Growing up in a conservative family from the midwest, I was exposed to all the classical ways to get in shape; namely, football, basketball, other sports and weightlifting. It was all fun for me: I got to be around friends, work out with a goal in mind, have someone push me and all that. However, thinking back to those days, I now remember how lax all my coaches were with stretching. Just touch your toes, twist your body this way, twist it that way.. And on and on. When I was young, that just seemed normal. Any kind of stretching was good for you, right?
It wasn’t until I started attending yoga and circus arts classes that I realized how much damage those improper stretches had done to my body. The poses I was asked to do were the hardest physical actions I have ever been asked to do. I had just learned to curve my spine and be lazy with my posture while I was stretching for so long that my hip flexors are now so tight, I can’t even form an “L” with my body.
On top of that, no matter how much I worked out or lifted weights, my core power was always lacking. And believe me; I was doing situps and crunches almost everyday. I was told that’s the only workout you needed for a strong core. The problem is that all of the ‘conventional’ ways to exercise, especially those machines in the gyms, are just designed to isolate and work a couple muscles at a time. While this may, when done most days of the week, achieve results that look incredible, the body is still pretty weak as a whole.
When I discovered aerial silks, I was blown away with the level of difficulty! I had been in sports since adolescence, trained with the Air Force ROTC and an avid runner since high school. I was in shape, some might say very fit, and I could hardly do the most basic poses and flows that aerial silks teaches beginners. Needless to say, I was humbled very quickly!
The important aspect of these ‘alternative’ exercises comes from their use of the entire body. With yoga, you are stretching and strengthening at the same time. Your muscles and ligaments are being pulled in different directions, while still maintaining rigidity to hold the pose. On top of that, the form the rest of your body takes helps keep you in alignment. Whenever I was taught stretching, only the form of the parts being stretched were paid attention to. This caused me to become lazy with the posture of the rest of my body and in so doing, I ruined the stretch I was trying to achieve.
Aerial does the same sort of strengthening throughout the body. Much of what the body needs to accomplish each pose isolates a certain muscle group, but also requires the stabilization of the rest of your muscle groups. Only through this harmony of muscle control can the aerialist get to the point where they lift legs above the head while making it look like no other muscles are being used. I have seen aerialists wrap themselves up in the silks without moving a single part of their body. They just activate certain muscle groups and use that awesome strength to position their rigid body.
While my muscles look smaller than they have in the past, I am so much more tone, so much stronger than I have ever been before. I can feel the difference just walking around. I feel more solid and agile at the same time.
Aside from the level of strength gained through these exercises, they are also much healthier than the ‘conventional’ ways to work out. With running, lifting weights and playing sports, there is so much impact to your joints and muscles. The exercises expose your body to weight bearing down on joints or pressure being applied to muscle groups, often in ways that aren’t natural. Both yoga and aerial exercises are low impact and focus on activating the surrounding muscles so there isn’t wear on your joints. They both focus on lengthening and aligning your body while you achieve your poses so that your body resets itself during the exercise, keeping your systems healthy and correct.
My best friend actually combined the two in order to rehabilitate her ACL. She tore it while running, had surgery to fix it and was disappointed at the limitation the reconstructed ACL placed on her. She found aerial yoga and it saved her. She was able to strengthen her knee, and the rest of her body, while being in the air where there was no strain or impact on the ligament to weaken it. She was able to keep her body in alignment and in comfort while she worked really hard to strengthen the muscles to prevent an injury like that from happening again. She’s said many times that aerial yoga and silks saved her life.
On top of all of these benefits ‘alternative’ exercise have, it’s SO MUCH FUN! Being able to master poses, and then work on mastering sequences of poses, provides me with such a feeling of accomplishment. Not only is it challenging, exciting to work with and fun to be around, I feel the healthiest and strongest I have ever felt in my life.
Hate going to the gym? Start going to a studio instead!