Hannah Brown doesn’t look like your average septuagenarian — her smooth skin, twinkling eyes and vivacious character could easily knock 15 years off her age. But even considering she’s so clearly young at heart, it’s a bit of shock to hear that her favourite new activity is hanging upside down while suspended from a height of 24 feet, practising aerial yoga at Salt Spring’s Flying Dreams Studio.
“How can anyone not want to hang upside down? It’s so great,” Brown ponders.
“I’m enjoying it enormously — it’s so fun.”
Aerial artist and now, aerial yoga instructor, Victoria Mihalyi is another woman whose true age is impossible to guess. While rumours put her in her mid-50s, she in fact just turned 61.
Mihalyi, like Brown, is not afraid of trying out new physical challenges. The dancer and actress didn’t take up the art of circus until she was in her 40s. Since then she’s created and choreographed aerial shows and taught many islanders how to swing from the silks. Now with a teacher’s certificate in aerial yoga under her belt, she’s offering a whole new world of fitness suitable for people of any age, in classes held two times a week at her hill-top studio.
Aerial yoga was pioneered simultaneously by two women in the United States, and has since swept the fitness world to become a hot trend in New York City and beyond. Mihalyi learned the technique from one of the innovators in Boulder, Col.
Aerial yoga helps practitioners build up core strength, as well as strengthening the upper body and legs.Though practised with silks, the fabric is more supportive and wider than those used for aerial performance, forming a suspended hammock to support deep stretches, inversions and relaxation techniques.
“It’s wonderful exercise. You can work aerobically with almost no impact, and you’re building strength up physically, but also in the mind,” Mihalyi said.
For someone like Brown, who endured a major back injury from a car accident in her 30s, the supportive hammock allows her to exercise without fear of aggravating old problems or incurring new injuries. It also helps decompress the spine — Mihalyi said some people claim to gain an inch or two in height immediately after a class.
Practised in the beautiful church-shaped building known as The Temple — which boasts a 40-foot roof height at its centre peak and an oversized chapel window with views of Trincomali Channel — a holistic sense of well-being is immediately evident.
“It’s a wonderful place to do aerial yoga, too, because it always feels safe,” Brown said.
That has to do with the engineering that went into the building’s construction, with 1,000-lb. load-bearing beams able to support an entire troupe of aerialists at one time. But it also has to do with the emotional environment.
Mihalyi has supported Brown through the initial stages of getting into the silk hammock and into basic poses. She’s now working on an inversion that will take her legs up and out into the splits — and she credits her teacher’s leadership with much of the reason she’s come to that point.
Brown’s own self-determination and willingness to ease into poses are other important factors.
“I don’t feel bad if I can’t do something. I just say, ‘Well, maybe next week,’” she explained, adding, “If I think, ‘I can’t do this,’ I’m finished.”
Mihalyi feels that kind of attitude is crucial for anyone hoping to improve their fitness levels, but especially for those getting on in years.
“We need a vision of how we are as we get older. We don’t have to conform to the negative connotations of what getting older is,” she said.
Flying Dreams aerial yoga recently started up its second round of six sessions. While most of Mihalyi’s students are women in their 20s and 30s, there’s no reason why more people like Brown can’t join in.
“I’m delighted. I wish I could get more of my friends to come and try it,” said Brown, who joked she was going to start with the 40s crowd first because her friends in their 70s would run her out of town.
In all seriousness, though, Mihalyi reports aerial yoga is a fun way to exercise that’s accessible to anyone.
“It’s not for everybody necessarily — you have to have the will,” she said.
“If you want it, you will do it.”
Classes are Mondays at 11 a.m. and Thursdays at 4:45 p.m. at the Flying Dreams Studio at 112 Sun Eagle Drive. Drop-in classes and sets of six are available.
Call 250-537-4840 for more information.