Aerial yoga offers sky-high fitness fun

I walked into Berkshire Fitness Company (BeFitCo.) on Water Street early on a recent Wednesday. The airy studio was still almost empty, but Lisa Wilk, an assistant trainer at the College, greeted Marcos Soto ’19 and me with a smile and led us to the back, where 10 long pieces of silk hung from the ceiling. It was our first aerial silks yoga class, “BeFIT Silks Yoga & Pilates,” which Wilk teaches twice weekly before her full-time job in the College’s athletics department.

Wilk started teaching at BeFitCo. a year and a half ago, three months after walking in herself to try an aerial class taught by studio owner Robin Dufour and getting “hooked” on this exercise form, Wilk explained. “I have been teaching fitness classes of some form on and off since high school,” she said. “Aerial is definitely my favorite – it feels more creative and fun than a regular workout. [I] also love how proud people are after they try and succeed with a new move in aerial. It lets people know they are capable of things they never thought they could.” Wilk also said her background in dance helps inform her aerial teaching.

Dufour, a physical therapist, decided to include aerial silks when she opened BeFitCo. two years ago. “I didn’t want to have a bunch of clunky equipment in the space,” she said. “What we do with the silks is different – we’ve created our own programs with the silks. … We take what our skill sets are as instructors and then we use the silks as a tool to enhance the movement. Everything we do here is unique.”

Wilk assured us that the aerial class would be accessible to us and that any move could be modified if we let her know. “I didn’t know much going in, like what aerial yoga would be about,” Soto said. “But the way the class is structured, you kind of ease into positions and by the end you feel comfortable on the silk ribbon.”

For the class, we each picked one of the soft blue, white and black silks, draped through loops so that you could tug on either side. The class started on solid ground as we got comfortable with the silks, using it to stretch as we stood on yoga mats. We also did more traditional yoga warm-ups, like sun salutations.

Wilk then showed us how to tie a knot in the fabric that made it into a loop, creating a surprisingly strong sort of silk hammock to work with for the rest of the class.

With the knotted loop, we did more creative moves, both on the ground and in the air. In the air, sitting and lying in the silk like a hammock, we did some standard abs moves that were much harder without a solid surface to support you. Soto and I spent a lot of the class laughing when we couldn’t control our silks and would spin all around, but we were also able to do all the moves Wilk took us through.

The class ended with fun inversions, starting with an upside-down boat pose that progressed naturally from the floating exercises, and then a real inversion, head down and feet in the air, hanging just from the silks. Wilk said she always ends her classes with some kind of “trick” or inversion.

BeFitCo.’s aerial classes combine elements of yoga and Pilates with the added fun and challenge of getting off the ground. As Wilk put it, “BeFit Company has a very warm and zen atmosphere [that] just makes you want to be there. People in class are also very encouraging and supporting of each other.”

Wilk and Dufour are excited about welcoming students at the College to their aerial classes. BeFitCo. has even hosted entire College sports teams in the studio at times, to try cross-training on the silks and other specialized equipment the studio has to offer. “Our passion is really to help people with their performance, pain issues and fitness, of course,” Dufour said. The different specialists, including personal trainers and physical therapists, “communicate so that everybody is safe and you don’t have to stop working out because you got hurt,” Dufour added. “Our mission is to help people with their own solutions. [If other approaches haven’t worked] we’re able to help them down a different path.”

Soto said he hopes to be back in a BeFitCo. aerial class soon. “It’s a way to get a different type of workout in, compared to your conventional gym or weight room – to mix up your workout routine in a fun, creative and challenging way,” he said.