Every day we are one day older.
As an aerialist, you’ll probably be pretty body aware and notice small changes in your body from day to day, week to week, season to season. There’s natural waves that occur; sometimes you’re shredding it and progressing in strength and stamina. This manifests as being able to do new skills or having consistency in achieving your harder skills. Other times you might hit plateaus or setbacks due to fatigue, illness, injury, or losing access to training time or space for a million reasons (LIFE!). We’ve all had to deal with these waves. We are thrilled with the progress, but often troubled by setbacks. Sometimes we have moments of grace and surrender and find ways to be creative and inspired in one of our training dips.
But if you notice a change, large or subtle, that seems to be the new norm, it can be a cause of concern and also frustration. At least that has been my experience as of late. And this has caused me to ask. It this not just the season, but actually because my body is older?
I tend to have a lot of stamina and in the past I would train until I ran out of time. Now I train until I run out of energy. This has been a big game changer for me and hard to assess. At first I thought there was something wrong with me, maybe I was more out of shape than I thought, or I wasn’t getting enough nutrition, or maybe I was a little sick and didn’t realize it. Some of my self assessment was rather scathing, thinking I was becoming lazy. I was pretty hard on myself.
But this was different, it didn’t come in waves. I didn’t have good days and bad days. I just felt done sooner and more consistently.
A friend and colleague who happens to be in a 50 year old body wisely said to me:
“You will never again have the body you had.”
And I slowly began to integrate the fact that this is the new me. I could choose to push myself, but then I would need more recovery time. Knowing that I didn’t have a bottomless amount of endurance made it so that I prioritized my training in a different way. This meant spending slightly less time in the studio, but training more intentionally.
But here’s the clincher. I had to adjust not only the way I train, but also my self image. I will no longer be the last one in the air. I’d like to take my friend’s statement, maybe even a little further.
“I am not who I was”
About 2 years ago I had a back injury. It just seemed to crop up out of nowhere. And I did my normal waiting period of intentional resting. But it didn’t ever go away. It just lingered. I then gave up and just started training again, pushing through the pain, cause I was tired of waiting. But my range of motion was seriously affected and everything still hurt. I then went through a long series of seeking physiotherapy, massage therapy, craniosacral, and chiropractic care. Each of these would help for a bit, but nothing totally fixed it or lasted.
I then thought that maybe the kind of help I needed was not going to be from the outside. I didn’t need to fix an injury. The pain was not going away, which meant my body was trying to communicate something to me. And the fact that it kept screaming meant that I kept hurting it. How was I hurting it? I think it was the pattern of my movement.
I had to change the way I move.
My new plan was to limit working in the end ranges of my movement, take it back to center, and strengthen from my core. The practitioner I chose to work with was a pilates instructor who specifically works with circus artists. I quickly saw how much imbalance existed in my movement patterns. I felt like I was a beginner again. In my classes, I am literally learning how to sit, stand, roll down and turn my torso. I have developed so many compensation patterns over the years that my body has gone haywire.
Do you often (nearly always) hook your right knee on the apparatus? Imagine the torsion over time this creates? I try to be body balanced, always have, but I definitely have a favored side. Does this contribute to my body imbalances? Maybe. But it can also be the mundane things. How we get in and out of the car, how we bend over to pick something up, how we roll out of bed. Bringing an awareness to our body coming from a point of center stability helps us not only in our aerial practice but in life. There are a lot of practices which work on core stability and complement the work we do in circus. I know many circus artists who have benefited from pilates, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, gyrotonics Thai Chi, and so many more.
The Long Game
Practically, the changes I’ve made have been in shortening my training sessions and working on stabilizing my core. But the bigger change has been a shift in my mindset. Rather than being a dictator to my body, I am in partnership with it. I listen deeper and respond with care and patience. I hope to continue to deepen my aerial practice I love so dearly. I have already noticed clear benefits of new levels of body awareness and movement precision.
My friend also reminded me that we do this because we love it. I am inspired me to stop forcing my body to do what it did, but enjoy as much as possible what this body is willing to do now.
There will come a day where I will step off the trapeze for the very last time. It’s not yet and until that day I will enjoy it to the fullest.
Written by Sarah Bebe Holmes at Age 41
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