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Uplifting experience.

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The kingdom's fitness fanatics are being given the gift of flight at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay through AntiGravity Yoga sessions that promote emotional, psychological and spiritual health, writes Mai Al Khatib-Camille.

The acrobatic aerial art form allows gym-goers and yoga buffs to suspend, swing and soar in mid-air on a hammock that can withstand up to 300 kilograms. The uplifting experience, founded by world-class gymnastics specialist and Broadway choreographer Christopher Harrison, is believed to increase strength and flexibility, relieve stress and alleviate back aches.

According to Chandarella Luzon, director of the spa, this is the first Four Seasons hotel in the Middle East and in Europe to offer the fantastic initiative.

She added: "We are also the only spa and hotel to provide this particular programme. It features a lot of benefits and the best part about it is that you can practice it at your own pace.

"When you are hanging upside down for example, it circulates oxygen to the brain which produces happy hormones and endorphins that relaxes and makes you laugh. It also provides strength training, flexibility and it really is good for lower back pain.

"Since we launched the classes it's been very popular and we have regular members, hotel guests and even outside guests coming to practice the aerial moves."

The five-star hotel set up a soothing, light-filled space with six silky slings, known as the Harrison Hammock, to be used by men and women aged 16 and above, of all shapes and sizes at the unisex fitness facility. It's such a versatile workout that anyone can take part, whatever their fitness level.

It was approved by the mastermind himself who flew into the kingdom to train instructors on how to become 'frequent flyers' themselves. He also introduced his series of yoga, Pilates and callisthenic-inspired movements and techniques to Bahrain's health community.

Although I didn't get the privilege to see the gravity-defying genius in action, I did get the opportunity to experience the high-flying techniques first hand under the piloting of one his certified instructors.

With Galyna Soldatova, aka Zander, by my side, I was more than ready to rise to the occasion. Before making my move to the gym, I was taken away to be dressed in comfortable garb for my magical hammock ride. While walking through the spa, which features 17 treatment rooms, five different swimming experiences, a beauty salon, barber shop and a Spa boutique, I was whisked away by sweet scents of lavender and other flowery fragrances, putting me in the right frame of mind for the aerial challenge.

The studio was bright and airy, the perfect weather to fly in. Zander introduced me to my humble hammock and walked me through what we would be performing from Flying Dragon to Third Eye Prayer and, of course, the piece de resistance flying. She asked me to keep an open mind and stated Harrison's guarantee: "If you can 'suspend your disbelief', then I can bring you to better health and less pain, allowing you to feel the joy of flying and actually increase your physical height -- in just one session." You mean, I will no longer be 5ft 2in? I should've signed up ages ago.

Zander guided me step by step on how to properly grasp my hammock and sit in it. Safety comes first when mastering the hammock, something Harrison emphasises on.

My first task was to be inverted, which apparently does the body good. Zander said: "It stretches your spine and makes you taller. When you turn upside down, it circulates the blood all around your body and also circulates happy hormones like oxytocin and dopamine into your brain. It makes you a little light-headed but it recalibrates your body and mind to reunite your spirit and body."

Standing in front of the sling, I shook it out and folded it up as per her instructions. I then hooked the edges with my thumbs, pulling it down behind me and in one swift motion, hopped into the hammock and was snuggled by the flouncy fabric. I tugged the edges of the fabric towards my knees and was ready for the next step.

I then straddled my legs up and around the fabric, bringing my feet together like a diamond in the sky as my upper body fell back to the ground. All that was left was to let go of the fabric and trust in my body to stay lifted. After a deep breath, I released my death grip and I was inverted as well as pink in the face from the gush of blood that went straight to my head. Hanging freely, I could feel the tension in my back loosen up and the kinks in my neck fade away. This was an overwhelming feeling and I couldn't wait to try the other poses.

After a few stretches, we went onto experience Harrison's twist on the classic Sun Salutation and other exciting movements such as the Mountain Peak, the Chair and the Third Eye Prayer. These movements were done consecutively, moving from reaching backwards to stretch my body to the sky, or in this case the mountains, followed by sitting back neatly in a chair position to open up my chakras. The next section was called cat and cow. I meowed, or more so roared like a tiger arching my back as I pushed the fabric forward and then mooed to the stars like a cow as I pulled the fabric downwards to release the tension. This also is a great stretch and activates your muscles.

The Downward Dog and Flying Dog works like a deep tissue massage, especially for hips and thighs. It also targets mobility and flexibility of the joints. At one point, I hopped back into the hammock to get ready to swing and to do the impossible... to fly. I found my balance and began to swing back and forth and then came the hardest part... letting go. She told me to believe and to trust in my body. Something Tinkerbelle would say. I closed my eyes and let go with the fabric holding me up by my hips as I leaned back and submitted to its power. I was flying and it was glorious. Peter Pan would have been proud as I started to scream "I can fly!"

Then we became flying dragons. I placed the fabric under my tummy and legs and held Zander's hand. Hotel guests eventually surrounded the studio to watch as we began to sway in unison and fly as dragons.

We also turned into silkworms as we pulled the fabric around us like a cocoon and began to wiggle. I would arch my back, stretching out in the fabric and then curl into a ball. I knew my time had come to an end when I was flat on my back, still covered in the soft fabric, and left alone with my thoughts. She placed her phone on my belly and asked me to breathe, feel the vibrations and listen to the serene sounds that were playing. After a few minutes I was in my own private cocoon ready to be reborn like a butterfly.

At the end I emerged, rejuvenated, relaxed and stress-free. But before I left, Zander showed me Grammy Award-winner Mariah Carey's famous AntiGravity pose that she performed during her Charm Bracelet tour.

She isn't the first celebrity to be bitten by the aerial yoga bug as Ironman's Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it, saying it's the secret to her health and fitness. Since launching AntiGravity Yoga in 2007 in the US through an international fitness chain, Harrison's trademark techniques have been flourishing in gyms and studios in more than 30 countries including in Madonna's Hard Candy Fitness and in Richard Branson's Virgin Active. It's even used to shock and dazzle at various entertainment events.

After completing my 60-minute session, I was invited to use the spa facilities, a treat that all AntiGravity members will get to enjoy.

Overall, working out just got a lot more fun and all that is required is to breathe, open your mind and let go. So what are you waiting for?

The class costs BD35 for hotel guests and gym members and its priced BD55 for non-members. Participants will also get access to the spa facilities such as steam, whirlpool, salt inhalation room and cooling mist.

For group classes of six, a session is BD240.

For details, contact 17115000 or email spareception.bah@fourseasons.com.

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Jan 6, 2016
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