Aerial fusion: Airborne yoga takes flight

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. — The hammocks are so deceiving. Hanging in the middle of the workout studio, they beckon like a willing partner. Yeah, you’re going to help me stretch, you think. And it’s going to be so easy because you’re made of silk and you are soft and you’re so stretchy.

What you are about to embark on is ostensibly an exercise regimen somewhere between Cirque du Soleil, boot camp and a nice sleepover where the limber girls come and do some stuff with your mom’s best 600-count sheets.

This tidy workout has its devotees climbing into, over and through the hammocky slings, doing amazing things with their toes pointed and their cores engaged and their backs as straight as planks. And then there’s the rest of us.

But we are here to try to make our backs be planks and make our cores strong and learn how to make the hammocks our friends and not our beds.

Let the aerial fusion yoga begin. Kelly Goss asks the afternoon class at OC Pole Fitness in Aliso Viejo to “Come into your Buddha. Hands into prayer.”

Goss is smiling and talking, though almost reverentially checking everyone’s ability, comfort and challenge level.

Too pressed by a move? She has a dial-down for you. Not working hard enough? She’s got a dial-up ready.

Still, how can a class where the whole object is to get you off the ground and into poses that are named, appropriately, Flying Swan and Skydive and Killer Warrior, not be a scream? I mean, there’s a point in the progression when you actually get to swing in your hammock, a la kindergarten.

And Goss leads this class through these paces fearlessly, using the hammock alternately like a ballet barre, as a partner, as a sling, as a secured and safety-belted monkey bar, as an anti-gravitational resistance against which to decompress her spine and stretch out her muscles.

The theory is old-school, with a fresh twist: With your body weight partially or fully supported by the hammock, you can explore posture and create the kinds of relaxation space that traditional yoga was designed to achieve.

“I have ice-cream-eating-head now,” someone notes in mid-class while upside-down. Everyone laughs in agreement at the brain-freeze reference.

Goss reminds that you need to come out of these poses slowly, taking time to allow the blood to return to your head.

Elizabeth Blanchard, 33, is talking about how her neck is feeling so much better after that stretch. Goss asks her how she hurt her neck. Blanchard mentions an early-morning hair flip gone awry.

Again, so much camaraderie and joy. The class continues to work and play.

Each session can be tailored to the abilities of the class, says Goss, who swears beginners have no difficulty finding this workout very doable.

As she pushes this class of well-toned beginners to progressively tougher skills, she finds them up to the challenge. She gets out of her sling regularly to spot them — to help them point their toes, to fix poses, to whisper encouragement.

“You should be able to relax right now,” she says while in a particularly tough stance. “I’m not saying it is relaxing.”

Becky Olender, 35, her head straight down, her legs crossed above her, remarks that she “feels like a baby in utero.”

Some devotees advertise that aerial fusion yoga will do everything from banish cellulite to nourish your skin, from cure phobias to up your creativity. Goss tends to talk a little more in terms of what she knows.

“It’s good for fitness,” she says, recommending it for athletes or anyone else who needs strength or stretch in their muscles. Or maybe someone who would like some calm. Or a change in their exercise routine.

There was much that was familiar here. Except for the final step.

Goss directed everyone to climb into their hammock and lie inside. She even instructed a safe way to do that so no one could fall out in the doing.

And, for a few minutes, there was a slight swaying and swinging. Women in cocoons of purple silk, laughing quietly about who was more high-maintenance and when they could do it again.