Diva Flow Yoga: Stretching on Silks, With a Side of Feminism

It's always summer in Miami, which means our population is just a little more fitness-obsessed than the denizens of the average flyover state. We're also a city obsessed with the shiniest, latest trend. So we're putting our asses on the line (literally) and sprinting, swimming, and suffering through the world of the latest designer group fitness classes in the Magic City.

The Class: Diva Flow Yoga, a ladies-only yoga fusion class that ends with some upside-down acrobatics.

The Venue: The Sweatshop, 4200 Laguna St., Coral Gables. This boutique gym, steps from the Village at Merrick Park, largely functions as a private training facility, but hosts a number of weekly classes open to the public. You can attend classes a la carte, buy class cards, or buy various memberships that get you unlimited classes and gym access.

Duration and Schedule: An hour and 15 minutes, once a week on Saturdays starting at 9:30 a.m.

The Concept:

Instructor Sari Velar, a yoga practitioner for the past 15 years and an instructor for the past four, created this yoga/acrobatic fusion class in an effort to create a fitness environment a little less focused just on the exterior.

"I am the survivor of a long battle with an eating disorder and body image issues. With so much pressure on way we look, I thought it was high time to focus on the way we feel and what our amazingly strong bodies can do," says Velar. "I wanted to create a class that celebrates the female form and its abilities regardless of shape or size. Although I am a purist at heart when it comes to my own yoga practice, I thought I'd mix it up."

In other words, it's an an empowering take on the current "aerial yoga" rage, which takes the practice into the air with poses done on aerial silks -- you know, those long loops of fabric usually reserved for circus people. In this particular class, the first 45 minutes consist of a beginning/intermediate yoga flow, and the final 30 minutes focus on the silks.

The soundtrack does away with the usual Enya/Bjork snooze-fest of many yoga classes and instead goes for a more energizing, all-xx-chromosome playlist of greats like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Beyonce.

The Experience:

First, let's talk about why this scheduling is a bit of genius. If you're really committed to getting healthier, then you're probably battling that Miami party devil on one shoulder. "Just have a few drinks at this random corporate-sponsored promotional event/happy hour/gallery opening/insert party occasion here and go home 'early,' like at 1 a.m.," he coos, his breath heavy with the juniper stink of free Bombay Sapphire. "That's soooo early compared to your bad friends who'll be out until 5 a.m. (or worse)."

Yeah, right. That never ends well. Since you have to reserve a space in advance for this Saturday-morning event, it's like guaranteed insurance you'll get your ass home early and sober. There's no better way to feel like a piece of shit than showing up hungover to freaking yoga, so the financial motivation of the reservation might be enough to get you into bed early, and then on to class the next morning. Double win from the start.

And you'll be so glad you did! Diva Flow Yoga is a soothing way to start the weekend off with activity that is gentle, stretchy, bendy, and just fun. That fun starts with the look of the venue itself -- the Sweatshop's dedicated yoga/aerial silks room is separated from the rest of the gym and covered in green astroturf, which is not only cheerful, but provides a little bit of extra cushioning under your yoga mat.

On a recent Saturday morning, the class consisted of about 10 women ranging from 20s to 40s, and fitness levels ranging from beginner to Michelle Obama arm status. There was no need to worry, though -- the first 45 minutes of pure yoga flowed, but not in the insanely fast way of so many Western, "workout"-oriented yoga classes.

We groaned through a couple sun salutations -- hello, it was early! -- a few warrior series, various hip openers and twisting poses. The sequence moved quickly enough to keep an experienced yogi from falling asleep, but didn't involve anything a beginner couldn't pick up on. Besides, with the intimate group setting, instructor Sari was just a few paces away to give a gentle adjustment or tip.

Then, with a release of the ropes, Velar let down the aerial silks. Okay, so at first glance, these loops of blue and white fabric didn't necessarily inspire a lot of confidence. No fear, though, assured Velar -- each hammock can support up to 1000 pounds of pressure, so if you're mobile, you can get into one of these things. We started out sitting in the silk hammocks and just swinging around. The experience was somewhere between getting on a playground swing and curling back up into the womb, both very soothing feelings at the start of a weekend.

Next came the actual workout-y part of this segment, which was more like open playtime and less like a rigorous set of instructions. You could climb up the silks and flip upside-down, girded by various folds throughout your legs for security. Or you could pull yourself up the sides of the hammock for a little shoulder work. Or you could do this crazy thing called "the Vampire" which involves cocooning yourself in the fabric, then carefully flipping yourself upside down so it was like you were flying, but entangled in a huge cape.

For more recognizable yoga poses, there was the hip-killing pigeon pose, for instance, with the forward bent leg instead suspended in the fabric for a deeper stretch. As not fun as this pose is on the ground, your tendons will shriek even more when you add the silk to the mix -- but it hurts so good!

All in all, this was a workout that never felt like a "workout" per se -- this was more about being nice to your body than torturing it. There's plenty of time for that the night after the class, anyways.

The Aftermath: The soreness factor is a refreshing just one or two out of five, but your mileage may vary depending on your own flexibility and upper-body strength, and on how crazy you want to get during the less-structured, silk-oriented part of the class.

Good for Beginners? Yes, though a little yoga experience and strength will help you get more out of the experience.

Caveats: "If you have any medical issues that may prevent you from inverting such as neurological conditions, vertebral artery disease, spinal injury, glaucoma, heart conditions, or putting pressure on your skin, you definitely want to consult with your physician for clearance," says Velar. "Make your instructor aware of any concerns before class."

Price: $25 for a one-off class (though there is a discount for first-timers), or less if you buy class cards or a membership. At the upper end, an all-you-can-yoga pass for about $120 gets you unlimited yoga classes (not just Diva Flow) plus gym access.

For More Information: Visit the Sweatshop online at facebook.com/sweatshopmiami, call 305-724-3305, or email sariomyoga@gmail.com.

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