises here, but to some, at least, that workout is aerial yoga.

Aerial yoga (aka anti-gravity yoga) takes traditional yoga asanas (poses) and adds a big piece of fabric that hangs from the ceiling, kind of like a lightweight hammock. However, lightweight does not mean that the fabric, called a silk, isn't capable of securely holding full-grown adults. Once you get used to working with it in different ways, you gain a lot of trust in the silk. When stretching, you can let your body sink into the fabric, extending your muscles for maximum benefit.

But don't think that aerial yoga is easy or slow; there's a lot of strength building involved, such as different varieties of pull-ups, and most moves use your full body. If you're giving it your all, aerial yoga can burn upwards of 400 calories per hour, and you will definitely feel it the next day or two.

In Phoenix, there are only a couple of places to try aerial yoga: Ra Yoga, located Downtown on First and Jackson Streets, and Tough Lotus, newly opened in Chandler.

Roman Acevedo, owner of Ra Yoga, is working hard on expanding the studio's offerings (including upcoming lessons in aerial silks). For now, Ra's FLYoga classes are every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; registration is online, and don't be daunted if the classes are full. There are often extra openings -- so if you're ready to get started, swing on by to see if you can snag a spot.

The first part of class is a mix of core-strengthening stretches and old standards like push-ups and crunches made tougher by keeping with your feet suspended in the swing. Then there are a variety of handstands -- when supported by the fabric, everyone can do them -- as well as some backbends and other inversions. The really fun stuff is saved for last, getting up into the air with poses like flying splits (no ability to actually do the splits required), floating angel, and Dracula.

We recently sat down with Roman to learn more about his studio and the benefits of aerial yoga.

What first piqued your interest in yoga, before getting into aerial?

Yoga started for me in 2000. It was really just another part of my exercise routine, other than typical weight training. I heard a lot of benefits about it. I struggled at the time with anxiety and subtle panic attacks and was told that might be a good way to go, because unfortunately they wanted to put me on medication like they do with everybody. The minute you say you have anxiety, they want to give you a drug. I said there's got to be a better way, so I started doing yoga, and it's been great ever since. So I keep it up because it helps physically and mentally; it keeps me balanced.

So how did you get into aerial yoga after that?

Well, the aerial started when a friend of mine said, "Hey, check this out on the web," and showed me a video, and I thought that was very interesting. We wanted to open a yoga studio that was free for the community. I wanted it to be a community-based project, something other than just another yoga studio. You know, there are lots of studios here in Phoenix, so we wanted something a little different, and this is how we ended up going about it.

Have you noticed any specific benefits from practicing aerial yoga in addition to your regular yoga practice?

I have. In regular yoga, you spend years trying to perfect a headstand, a handstand, a shoulderstand, and in aerial yoga, you're able to do this on the first day and reap the benefits. And the benefits of being upside down and in inversions are tremendous: there's spinal decompression, drainage that goes on with the glands, oxygenation of the spinal cord, and more. For me it just feels really good to keep that traction going and get that nice deep stretch. I find I'm able to get into deeper stretches than what I was before.

For people who maybe don't do yoga but think aerial yoga looks fun, what kind of fitness level should they be at?

I think you just want to get checked out by your doctor before starting any kind of exercise, make sure you're ready for it. Other than that, everyone knows what they're capable of doing and what they aren't, and the teachers are trained to help identify that and make sure everyone's safe.

Are there are a lot modifications, then, for people who may not have as developed of abilities?

Tons, absolutely. There are all kinds of modifications to help people along. But, you'd be surprised -- everyone thinks, "Oh, I can't do that, and I can't do that," but suddenly they're like, "Where's my camera phone because I didn't know I could do that, and I want a picture of it!" We're actually stronger than we think.

Stay tuned for more from Roman Acevedo, when we'll find out about what other projects Ra is working on to help the local community.

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