Category: Student Series

Student Series with Karen Patterson

At the time this article was written in 2014, Karen Patterson was a production manager for a small accessories company, who also created her own vegan beauty products. She took her first Aerial Yoga class at Sacred Sounds Yoga in October, 2016. After this article was published, she deepened her studies through completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training, and the Unnata® Aerial Yoga teacher training. She was then hired to teach Unnata classes at Sacred Sounds Yoga. Find her at:

karen-patterson-fixedEver since I saw an image of yogis suspended from dangling silks, I had been curious to try Aerial Yoga but there was always that thing holding me back. That thing being work, social obligations, chaos of life, intimidation of trying something new, fear, you name it. Like most of us, I would use it as an excuse. But after a summer of challenging myself with surfing and stand up paddle boarding, fall came around and I decided it was time to try an Aerial Yoga class.

Now it was me time. Time to be brave and explore the concept of Aerial Yoga. I showed up to Michelle’s class at Sacred Sounds not knowing what to expect. Did I need to be an acrobat, dancer, or seasoned yogi? No. I soon learned I just had to be myself. Intimidated by the silky blue hammock at first, I soon learned it was like an old friend. The hammock would help me balance, as well as strengthen and open my poses. It is comforting and supporting, while evoking a childlike sense of fun and inner peace. From the first class, hanging upside down came surprisingly natural to me. Michelle guided us through warm-up poses so seamlessly that I felt at ease to take the next big step or flip into the inverted state. It was hard not to giggle the first time I found myself heels over head. It is very freeing, while very centering at the same time. By my second yoga class, the hammock no longer was a source of uneasiness but a vehicle of unlimited possibility. What new poses would we explore? What new muscle groups would I discover? How would I progress in my practice? I noticed my body opening and stretching in ways I did not know possible and it felt amazing.

After a month of classes two times a week, Aerial Yoga has made a profound change in my life. It has forced me to focus and let go of fear. It has taught me to trust myself more and has helped to strengthen my mind body connection. My yoga practice on the ground has improved tremendously; my poses are stronger, my breathing deeper, and my fear of inversion into headstands waning. I now look forward to escaping the chaos of the city to enter my own silk cocoon, emerging relaxed and empowered.

— Karen Patterson

Student Series with Marie Chism

Marie Chism and her friend had received coupon books at the Summer Solstice Time Square event. In the booklets, were coupons to Sacred Sounds Yoga. When her friend found the aerial yoga classes ‘with people hanging upside down,’ they decided that they had to try that class.


I have absolutely LOVED the Aerial Yoga classes that I have attended at the Sacred Sounds Yoga Studio with Michelle and Cynthia!! I’ve been able to attend twice a week Aerial Yoga classes, along with other yoga classes at the studio over the past month. Just within this last month, I have really noticed a difference in the way that I am able to open myself up in a pose on the floor because of what I’ve learned in the hammock.

When I first tried Aerial Yoga, I was so intrigued that I just went for the upside down poses and hoped for the best, feeling brave and acrobatic like, so funny looking back. However, after the initial class, and then a class after that, I felt like, Ok, I got this. Then I began to understand the feeling of relaxing the breath and allowing the breath to open your rib cage which then opens your heart/chest. I can breathe so much deeper when I go running in the mornings because of the breath being able to expand through my chest instead of being closed and always feeling like I’m going to hyperventilate.

Since in Aerial Yoga you are concentrated a lot on movement and breathe and putting them together sequentially, I felt my heart blossom open class by class. I can now bind my hands on both sides behind my back!!! 😀 The way the hammock allows you to open up the chest and hips is so incredibly helpful when you are performing poses on the ground, not to mention feeling amazing!! 🙂 Also, feeling your center on the ground is something huge I learned a lot about in the Aerial Yoga classes. Now when I perform Warrior 2, or even Tree pose, I always think of Aerial yoga and the invisible string connecting to the ground going up to the heavens, kinda like Tai Chi. I think of centering. I am able to do tripod head stand as well now, and keep my legs in the air!

