Have you ever hung from your hocks? If your answer is yes you were probably a big fan of climbing frames when you were little or you might be an aerialist. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, aerial activities are all the things you see acrobats doing when suspended in the air, so things like hoop, silks, trapeze and rope.
Your hocks (the backs of your knees) are a vital body part for many of the upside down moves. As an aerial newbie, mine turned purple with bruises after my first day of the week-long aerial retreat I’d signed up for.
Aside from feeling bruised and knackered after 5 hours of aerial and body strengthening a day, I learnt many new things about my body and mind during the week. A month on from the retreat, here are the reflections that have stayed with me.
I was one of 2 beginners in our group. Everyone else seemed to have aced at least one piece of equipment. There was no point in comparing my efforts to theirs. We were all on different paths with our learning and our bodies, same as any yoga class.
Our mantra for the week was Trying is Training, which really helped shift my perspective away from competition towards learning. Sometimes I couldn’t even get my feet high enough off the ground to jump into the loop. Rather than seeing this as a failed attempt, each time I kicked my legs up, they got stronger and I got closer. And when I did make it into the loop without a leg-up I was over the moon.
On getting stronger
Aerial requires physical strength. Until recently I never thought of myself as strong. My arms are naturally twig-like and I’ve often avoided lifting heavy things, just presuming I didn’t have the strength. But a couple of months before the course I made a conscious effort to train my upper body with push-ups, planks and pull-ups. And the progress to a fitter, feistier body was rapid.
Lifting my own weight over and over again on the equipment helped me feel more capable, confident and energized. Now I have my newfound arm power, I don’t want to lose it, which can only mean more push-ups and more aerial….
On toughening up
It might look pretty but believe me aerialists are tough, physically and mentally. They are used to pain. You literally have to grow calluses on your palms to develop a thick enough skin for gripping the equipment, which means lots of blisters.
Just a day into the sessions and my body was protesting. But my determination to keep learning was stronger. It is amazing what you can get used to. I even grew to love my blisters and bruises as my trophies for the week.
On trusting the unknown
The first time I stood on the trapeze about 5 metres off the ground I felt funny. Although it wasn’t that high and there was a crash mat below, it seemed miles from the ground and I absolutely did not want to slip and hurt myself.
There’s a lot of trust involved in aerial: trust in the equipment, in the instructors, in yourself and your own abilities. Rather than thinking “I’m going to fall” or “I’ll never be able to do that”, you have to tell yourself “I got this”. It is true in aerial and in life that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try.
On being inspired
One of the best things about the week was the group. These girls were fierce, twisting and manoeuvring their bodies into gravity-defying shapes. They could have basked in their abilities and swaggered around like rockstars. Instead they were more interested in playing, experimenting, learning from each other and cheering on nervous beginners like me. It was an amazing atmosphere to learn in.
I was also totally inspired by our instructors, Akasha and Karinan, who pack their lives, baby, partners and all, into camper vans so they can travel Europe, teaching and training in aerial. They are doing exactly what they love in life and this passion shone through in their teaching, and their bottomless knowledge about the body and how to care for it.
On having fun
Despite bruises, blisters and tender muscles, it was pretty common in our sessions to hear me or one of the others squealing with delight. This was usually because we’d nailed a new move or were enjoying a favourite pose. There is a pure, childlike joy in dangling upside down and by the end of the week I felt younger, as well as stronger. Can’t imagine it will be long before I seek out my next aerial adventure…
My aerial retreat was run by Activity Retreats in Toulouse, France, in May 2017.