As we all strive to lead healthier, happier lives it is sometimes hard to get into a reliable fitness routine (or maybe it’s just me). I’ve tried working out at home, which just winds up getting entirely off-track because I find some chore or other that needs to be done; I tried CrossFit — once — and decided it wasn’t for me, even though the community aspects sound great; I’ve taken yoga and pilates classes, only to never return again even though I do like them. What happens is this: I think I just get bored.
NPR posted a short blog/quiz about education. The takeaways are that play is integral to healthy development, but it’s not just for kids. However, much like the elusive exercise routine, our oh-so-purposeful adult lives don’t allow us much time to play. I took their quiz, and it was spot on!
“We think you’re interested in physical exploration and mental stimulation.” The suggested activity: rock climbing. And ya know, I’ve been rock climbing and it’s the first “sport” I’ve ever enjoyed — especially in my adult life. It’s like completing a puzzle with your body and I love that it engages my mind just as much as my body. Likewise, I’m forced to explore what my body is and is not capable of: Can my legs stretch this far? Is that hand hold in too awkward a spot for my wingspan? Does my shoulder even move that way?
But what I’ve found that I really love, that has changed something inside my brain, are circus arts. Aerial arts to be exact, and specifically trapeze and aerial hoop (lyra). Similar to rock climbing, it’s a test to see how able-bodied I truly am (not very in most cases) and, I didn’t really think of it as mentally stimulating until I took NPR’s handy quiz. Here’s how it is: I’m sitting on the trapeze, positioning myself to move into amazon. Left hand on the rope above my head, back against the ropes, right hand positioned behind my butt. As I lift off, into a trick I know I can do, it’s suddenly harder than I remember. Oh yeah, the left side is my weak side and, now, as if I’ve never done this trick before.
Nearly three years ago I decided to take an Intro to Aerial Arts class at my local circus school. Inflexible, with next to no upper body strength and years without a regular exercise routine, I waltzed into this class simply because I wanted to try aerial silks. Was it hard? Hell yes, it was. Silks weren’t my thing, but trapeze and lyra are still hard, and worth every minute and dollar!
Aerial is a fun, challenging way for me to work out and it doesn’t really feel like working out. A 60-75 minute class feels nothing close to that long and very rarely do I find myself just wishing it were over already, which has never happened with me and fitness before. Never have I been excited about or looked forward to exercising—until now. Every Tuesday you’d happily find me in the studio trying my damnedest to execute the moves that were being taught. They’re never as smooth or pretty as my instructor’s and most of the time they aren’t even as good as my classmate’s, but that’s not really the point.
How Aerial Has Changed Me:
• I’m stronger than I used to be. I can do one full pull-up and 3-5 push-ups (real ones, not on my knees) and I can hold a plank for close to a minute.
• I’m a bit more flexible. Maybe. Hopefully. I have set goals to get my splits and a back bend. We’re not there yet, but eventually!
• I’m happier. Yeah, yeah endorphins and whatnot. Aside from that, I feel like I’m doing something that’s, not only good for me but a ton of fun, which in turn makes happiness. And, honestly, I never thought I would be capable of doing any amazing circus feats, and the fact that I can is just awesome!
• I get upset when my boyfriend takes down the pull-up bar because then I can’t do them in passing, or try to do pitiful leg lifts and straddle-ups.
• I find myself internally complaining about the sheer and utter lack of places I could potentially stretch, hang, or play while at work.
• I like having random bruises, sore hands and calluses, very sore knee pits and feeling like my arms may not function adequately. It makes me feel like I really accomplished something by working hard in class.
• I now, at least, stretch every.single.day. Even if that means I have to do it my grandparent’s kitchen floor while visiting with family, then so be it. (Yes, that did totally happen this week.)
All of this proves to me that fitness isn’t elusive. That I’m not just lazy and apathetic. That I don’t hate all sports. Fitness, for me, has been about finding something that works for me. Whatever it might be, something that you enjoy doing. Once you have that figured out, exercising feels a lot less like torture. There are days when I’m tired and want to do absolutely nothing after work but, for once in my life, I still show up to class and make an effort. Afterward, I’m always really glad I did.
Have you tried any circus arts? What’s your happy-play-place as an adult? Share your experiences, journeys, and tips in the comments!
Originally written for the WordPress blog Taste for Two.