While running and trying to take in deep replenishing breaths, I remember the feeling of hanging in the hammock and feeling the expansion going downward, but imagined that same opening, but upward, and I am able to keep taking these deep replenishing breaths to keep me going. It sounds weird, but it totally works! :DI just LOVE Aerial Yoga and all the amazing benefits it can add to your practice and everyday activities. I want to figure out a way to get a yoga hammock in my house now! hahaha

— Marie Chism

Student Series with Danielle Abisaab

Danielle Abisaab took an Aerial Yoga class and was immediately hooked after her first class, shortly after that she discovered and partook in the Unnata Aerial Yoga teacher training course with Michelle back in 2011.  She is now teaching in Beirut / Lebanon where she has her own studio.

FLIGHT OF FANCY?… Not anymore.

I discovered Aerial Yoga in NY a few years back, on a day where my sister insisted I should try “this new type of yoga”.

dani B&W

Being that I no longer live in NY, I always feel no one should ever interfere with my busy schedule, reconnecting with my teachers, loading up on Yoga workshops and classes, hanging out with my friends or wandering aimlessly through the streets of NY. The amounts of time abandoning myself to the city I love so much were not about to be curtailed by some “yoga that wasn’t even real yoga” I thought to myself when she insisted I should go. Naturally, I displayed a great amount of resistance only to give into it in the end.

I took class at one of the leading schools and had the most fun I had had in a while. Was it the discovery of something new, the fact I swung, flipped, hung, flew and giggled all at once, was it the freedom and lightness I experienced while doing it? I don’t really know but I walked out feeling exhilarated and strangely enough very whole. I made sense of it later when I realized the practice offered an opportunity to reconnect with my inner child again, a part of me I had perhaps forgotten a bit. Despite all the obvious positive observations and excitement about this newfound activity, I still thought the element of yoga was not really highlighted and wondered even why the “yoga” part.

aerial dani by allegra

Little did I know that this very thought was going to embark me on an interesting journey. I was convinced that somewhere out there, some yoga teacher was probably teaching aerial yoga and I had to find them badly, I hoped they would be in NY for practical reasons but the big question was would he or she offer teacher training. It had become very clear by then I wanted to share this discovery with my “terrestrial” yoga students back in Beirut where I have been living and teaching for the past 8 years.

My research quickly yielded to Unnata Yoga. Just from exploring the website and reading about Michelle Dortignac extraordinaire, I knew the method she had so resourcefully put together was exactly what I was looking for. A primary focus on yoga with all that it encompasses, taught with a hammock as a prop…not the other way around.

Without hesitation, I signed up for the following Teacher Training, had a wonderful time while going through the whole experience and the rest is history. I have done other trainings in Aerial Yoga and practiced at different schools which all manage to show me in different ways who I am and where I am headed. The different influences I have received–just like with my regular practice–have merged into my own method of teaching Aerial Yoga today. Unnata Yoga, however remains the method that has–and continues to–nourish the essence of my teachings, perhaps because it is directly plugged and remains true to the source.

Taking flight and feeling weightless–a dream most of us share–is no longer a fantasy and has been made possible by many fine people out there. Being able to share it with the rest of the world with precision, creativity and fun is thanks to the grace and passion of Michelle Dortignac.

— Danielle Abisaab

Student Series with Stacey Huard


Stacey Huard took the Unnata Teacher Training course last August. She has shared her experience in the below Student Series article.

What is this Unnata Aerial Yoga? A new spin off the yoga craze in the West filled with gimmicky promotion? A new fitness regime to add to the already intimidating practice of yoga, perceived as accessible only to the ideal body?  Those were my exact thoughts when I was first visually introduced to the practice. Even with these closed judgments that I can admit I am not proud, there was this longing guided by curiosity that had me try my first class. This article is for those who are filled with this same sense of curiosity and perhaps resistance to the hybrid practice.

As I find my fabric hammock and line my mat beneath, I can sense the anticipation within me stirring. Thoughts circling as my senses take in my surroundings. With an open mind, I tune into the voice of the yoga teacher and allow the guidance to take me into a practice that will surprise this heart filled resistance.

