I admit it: I’m a yoga junkie. I’m not incredibly well practiced or unusually flexible, but after five months of regular classes, I’m getting there. For me, it was the mental clarity that hooked me on yoga – the fitness (and all of the new muscle definition that comes with it) was just a really nice bonus. But now that I’ve conquered all of the easy stuff, I found myself looking for something outside of the downward facing dog/warrior two/cobra box. Advanced classes take away the essential meditative enjoyment for me, because they’re more focused on speed and physical challenge. So when I heard about anti-gravity yoga, a challenging practice done from hammocks suspended from the ceiling, I signed up immediately.
Raffa Yoga in Cranston offers two kinds of anti-gravity yoga: restorative anti-gravity yoga, and regular anti-gravity yoga. Thinking I was up for the challenge, I took the harder class first. Valerie, our incredibly limber (and up-beat for 9am on a Sunday) instructor, led us through the basics: how to get into the waist-high hammock, how to trust the sheer fabric to hold us while upside down. (“Trust your hammock,” she said. “It’s tested for 2000 pounds, so it can hold you and a baby elephant.”) In no time, we were hanging upside down in inverted poses. I’m not going to lie, it was challenging. I had never even heard of yoga poses like the Vitruvian Man or the Vampire, never mind have the muscle memory to pull them off gracefully. But swinging from the hammock was novel and fun – especially when we were standing in the hammocks like they were playground swings, soaring back and forth - and Valerie helped the less practiced among us modify the poses into more manageable ones.
The next weekend brought me back for restorative anti-gravity yoga, which was exactly what I had been looking for. In this practice, the hammock is about a foot off the ground, and you use it more to aid in balance and get deeper stretches in familiar yoga poses. We spent a lot of the class using the hammock to bolster our lower backs as we did unbelievable spine expansions and leg stretches. Once my focus was off of holding myself in the proper position to maintain balance, as it usually is in vinyasa classes, I could devote myself completely to stretching my muscles. It was amazing. When we were in what I’m calling levitated pigeon pose, it was the most true form of that stretch I had ever experienced. “This is what I’ve been missing,” I said to myself. I was sad when the class was over, which really didn’t help in Valerie’s mission: “I want everyone to leave here with a huge smile on their face,” she had said several times throughout the class.
After I left the yoga studio, I headed into Raffa’s Urban Sweat facility. Raffa isn’t your average yoga studio: they have a raw juice bar, several studio spaces, massage and facial rooms, and this totally unique thing that Christine Raffa told me I had to try while I was there. Urban Sweat is a series of sauna rooms. You buy a day pass, and move between the rooms as often and for as long as you like. There’s a Himilayan Salt Grotto where you lay down on big pieces of rock salt to breathe in the salt’s beneficial properties, which are especially good for the lungs. A Yellow Turmeric Room offers detoxification (which I was especially grateful for after a Saturday night on the town) and a Black Charcoal Room, at a whopping 180 degrees, which lowers inflammation and treats skin problems. My friend and I – it was really nice to have someone to chat with, as there’s only so much laying in one spot and reflecting you can do – went from these dry heat rooms into the Eucalyptus Steam Room, which was hands down our favorite. One room is a wet sauna with plenty of space to spread out and relax, and one room is a very hot steam room. We alternated between them and took advantage of the cold shower to help with the transition. After a couple of hours of yoga, and then a couple more of detoxification, we were ready to go – and it was only noon on a sunny Sunday. Later that day my skin was glowing, my mind was clear, and I felt better than I had in ages.