Fitspiration: Hanging upside-down with AntiGravity master Tamer Begum

These days, almost every yoga studio is offering aerial yoga — which, for the uninitiated, is where you practice while suspended in a colourful silk hammock. The hype surrounding aerial yoga may have fizzled out in favour of trendier workouts such as rebounding, bamboo yoga and even bungee fitness in recent years. But good ol’ hammock-based, gravity-defying fitness is making a huge comeback in all its other forms that go beyond yoga — think pilates, TRX, and even Xtend Barre — thanks to the re-introduction in Hong Kong by AntiGravity Fitness, the company that founded the original aerial silk hammock.

Hanging upside-down has a multitude of benefits: it helps to realign and decompress your spine (which you need to, if you’re sitting at a desk all day); it re-hydrates your spinal disks; it refreshes the internal systems of your body, including your endocrine system, your lymphatic system and digestive system as well as circulation. Swinging in the air also trains your body awareness. It’s relatively easy for beginners to do, even without prior yoga knowledge, and you can tip upside down in your very first class — versus the hours you have to spend training just to muster up a good inversion on the mat.

At a recent visit to Flex Hong Kong in Wong Chuk Hang (the largest studio offering AntiGravity classes in Hong Kong) we chatted with AntiGravity Fitness master instructor, Lululemon ambassador, musician and adventurer Tamer Begum to learn more about the workout.

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Antigravity fitness - Tamer Begum
Tamer Begum has been teaching AntiGravity techniques since 2009.

Begum tells us his introduction into the world of fitness “was a matter of divine timing.” But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s all about hippie hoopla — it just so happens that his uncle, Christopher Harrison, is the founder of the original silk hammock apparatus itself.

A Broadway dancer and world-champion gymnast, Harrison founded AntiGravity yoga in 2007 in New York City, and is also the creator of the AntiGravity performance troupe. It was Harrison who developed the rigorous training on technique, on knowledge of the apparatus, and on safety required of all AntiGravity instructors.

During university, Begum took his uncle’s yoga teacher training programme and was immediately hooked. “Right around that time, I was considering going into a health profession, I knew I wanted to help people with health. After that first session it immediately took away my lower back pain from coaching kids snowboarding. It was also a great way for me to stretch out my quads and my hips,” he says.

“From then on, the exercises that you can do with the hammock, the plethora of movement — not just yoga — but the fitness and wellness aspects really spoke to me. I felt if I can benefit from this as an athlete and a student, then everyone can.”

Antigravity fitness - spiderman pose
One of Begum’s favourite poses in AntiGravity: The Spiderman. “The Spiderman is great to realign the spine and to rehydrate the spinal disks. You’ll leave the class a little taller.”

From practising gymnastics as a child, to Capoeira and trampoline fitness, to skitching (skate-hitching) on a longboard behind his uncle on a segway across New York City traffic, and finally to arriving in Hong Kong and tipping upside down every day, Tamer Begum shares how he built his diverse background in movement and fitness, and how we can do the same too.

My fitness/wellness philosophy… is that health is wealth. At the end of it all, it doesn’t matter how many assets you have, if you don’t have health, then you really don’t have anything. It was from that perspective that I decided to dedicate my career towards health. I found that by teaching people AntiGravity, they didn’t need to see the chiropractor or their physios anymore. They were coming to my personal training classes to help with their knee rehabilitation or their spinal problems, and they were finding incredible benefits just from the core training. It’s one of the most efficient ways to gain core strength, because being suspended is a kickass workout for the slow-twitch muscle fibres in your core.

The key to staying motivated… is staying ‘hungry,’ and always continuing to learn about what inspires you. That’s true when it comes to being successful in anything in life. In my case, once I knew health really inspired me, I learned how to do all different modalities from yoga to martial arts. Then that helped me learn about nutrition, and that 80% of taking care of your health is what you put in your body. However, humility is one of the most important virtues as we grow. I’m but a neophile, a beginner, in comparison to the masters and gurus before me. I’m very fortunate to have an awareness of health and to maintain health and inspire people towards greater health, but I’m still learning every day.

Downward dog may be familiar, but The Flying Dog on the hammock allows your hips to be pulled up and back, where you naturally want them to be during downward dog. “We also get myofascial release at the hip flexors — and for Hongkongers who sit in a chair all day, they can improve their posture.”

A day in my life starts with… bulletproof coffee. I mix coffee with coconut oil and butter. I seriously find this gives me so much energy, and I’ve found that it triggers what is called ketosis, so my brain is operating on a higher level, so I can focus on my writing or my music playing, my training or just being a better partner with my family here. With bulletproof caffeine, I don’t feel the 2pm caffeine crash, because by adding the healthy fats, your body processes it better.

Every morning I do what’s called my ‘prime time.’ I sit in my hammock in my house, I sit there for five minutes and do a breathing exercise, and think about three things I’m grateful for. Then I think of the things I want to accomplish that day. I’m an avid goalsetter thanks to my ambassadorship at Lululemon, which taught a lot of wonderful things like leadership and how to set goals and the culture of community here in Hong Kong. It’s also part of my routine to run around the Happy Valley Racecourse every morning, and also working out at the gym. I also practice Wing Chun with one of my sifus here. I find that I’m just happier when I’m active every day.

Antigravity fitness - The Wings
The Wings (shown here, a suspended lunge), and The Plank are crucial moves of the air fitness class.

I believe in eating… intermittent fasting. I finish my meals every night at 8pm, and I don’t eat the next day until about 10 or 11am. This way, my body is burning the excess fats so I can maintain my optimal body weight for my body type. If I’m in a training mode, I have a good breakfast with eggs, spinach, lentils, or some sort of protein shake. I have a good solid lunch. If I’m in Central, I really love the wraps at MANA!. I love Japanese food so sometimes we go have sushi. I’m also keen on a solid sandwich or a salad with quinoa and avocado. By dinner, it’s usually steak or chicken, I like curry, rice, and a substantial amount of cooked vegetables.

Antigravity fitness - The Vampire
“The Vampire: One of the infamous poses. It’s a great exercise for training strength, mobility, and also great because you can fly.”

For power food… I have my apple cider vinegar, squeezed lemon, and cranberry mixture. It helps keep my body’s acidity and alkaline levels balanced. I have a shot of that every morning, before the bulletproof coffee.

For cheat day… I’ll enjoy a couple glasses of wine and pasta, or I’ll enjoy some pizza or a big steak with french fries. It’s so important that you find a balance from your weekly regime, to have at least one day a week where you just eat whatever the heck you want. Not only does it bring you fulfillment and pleasure, but it also helps your body, when you hit back on your routine the next day, it triggers your body’s modes in fat burning or muscle gaining. It helps you achieve your goals in a more efficient way.

Antigravity fitness - The Giselle
The Giselle is a glamorous move inspired by ballet: “Students adopt the strengthening and conditioning exercises from the Barre to the hammock.”

When I’m not teaching or working out… Hands down, AntiGravity Fitness is how I stay strong, mobile, and it’s also how I stay decompressed. I hang upside down every day. Besides my passion for moving and teaching, every single weekend in Hong Kong I’m hiking. I love trail running here, and I also love swimming in the sea.

My workout playlist includes… upbeat songs for my suspension fitness classes, like Calvin Harris and Deadmau5. I’m a huge fan of Odesza, Cut/Copy, or just electronic dance music in general.

Follow @tamer_begum on Instagram, or catch him at Flex Studio teaching classes, workshops and teacher trainings.