Anti-gravity yoga is the new celebrity fitness craze
Anti-Gravity Yoga is said to increase tone and flexibility but is there easier ways to get a six pack?
Hanging upside down from the ceiling by your toes, feeling like a sweaty, dizzy bat and expecting to crash to the ground at any moment... You do wonder if there are not easier ways to get a six-pack.
There must certainly be more dignified methods, because Anti-Gravity Yoga is definitely not for those with an aversion to looking silly.
But if you have ever harboured a secret desire to run away to the circus, or just go back to childhood days of swinging from ropes and trees, this could be the most fun you can have with your gym gear on.
Anti-Gravity Yoga, inversion therapy, Teeter Tables and Grav-Boots are part of the latest fitness and wellness trends coming out of (of course) California.
Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown swear by daily inversion sessions, while elite athletes and even US Special Forces soldiers use the techniques to recover from injury and build tone, flexibility and core-strength.
My own introduction to the world of swinging upside down from a silk sling takes place in a posh Virgin Active Gym in the financial district of London.
Our instructor, a very calm Swiss lady called Esther Wiget, places us in front of our slings, basically miniature silk hammocks hanging from the ceiling by the kind of metal rings used by mountaineers to secure ropes.
"Don't worry, they are rated to take one tonne in weight," she tells us, as we all do some quick mental arithmetic to establish safety margins.
Within moments, following some simple instructions, we are hanging completely upside down, with just our ankles wrapped around the silk fabric, toes to the ceiling, heads to the ground.
For the next 45 minutes, we run through a series of exercises, swinging, flipping and hanging in a variety of poses.
There are also punishing mid-air stomach crunches, yoga positions and lots of flipping like acrobats.
Our instructor has been doing anti-grav classes in yoga for a year-and-a-half.
"It's been in America for about 10 years, but it's only really started over here pretty recently," she says.
Esther credits a Drogheda- based fitness group, Labfitness, with helping to introduce Anti-Grav Yoga on this side of the Atlantic.
"They have done a lot of training of instructors in Britain and Europe," she says.
And Esther says Anti-Grav Yoga is one of the hot fitness trends of the moment.
"It's really popular now, it's that element of combining fun and fitness."
Esther says it is not dangerous, as long as you follow your instructor's moves.
"You are not that high off the ground. But if you don't follow the instructor's advice, you can slide out. It's not something you would just want to try for the first time by yourself at home.
"But, done properly, it's great for decompressing the spine, for core strength and stretching and loosening the body. Compared to traditional yoga, which can take some time to get the techniques down properly, from the very start you are in inversion and getting those benefits."
Anti-Grav Yoga is just one part of a growing number of inversion therapies.
In the UK, high street retailers such as John Lewis are now selling Teeter Tables, which use ankle straps to lock the body in place before total inversion.
Hanging upside down for 20 minutes a day or so is said to benefit everything from back and spine strength to brain function, your complexion and even hair growth.
A study done of members of US Special Forces units which had used Teeter Tables and Grav-Boots to treat back injuries found conclusive evidence that inversion therapy helped. But obviously, mere mortals with bad backs might want to talk to their doctors before hanging upside down for several hours a day.
Actress Eva Mendes says she often lies upside down on a hi-tech inversion table for about 20 minutes before a photoshoot as she finds it boosts her complexion.
The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown claims to have used daily inversion sessions to cure himself of chronic writer's block.
From my own first experience of hanging upside down, it didn't immediately inspire a best-selling mystery novel or promote a movie star complexion. But it is a lot of fun.
If you are interested in taking up Anti-Gravity Yoga there are classes in various venues across Ireland. Check out antigravityyoga.ie for local centres.