Friday, April 18, 2014

Aerial Tips from Lindsay Lohan (well, sort of)

In yoga, we make a big deal about breathing. In aerial, we often do, too. The reasoning behind it is a little different. In yoga, the breath is in many ways the whole point: it serves as the connection between the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of the body. In aerial, it's a little simpler: if you don't breathe, you won't accomplish much up there, and for some silly reason, a lot of people automatically hold their breath as soon as they engage their muscles and pull themselves up. The problem gets even more exacerbated when the fabric applies any pressure to the abdomen: people tend to let all their air out, allowing the fabric to squish their guts completely. Then they have no room to inhale, and from there they inevitably start to panic.

This is actually a pretty sensible reaction. If you can't breathe, you've only got a couple minutes to alter your situation so that you can before it ceases to matter anymore. We all get this. So why is breathing during aerial work such a challenge sometimes?

I think a big part of it is that when we first start aerial, for most of us, it's the hardest thing we've ever done. And when we're doing something really, really hard, we tend to hold our breathe, perhaps to save the energy required to move our breathing muscles. In most cases (moving furniture, etc.) we don't need to maintain that level of exertion long enough for holding our breath to be a real problem. Not so in aerial work! We want to be up there for at least a couple minutes, so breathing is crucial. And of course, when you're working hard, the more oxygen you can feed your hungry muscles, the better!

the gut-squeezing aspect of aerial work is a whole other problem. Let's take a trick like wheel-down. It's really simple, and really rad-looking, so I wanted to learn it right away. But really simple means really hard, because it's up to me to make the rotating descent happen: the simple S-wrap isn't doing it for me.
(Here's a link to another video of a wheel down, in case the video embedding tool is on the fritz)

And that simple S-wrap? It's tied right around the middle of the performer's body. I've tried a few different techniques to get it down around the bony part of my hips, but the weight of my lower body makes it slide up to the thinnest part of my body every time. For the first year's worth of attempts, the S-wrap tended to cinch up tight, causing not only breath-holding, but even more fun, collapsing into a rounded pike shape. With all my weight collapsing toward the ground, my belly got getting squished even more. Which, of course, induced panicking, and a controlled flailing descent, not the graceful wheel down I was hoping for.

I always thought that the answer to my wheel down woes was to have a wider straddle, so my body weight balancing point is closer to my hips, instead of my waist. While a wider straddle never hurts, my amazing trainer Nicki set me straight by introducing me to that joyful drill: the slow wheel down: rotate 90 degrees, stop for five seconds. And repeat. She also cleared up where my hands should be at each point of the revolution. That drill forced me to breathe in spite of the pressure of the S-wrap on my abdomen...which forced me to realize that I could breathe in spite of the pressure of the S-wrap on my abdomen, which made me stop panicking and start focusing on staying taught, and maintaining my form. And round and round we go! My wheel down's not perfect, but it's miraculously improved.

What can you learn from this story? You, too, can breathe in the air! No matter how tired your arms are getting, no matter how confused you are about the wrap you're working on, no matter how tight that waist wraps get, you can breathe! Know this, and be free!

Especially if you're already a yogi, acquainted with the power of the breath to slow racing thoughts, and remind you to take things one step at a time. Now that's a skill that will serve you in the air!

The long and the short of it is, you'll improve as an aerialist much faster if you can find some way to remind yourself to breathe in the air. Say 'Breathe!' out loud before you climb up? Use an audible breath so you hear it if you start holding it? Have your instructor scream, "Breathe!" at you when you start to look flustered? Get 'Breathe' tattooed on the inside of your wrist like Lindsay Lohan?
Or does it just say 'breath'? I'd go with 'Breathe' for yours.
Figure out what works for you, and do it!

Happy flying!

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