At Flying Buddha Studio, owner Sarah Rehman evangelizes the benefits of aerial yoga while expanding the boundaries of traditional fitness practices along the way.
The ancient practice of yoga may call to mind tranquil imagery of individuals seated in sukhasana: Legs crossed, eyes closed, palms up. Enter Rehman, whose Gaithersburg, Maryland-based business turns that vision on its head – quite literally. Her aerial yoga classes often require students to flip upside down for a time before using their core strength to swing back up, all with the assistance of nylon hammocks fastened and hanging from the ceiling.
The sheer explanation (or worse yet, a Google image search) may turn off prospective participants intimidated by what appear to be very challenging movements. To that end, Rehman emphasizes that her practice is bolstered by inclusivity, representation and meeting individuals where they are.
“It is available to people of all ages, sizes and walks of life,” she says.
For the 32-year-old Maryland native, it was a long and fraught journey to discovering the restorative art. After seeking inpatient treatment for prescription drug addiction triggered by PTSD post-college, she recognized yoga to be the secret sauce behind her healing. For years, Rehman ping-ponged across the U.S., exploring new corners of the yoga-sphere at retreats and specialty classes.
But it was at an aerial yoga workshop where she felt especially at home. She found that hanging off tethered hammocks not only builds core strength and mindfulness, but also eliminates mistrust between what the mind thinks itself to be capable of and the body’s actual abilities. Using her own growth for reference, the yogi was inspired to share the experience with others.
“It was a big part of my life,” she says. “I had this fire lit under me.”
Rehman shopped her unique skillset to various studios in the Washington area once she had earned a teaching certification, but no one was interested in adding aerial yoga to their repertoire. Her business-minded husband emboldened her to refashion the basement of their Potomac, Maryland home into a fitness studio, if for no other reason than to be able to practice aerial every day. She opened Flying Buddha in 2017 and began attracting students through word of mouth. In the early days, Rehman remembers a heady combination of excitement and nerves while adapting the versatile new practice.
“It was a good challenge after I got past that,” she says of harnessing the discomfort.
In response to encouragement from her small but mighty following, Rehman evolved the homegrown operation into a full-blown commercial business in 2019. Flying Buddha’s 2,700-square-foot space is essentially an adult playground, according to Rehman. It boasts a massive steel-backed rope wall and a studio dedicated to pole fitness. Safety was top of mind when building the state-of-the-art facility, and the ceiling’s steel support systems were installed by the same professionals who have done work for Cirque du Soleil productions. Once attached to beams overhead via carabiners, hammocks can hold over 2,000 pounds.
At the onset of the pandemic, Rehman didn’t waste energy on pessimism and quickly reverted to teaching classes virtually, enabling her to expand the studio’s reach beyond the DMV (current mandates have limited in-person classes to a max of nine students). She also forged a new revenue stream with the launch of Higher Vibes Self-Care Shop. Jade eye masks, candles, crystals, massage balls, facial oils and incense are among the curated artisanal items included in the boutique’s growing inventory.
Rehman is particularly interested in spreading the gospel of gua sha and plans to teach 20-minute Zoom lessons on facial massage, which touts benefits for lymphatic drainage, smoothing out fine lines and skin toning. Although her background is yoga-based, Rehman classifies the fitness destination as an “all-encompassing movement studio” and is excited about any exercise or wellness method that “restores, strengthens and builds mindfulness.”
As it turns out, the options are limitless in that department, she says. Rehman has made it her mission to keep an ear to the ground and maintain flexibility based on the community’s interests, noting several specialty teachers who have taken the reins for their respective niches. Aerial Thai massage, sure. A splits workshop, why not?
“If the talent is there, we have the space for them to do what they’re passionate about,” she says.
Additionally, the facility will play host to bungee fitness workshops, which Rehman certified and trained for in Florida. She also credits the broader aerial yoga community for diversifying her vision.
“When I first got started, I was creating my own stuff; but now, I have found so much support on the Internet,” she says while listing off the many ways to incorporate new exercises on the hammock like barre, Pilates, dance and TRX (Total Resistance Exercises).
As for the format of her aerial sessions, they unfold with the same ease of a typical yoga class, flowing from one position to the next with the support and guidance of the apparatus. Rehman freestyles her instruction, toggling between motions that can range from gentle and therapeutic to challenging, depending on the class type.
Among students, green or advanced, there is a sense of accomplishment and excitement after landing the practice’s gravity-defying moves. In describing a “We’re-all-in-this-together type of camaraderie,” she says it isn’t uncommon to hear clapping and cheering for a fellow yogi who has nailed a pose.
“The studio offers an invitation to celebrate that progress,” she says.
Above the obvious physical payoff of the aerial workout, her decades-long chronic neck pain has disappeared. Rehman’s intentions are heavily anchored by love and empowerment.
“Self-care fills our cups so we have so much more to give to those around us,” she says, alluding to aerial yoga as just one way to unlock the important key to self-understanding and acceptance. “When we open ourselves up, we see that we are much more capable than we think we are. Beyond trusting the actual infrastructure holding your body high above the ground, the real challenge is trusting yourself.”
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