You’re Never Too Old For Aerial Workouts

Author on the Trapeze at 55-years-old; June 2021

When people complain about working out I know it’s because they haven’t found what lights them up yet.

While there are so many amazing mainstream work-outs available, working out is NOT a one size fits all. I want to love running and yoga, but I do not.

How I discovered my passion, in my forties, of aerial circus workouts.

I hope my story will inspire and encourage you to look at non-alternative ways of working out.

I am now in my mid-fifties and have a myriad of injuries and body challenges, but I still work out consistently. It took me many years to discover something that lights my fire, something I am passionate about and, because it’s never too late, I use circus workouts to keep my body pain free!

At age seven I was a gymnast.

It was my #1 passion and brought me tremendous joy. But family circumstances forced me to quit when I was twelve.

It wasn’t until I was thirty-six that I found my next interest, indoor rock climbing. This was the first “sport/workout” I loved since gymnastics. And I did it for five years. One challenge with rock climbing is you need a partner, and those were difficult to find.

In my early forties I became awe-struck by aerialists, specifically people on silks, but I never thought I could do it. I was too old, had no training, etc.

But I used to go to burning man and in my last year, 2010, I volunteered as a ranger. I was up in the early hours to cover my shifts. It was during one of these shifts that I met a silk aerial artist and stood in front of her with my jaw glued to the floor.

I was forty-four years old.

With my neck craned to the sky I said, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

She looked down and smiled benevolently from her fabric perch. “You can. I was just like you a year ago.”

Permission and encouragement, a recipe for success.

She encouraged me to call my local circus school when I returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area. She told me to start with a class called aerial conditioning. I did what she said and was delighted to find that classes had just begun. I enrolled and went to work with gusto. I had rediscovered my gymnast passion at age forty-four.

I choose not to be a circus performer because then I would equate fun with work, and it would stop being fun for me.

But, I could perform if I wanted to. I have a friend who is in her sixties and performs regularly as well as another who performs in her seventies (yes you read that correctly). The woman in her seventies started learning aerial silks when she was sixty-nine and she’s absolutely amazing. Proving once again, it’s rarely too late.

I’ve been going to circus school regularly for the past eleven years.

I started with conditioning and then took a class where you get to sample all the apparatuses. I’ve tried Chinese pole, aerial silks, hoop/lyra, straps, sling, static trapeze and single point trapeze.

I fell in love with static trapeze.

It was mainly because of the passion of my trapeze teacher who used to be a professional artist, and gold medalist. I went from one class a week to three.

There’s something Zen about being suspended 30 feet in the air, and having to balance on a bar.

When I’m up there, I feel completely in my body. I am focused. It’s important to note, I have always been afraid of heights. But I also love to push myself, past my fear, past my comfort zones. I love challenging myself.

Eventually I became less afraid. Did the fear vanish completely? No, but it is no longer debilitating. If I look out, instead of straight down, it’s easier. And yes, I got to the point where I can do complicated tricks, high in the air.

Several years into my training, I was so comfortable that I was showing off and I hurt myself.

The injury took me off the trapeze for a year. It was a hand injury (I tore the tendons in 2 fingers) and it was severe enough that those two fingers will never be the same. I can use them, they just don’t look pretty and my grip is compromised. And… I did it to myself by not paying attention. Another learning experience.

When I finally stopped beating myself up about my mistake, I went in another direction and began studying handstands/hand balancing.

Author Attempting a Handstand

I took handstand classes and threw myself into that discipline with the same gusto I’d thrown myself into trapeze. I even hurt myself in handstand class by staying in a handstand so long that my elbows collapsed and my chin met the floor. That was a fun bruise! Training on the floor was amazing. We trained all parts of our bodies. And the best part was that I had bonding time with one of my best friends, who I met at circus school.

After a year of handstanding, I went back to trapeze and continued to do both. Once Covid hit, I had to quit going to the circus and for the first few months it devastated me.

Training had become a huge part of my life.

But not just any kind of training, extreme circus training. Because of my gymnastic past. I was used to extreme training. I was used to pushing my body and testing my limits. I was used to teachers saying “there is no such word as can’t.” I was used to a certain level of pain and adrenaline and the intoxication that goes with it.

Circus Training on Zoom

It took a few months for my circus school to get on zoom and when they did, a contortion teacher I’d always wanted to take was offering classes. I wanted to keep challenging myself. Will I ever be a contortionist in my fifties? No. Not that other people can’t achieve that, but I’ve sustained far too many injuries (not all from circus) over the past twenty years. But when someone tells me I can’t do something, I run toward it to prove them wrong. So when my trapeze teacher said, “you’ll never get your splits after you turn fifty”. I said, “challenge accepted”!

After the first class, a painful and consistent sciatica I’ve had for fifteen years disappeared. I recently spoke to another one of my contortion teachers and she said the same thing happened to her!

Am I good at contortion? No F-ing way! I’m the worst student in all my classes, by far. They can lift their legs (while standing) straight up over their heads. I can’t even lift mine half way up. Have I gotten my splits yet? Nope, I have not. But I am closer than I’ve ever been and I believe that with practice and discipline, I will get there this year.

Author’s Splits After a Year of Stretching

I had also lost my backbends and can now do them again! Can I do complicated contortion routines? No, I cannot. But that doesn’t stop me from trying my best.

Turning it around to the positive: When I developed a ganglion cyst and could no longer do handstands, yes I was upset but then I turned it around and worked on my forearm stands instead.

Author’s Forearm Stand

The bottom line is, find what you love and do that.

If you love yoga, yes! Do it! If you love spinning or riding your bike outside, do it! If you love dancing, do it! The options are endless! And I’ve tried many of them. I wanted to love yoga and hooping and cycling and spinning, but I just didn’t. When you find something that lights you up, you will push yourself to do it and maybe it’s something unconventional and different, like circus. You’re never too old to try, and there are many, amazing options available.

I’d love to hear what type of exercise lights you up, whether conventional or unconventional!

Thank you for reading! I’d love to inspire you even more through my bi-monthly newsletter, an Unknown Adventure, you can sign up here.

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