Chelmsford yoga, meditation space introduces Aerial Adventure program

Chelmsford yoga, meditation space introduces Aerial Adventure program

CHELMSFORD — Sanjyot Chatwani watched as her 16-year-old student Gianna Hebert attempted a 360-degree aerial drop Wednesday evening. Clutching bright blue silks hanging from the ceiling, Hebert waited in position, her legs stretched beneath her.

Being upside-down puts the body into fight or flight mode, Chatwani said, just because it’s an unnatural state of being. But the moment her pupils let go, twirling toward the ground and stopping short of falling, they’re instilled with confidence. Hebert landed the trick and hovered over the mat below, a small grin appearing on her face.

It’s those moments Chatwani strives for at her OM Studio Central in Chelmsford, where she is now instructing a new aerial program designed for ages 10 and up: Inward/Outward Aerial Adventure. The class is partly a continuation of the mindfulness exercises and silks tricks Chatwani teaches in her aerial yoga, but with an added layer of fun and physical endurance.

Chatwani considers it “the next level of fitness.”

“I’m going to be able to change people’s way of thinking one mind, one heart and one breath at a time,” she said.

During her Wednesday Aerial Adventure class, Chatwani oversaw five students, who have learned foot locks, splits and other postures on the silks. The exercise differs from the mindfulness room, where the silks act more like a hammock as opposed to two separate pieces of fabric.

Vaishnavi Kulkarni, 27, of Nashua, N.H., said the adventure room required she build up some stamina, but the work has paid off. As an engineer, Kulkarni said she spends most of her day sitting at a desk, which causes pain in her neck and shoulders. Using the silks, she said, is “a magical relief.”

“When I’m upside-down, I let go of everything,” Kulkarni said. “When you’re up in the air, you’re just up there. You’re not grounded… I used to think yoga is more about gaining physical strength, but here I think I’ve discovered it’s mental peace, peace of mind.”

Chatwani considers herself “a mentor” more than an instructor. She leads her classes with a “stillness power approach,” a powerful meditative state that allows one to separate themselves from “the chatter” of life, she said.

Her dedication to wholesome fitness — combining mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health — came into the mainstream during the pandemic, Chatwani said, as she and others recognized the importance of holistic wellness. Following pandemic protocols, Chatwani began hosting one-on-one training with her longtime students to guide them through the difficult period.

Her own bad bout of COVID in November 2021 — which temporarily reduced her lung capacity — pushed her to pursue new meditative techniques. Around March 2022, Chatwani first introduced Aerial Adventure to children.

“It works very well for people when our spirits are down. We’re still battling with that, and it is a big deal right now,” Chatwani said of the pandemic. “When your spirits are not up, you don’t feel so great mentally, and as a result, it affects your body physically.”

Lila Rivichandran, 12, of Carlisle, joined OM Studio Central a couple months ago, initially for the yoga, meditation and awareness aspects of the business. She recalls her fear of going upside-down, but during her most recent class, Rivichandran moved fluidly in the air. The practice, she said, has imbued her with courage.

“It’s also been really good for flexibility, because I’m not really naturally flexible,” Rivichandran said. “Being here helped build my flexibility and my strength and my balance.”

Rivichandran said her favorite silks posture is the gazelle in the silks, or gazelle looking pretty, wherein you hang upside-down with one foot stretched parallel to the ground and the other folded up outside the silks. Her classmates, including Sammy, 14, of Chelmsford, tried the crossback butterfly straddle, which involves wrapping the silks around your back and feet and flipping yourself upside-down.

In Aerial Adventure, all students are equipped with a mat to protect from injuries, and Chatwani often keeps a watchful eye as they try a particular movement. She prioritizes safety and comfort, never forcing a certain physicality or effort, which she said is different than exercising in a gym or practicing gymnastics.

“I think most of the time, injuries happen because of overuse,” Chatwani said. “That’s another thing that I tried to address in my sessions despite doing those kinds of adventures or very challenging feats, I have to keep safety in mind… In the past, they would always say, ‘No pain, no gain,’ and I’m not up for that.”

Mei Dasgupta’s involvement at OM Studio began when her younger sister entered “a funk” induced by the pandemic. The Chelmsford pair enrolled in the studio’s aerial yoga classes together last year and “fell in love with the silks,” Dasgupta, 16, said. It brought her mental stability amid a tumultuous time.

“What I liked the most was that it helped my sister, and that is what mattered the most to me,” Dasgupta said. “The silks helped her gain control over her emotions and gave her an outlet.”