The sensations of the fabric sliding between the thumb and index finger providing a comforting reminder of the release I will soon feel. Stepping into the symbolic earth beneath my feet, I walk forward and feel the massage of the fabric against my shoulder. Hugging me closely to allow for an opening I now crave. I surrender my weight into this embrace and am filled with a taken care of release. Stepping back until I am once again held in the fabric, I feel the massage it provides my lumbar spine and a trust in the embrace and surrender my self, gently releasing back and opening through my front body and eventually my heart.

As more of my weight eases into the fabric, I can observe through sensation the tension melting off my body and I lean more heavily into the supportive structure. As my body inverts, head towards the earth and feet to sky, I am energized while simultaneously filled with ease. The entire weight of my being is now held in space between earth and sky.

The familiarity of the soles of my feet drawing together, in this inverted cobbler’s pose provides a reassuring softness and allows the top of my head to dissolve, relieving the effort of my brain. A break that even for a moment is celebrated. I place my hands on the mat beneath and strengthen my shoulders, energize and straighten my legs, feeling once again the embrace of the fabric wrap around my thighs as I access a supported hand stand. Deeply held in this inversion I am able to surrender all aspects of fear and am able to trust in the moment.

As I reflect upon the class, I am surprised by my appreciation and ponder on its cause. Perhaps it is the actual release of ego that we experience while in the supportive Aerial hammock. Perhaps the freeing of our circling thoughts as we are able to enter moments in time without agenda, without effort and only the act of letting go. And as we know, there is no action in this only and invitation for connection.

Once again life experience has taught me that in this life, we are presented with a kaleidoscope of opportunities to trust, open and love. We have the ability to color them any way we wish but to be wary of the limitations of our perceptions. In any moment in time we are free to close ourselves off or soar into a new forms of awareness and self -discovery.

— Stacey Huard

Student Series with Diane Tomasi

IMG_1487I spend a lot of time in the air; I love being in the air.  I love climbing, inverting, finding new ways to stretch and to drop into a ‘trick’.

I am an aerialist and a dancer and as fun as it is, my profession is also very hard on my body.

I look forward to Aerial Yoga classes because I get the thrill of being in the air and of being upside down, while also doing something good for my body and mind.  I can find these awesome moments of relaxation, where the pressure of the silks massage my tired muscles and gravity lengthens the space between my bones.   I can go deeper into a pose that while in ‘ground’ yoga, I didn’t quite understand where my body position should be exactly.  But because the fabric partners with balance and with gravity the choices for body positioning become that much less and it becomes acutely clear where I need to be in the fabric and on the floor.

What I love most about Aerial Yoga, what I crave when I get the opportunity to take class, is the weightlessness, is hanging two feet above the ground and learning ways to support myself with the fabric and staying there until I forget I’m being supported by the fabric and can just focus on gravity undoing all the compression it normally inflicts onto me on a regular day.  My cranky muscles scream at first and then slowly they begin to relax and open.

I learn how to stretch areas in my body that I’ve been trying to stretch for months prior, but haven’t been able to go as deeply because my body and the earth just don’t quite fit that perfect way.

I love the parts where the hammock allows me to shut out the rest of the world and very quietly just be one with my hammock, while cocooned inside with the blue hue from the color of the fabric all around, there is nothing to see, no phone to check, no To Do List to think about.  It’s just me and the fabric, calm, quiet, serene and best of all weightless.

Though I don’t practice yoga nearly enough, whenever I leave an Aerial Yoga class I always think, “That was amazing!,” and I quietly affirm to myself, “I need to do this more often.”

Student Series with Kathleen Stansell

IMG_1477As an aerial silks performer, I was really excited about taking a class that would restore my body’s alignment through the use of the principles of yoga and doing so with an apparatus that I am already familiar. The beginning of this class felt very restorative. We started with some spine stretches, using the silks as a prop to hold our weight against gravity. I enjoyed the leg, arm, and core workout that was happening simultaneously. Sitting upright in butterfly pose felt very relaxing and calming. I look forward to using the strengthening and stretching exercises that were learned in the beginning of class in my own aerial class. Personally, I felt the yoga principles had dissipated in the latter half of class. I would have preferred to continue on with the yogic vocabulary and the gentle flow of yoga with the silks as a tool rather than a focus of strength and muscular toning. Finishing class with meditation was a wonderful way to end my evening and put an ease to my body and mind.

