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Taken to New Heights: An Aerial Experience

October 1, 2017

Being afraid of heights and not enjoying the sensation of being upside-down has kept me away from all things gymnastic for most of my dance life. I also have a chronic lower back injury, genetic but made worse from years of unnatural extension. But after watching several videos about aerial Yoga, I was intrigued. I signed up for an aerial class at a Yoga studio, which I found out later does not mean that you are actually taking an "aerial Yoga" class. In my case, it was simply - aerial, but I went with it. The instructor led us through a series of "basic" aerial moves.

 

First we wrap our hands around the silks and crunch our knees up to our shoulders. Okay, I'm already struggling, and this is way more upper body work than I had anticipated. That warm up we did with all the shoulder rolls should have been a hint, I think. Next we get straight to it. The instructor lifts herself up and effortlessly pulls her knees over her hips, stretches her legs out, and releases her arms into an upside down straddle. "You try," she says. The other student and I begin trying to achieve the same grace, but find that our bodies simply do not want to lift and turn over the way that hers did. With some assistance, we both eventually get the movement.

 

I start to feel better about myself when I'm able to achieve the "gazelle" pose after only one try. The next move involves simply lifting up our knees and turning our bodies over so that the silk is holding us up in a fetal position by our waists. I eventually do the required tuck move, but my body simply does not want to turn over backwards. I nearly fall on my head when my hands slip while trying to kick myself over. When the instructor gives me a physical (and verbal) boost, I achieve the movement but because I don't have the upper body strength to slide into the fold slowly, I quickly slide into it, which scares me. Each time I try, I want to give up. My hands hurt. My forearms hurt. I wonder if I will be able to type, draw or pick things up tomorrow. With an unapologetic smile, the instructor sprays my hands with resin to help me stick, tells us that it happens to everyone and we'll get through it, and encourages me to keep trying.

 

As I stand on the silk three feet off of the ground, I am struck by the danger of what I am doing. One wrong move, and I might never dance... or worse. I feel safer knowing the instructor is there, but I also know that I have to rely on my own strength, so that I can walk out of here. By the end of the class, I have accomplished a couple of the moves and find that I am telling myself the same thing I tell adult dance students when they are new to dance. "Don't judge your abilities based on the first class. You will be surprised by how much two or three classes makes in your confidence."

 

It's been awhile, since I've experienced a physical challenge like this. I was doing something completely new and out of my comfort zone. I'm not sure what urged me to attempt something that's never been in my field of vision dance-wise. Perhaps the changes I'm experiencing emotionally and through work are coming through in how I want to experience movement, as well.

 

I wonder what flipping backwards while using what (little) upper body strength I have to keep me from slipping and falling looks like in work and in life. In some ways, that's how I feel right now - upside and unsure how to pull myself up or crawl to the floor, but loving the challenge at the same time. 

Don't let this picture fool you - I'm really not an aerialist but I did have a nice moment. 

Here are some other things I learned about aerial from the instructor: 

  • It is a great upper body workout that emphasizes form and artistic expression. 

  • It helps relieve that dizzy feeling you get when you stand up too quickly (something that gets worse as you get older) 

  • It's great for decompressing your back

  • Aerial Yoga is a fad right now, and there are lots of folks out there teaching it who maybe shouldn't be because they either don't have the aerial or don't have the Yoga training - the second piece isn't such a big deal, but the first one definitely is. 

  • DO NOT try these moves at home. I was thinking about investing in an over the door trapeze until the instructor told me that aerial work doubles or triples your body weight on the apparatus, and you do not want to put that kind of weight on a door frame. 

 

 

The instructor for this class is Jessica John. Check out her website to learn more about her and her classes. 

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