TRAVERSE CITY — Maggie Barnard asked for — and got — a swing set for her birthday this week. She is not a kid; she's a newly-certified Ascension yoga teacher.
Barnard's gift — two swings in the backyard — is the perfect present for multiple reasons, she said. Hanging upside down bat-like is good for everything from improving posture to increasing circulation, but it's also just plain fun. Her nylon yoga swing lets her move fluidly from handstand to splits to seated.
"I love it," Barnard said. "It just makes me happy."
Barnard takes the Ascension yoga class at Traverse City's Shanti School of Yoga where they maintain anyone — well, anyone without certain preexisting health conditions — can do aerial handstands.
Barefoot students file in with their mats, grabbing swings from the rack and a chair to stand on. They stake out spots with two quick clicks. The sunlit "ascension" room holds many students — 52 people came to last weekend's free Om Gentle Yoga class — but Ascension yoga class is capped between eight and 12, said Lesley Rain O'Dwyer, who co-owns the studio with Kelly Stiglich.
Class begins with "shavasana," or "corpse pose," and the studio becomes a sea of hanging, gently swaying seed pods. Students nestle quietly in their chrysalis, pulling up the sides of the their swings to physically and mentally block out the outside world and focus on their inner one. Then, they emerge and the work begins. Stiglich leads the class through a sequence of poses, employing the swing not just to keep students steady but to deepen their movements. Then inversions, and wheee! the class lets go, arced bodies swinging through the air with faces smiling in a move called "flying locust."