Student Series with Stacy Ulrich

IMG_0861Going into my first aerial yoga class I was filled with trepidation: Could I do the moves?  Would the poses be too hard?  What would I wear?

My mind raced with these questions as I darted in and out of traffic on my kick scooter- my chosen transportation to class. I found the studio on Bleecker Street, and timidly climbed the stairs to find a bright, clean, airy studio with numerous women welcoming me at the front desk.  Some of my nerves dissipated as the staff and studio inspired a sense of calm.  I quickly removed my shoes and stowed my belongings.   I entered the beautiful studio.  Bright teal silks draped from the ceiling, hanging in stark contrast to the brilliant white walls.  A cool breeze drafted through the window and soft light covered my classmates, who were focused on their own stretching routines on yoga mats beneath the teal silk clouds.

Michelle, our teacher for the day, measured our hips against the silks to make sure they were at the appropriate height.  She brought us to attention and we began.  Michelle calmly and expertly led us through various stretches and exercises.  She was consistently assuring: “Listen to your body and do what feels right to you.”  There was an emphasis on breathing throughout the session.  First we breathed to fill our stomachs and then to expand our lungs and feel our bodies fill and push against our ribs.  Michelle instructed us to place the silks in different positions on our backs so we would feel our bodies expanding as we focused on deep breathing.  The sensation was both calming and empowering.   We stretched with our knees in the silks, we swayed with our backs in the silks, at one point we completely inverted and the silks hugged our hips as our bodies fell into hand-stand positions with the silks bearing most of our weight.

IMG_0864After stretching, breathing, inverting, and swaying, we were rewarded with a private hug by the silks.  Michelle helped us work our full bodies into the silks so my classmates and I relaxed in our silk cocoons, slowly turning about the space in our own private orbits.  The stress of the streets and the city dripped away from my body.

Eventually we were instructed to gently remove our bodies from the silks and cross legged on our mats.  Michelle led us through an optional meditation that solidified the sense of peace and rest I experienced in my silk cocoon.  The sense of calm stayed with me for a long while after the class.  Although I rode the same streets home, they were more forgiving; the city, and my mind, were at ease.

Student Series with Sara Roer


Michelle’s Soothing Flow Unnata Aerial Yoga class was the first time I’d ever experienced aerial yoga. I’ve practiced traditional yoga for almost a decade, and trained in aerial silks for a few years, but never ventured into this specific combination of the two disciplines.

I went into class thinking it might be an exact combination, something like going through familiar asanas while supported by fabric that relieved me of my own gravity and occasionally made me completely weightless. As I’ve learned time and again on my mat, however, expectations can be misleading. Michelle’s class actually situated me even more firmly in my own  gravity, and to deeply therapeutic effect. The pace and flow of the class was akin to a restorative yoga practice where you set up and discuss a pose quite thoroughly then stay in it for several minutes, letting gravity do its slow work of breaking down your muscular holding patterns.

The class I attended was quite full, which created an instant sense of community as we negotiated the real danger of knocking into each other by broadening our awareness (at Michelle’s direction) and cultivating the ability to move fully and in harmony with our neighbors. We moved through progressions of cat/cow from floor-bound to completely airborne, chest openers by laying the silks into our ribs and breathing deeply, fully supported inversions that tractioned our spines, supported standing poses that called on us to simultaneously stabilize and stretch, and more. We closed with savasana situated completely inside our hammocks, weightless and enveloped by fabric.

As a newcomer, every pose was a revelation, but I could also see how this practice could deepen and expand. The focus was not on super-strengthening or super-stretching. It wasn’t about “super” anything – it was far more subtle in all those goals than one might expect. Michelle has a great knack for drawing you into those subtleties. Her verbal instructions are articulate and anatomical; her physical adjustments sometimes minute – a gentle stabilizing touch to keep you from swinging or a fractional shift of your weight back toward your center. These cues, and the added information from the support of the fabric, help to open your mind and awareness into the work, and hopefully, into the rest of your life. That’s the yoga.

