I remember the first time I declined an offer to stay out late with the response «I’ve got a training tomorrow, another time». It was a subtle yet important shift, marking my relationship with aerial as being unique amongst my hobbies.
My previous life altering pastime had been music. Whilst I could write an article waxing lyrical about the many positive attributes of creating and playing live your own original songs, one point I would struggle to make is that the music world encourages clean living. If anything, intoxication is seen by many musicians I knew as a kind of fuel to the creative process.
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This is not the case with aerial, or I suspect any hobby/profession which relies on the practitioner being physically capable and ready for a challenge.
I did once, following a 6 am club night drag my weary carcass down to open training. After cold sweating through the warm up, I slithered up onto the trapeze and just sat there at the bar, resting my weary head against one of the ropes.
I’d been studying aerial for about a year at that point but for the life of me I couldn’t think of a single move, never mind a whole routine. Sheepishly I spent the rest of the session stretching and drinking a heroic amount of water. I swore to myself I’d never do that again and oddly enough I didn’t.
This bleary-eyed incident was a game changer. Like most people, I’d half-heartedly made vows of abstinence involving alcohol over the years.
Usually after a particularly heavy evening followed by a family gathering or long shift at work, but they had never stuck. I suspect the main reason is that despite those situations being a mental struggle and a slight physical trial I wasn’t tasked with anything out of the ordinary. I could have been «dying» and still be capable of sitting through lunch or dealing with clients. From the relative safety of behind a desk, or sitting at the family dinner table breathing deeply with a plate full of roast chicken in front of me and the sure knowledge a bathroom is seconds away.
I would not be 10ft in the air upside down balancing off a trapeze bar using just one leg.
I realized aerial had become so important to me on a personal level it carried with it the power to change old habits. I’d never had a good enough reason to alter before.
Going home from a night out early and sober was one thing. I soon noticed that I was much more careful with my eating habits as well.
I knew from my gym friends that in order to get the most out of a workout they would eat a meal beforehand that was a good source of energy. The post workout a meal would feed their muscles and help with repair and recovery.
I’d always been fairly healthy in my diet but with no real focus or dedication. Aerial changed that.
I began stocking up on healthy and nutritious foods for before and after training. I noticed the benefits very quickly and because of that expanded a lot of the same options to my rest days. I slowly came to realize that if I was only eating well on days I was training I wouldn’t get the same boost to my energy levels and health consistently.
My desire to get as much as possible out of my training time gave me the enthusiasm to put the effort in every day (my friend’s home made cakes are exempt!)
Aerial hasn’t just had a big impact on my physical health. Emotionally and mentally it’s been a huge support through some difficult times.
I remember forgetting to stretch one afternoon after training and waking up the next day feeling like I’d been left in a tumble dryer all night. As it happened I also had to deal with a rather challenging situation that very same morning which caused me levels of stress I’m sure I have gray hairs for.
By mid-afternoon, I’d done all I could for the crisis at hand and was still sore all over from the day before. I made myself a cup of tea, put on some music and for the first time at home, outside of class I went through a full series of stretching and warm up exercises.
I mixed in bits and pieces of yoga, some weights, but 70% of my time was spent doing the same stretches and conditioning we do in class. I’d known for months now how peaceful and stress-free I felt walking home after training… my body feeling clean and free, if only for a while.
I still don’t understand why I didn’t bring that practice home sooner, but after having a soul-crushing morning it finally clicked.
I remember lying on my bedroom floor, post warm up feeling much better about everything, including the morning’s problems. That day, like the hungover training day was a game changer.
Now, doing conditioning and stretching in my room is an almost daily occurrence, though the duration varies from 5 minutes to 30.
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The final aspect of getting involved in aerial training that I’ve come to realize is a big part of the healthy addiction, is the community.
I can speak only for Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I assume it’s a similar situation globally in that the level of support, acceptance and camaraderie is unlike anything I’ve experienced in activity groups of any kind.
Where I live (Edinburgh) it’s a common occurrence to hear aerialists refer to each other as «family».
It’s an attitude that was possibly born from the close-knit bond created when a circus troupe tours together and I’m so pleased it has translated over.
In classes aerialists face fear barriers, having to make mistakes and struggle in front of others and even occasionally failing in attempting the various moves we are shown.
I have never once heard anyone say an unkind word or be negative about a fellow student, even if that student struggles with everything and makes slow progress. I honestly believe there is an unspoken but collectively understood «we’re all in this together» ethos.
Every bruise and callus, every success and misstep is celebrated or laughed off and you just keep going.
Before you know it you have a new shorthand language, you find yourself shopping online for interesting leggings and binge watching aerial performances on YouTube and you can’t remember a time when your Facebook newsfeed wasn’t full of your new kin working hard alongside you to improve their skills. It sounds like a cliche but it really can be a life-changing experience.
I’m 37 now and hopefully, I’ll be flying around on the trapeze for many years to come. My only regret with regards aerial and circus, in general, is that I didn’t find it sooner.
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