Student Series with Jerrie Gullick

Jerrie Guillick has been a private student of Michelle Dortignac’s since 2006, a couple of years ago she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Michelle describes her part in Jerrie’s experience with Unnata Aerial Yoga and MS.

“When Jerrie first started taking classes with me, she did not have MS. She was diagnosed with it around 2 or 3 years ago. MS has many different symptoms and severity levels, each person can exhibit different aspects. For Jerrie, it has been a slow and steady decline of control, sensation and energy since she was diagnosed. We only started using the Yoga hammock once she was diagnosed with MS. Classes are always a mix of using the hammock, using the floor, and using the wall as a prop/assistant. Our goal for classes has never changed, despite her changing physical abilities – to become more aware and therefore to develop more control of our beings, both physical and mental/emotional. This is at the heart of every Yoga practice.

Admittedly, even 7 years later, our sessions are filled with laughter and having fun, despite the fact that some days are very difficult for Jerrie on both an emotional and a physical level. I do feel its part of my job to help Jerrie find humor in her life.”
–Michelle Dortignac

For Jerrie, her yoga practice with Michelle has been a crucial part of her life, physically and emotionally, before but especially during her struggle with MS.

“Ok, I dislike talking or writing about myself, but when Michelle asked me to write something for her blog, there was no way I could say no. I’ve been a private student of Michelle’s for something like six years. During that time she has taught me so much, both in and out of the yogic practice. But I’m especially happy with the way she has incorporated aerial yoga into our practice.

A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The diagnosis was confirmation of the fact that my body had started to deteriorate rapidly over a period of a few months. I went from being able to walk six to eight miles a day to having trouble walking two blocks – I don’t have the energy and my gait is reminiscent of a toddler. I now have to use a cane and getting up and down stairs is a struggle. I don’t have the strength or balance that I used to which makes yoga practice an interesting challenge.

By using the techniques that she has developed, Michelle has helped me to keep moving. She uses aerial yoga methods to help me stay steady while practicing warrior poses, get me upside down (hip hang is one of my FAVORITE poses) and keep in touch with my body. I tell anyone that will listen that if it wasn’t for yoga I would be wheelchair bound. More importantly though, Michelle has helped me to accept what is and to focus on what I can do today. When I sink back into feeling sorry for myself, it is yoga that helps me let go of what used to be and stop comparing. Sometimes I think I started practicing yoga before the MS just so that I would be ready for it when it arrived.”
–Jerrie Gullick

Student Series with Michelle Dortignac


This is the start of the ‘Student Series’ where we’re interviewing students of Unnata Aerial Yoga, having them describe their experience within the practice.  How has it impacted and changed their lives?  Of course, first we need to start with the founder, Michelle Dortignac.  Michelle teaches group classes as well as private, one on one, lessons.  She is describing her experience with private sessions below…

“If a person is not used to it, it can be quite odd to have someone watching every move you make, and tell you where and when to breathe, which muscles to use, where to look when holding positions, etc.  A person can become quite self-conscious.  Therefore, when I start with new students who are also new to Yoga, I try to help them feel comfortable by cracking jokes and telling stories, getting to know them, etc.  Knowing what is happening for students in their daily lives does also help inform me which Asanas to work on from the perspective of which chakras may be blocked or excessively active.  Because I am very personal with my students, and we are always in an intimate setting (either their apartment or mine), I have to admit that being an entertainer helps them to relax.

With every student who is new to Yoga, classes help them “rediscover” their body, offering renewed control and awareness in the areas of balance, strength, sensitivity, and flexibility.  As a student progresses, the focus of classes shifts from becoming more aware of different areas of the body, to including becoming more aware of our minds – meaning, seeing our thoughts/emotions/opinions, and how our mental activities affect our physical bodies.”
–Michelle Dortignac