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Presenting the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew

With Vivian’s departure and the success of the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew, I decided to reinvent the aerial program at Knotty Yoga and introduce a Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew. Admittance to the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew will be simple. It will consist of a $200 monthly membership fee and the demonstrated ability to do a static pull-up and two, in the air, straddle climbs. This will include all the benefits of the Knotty Yoga monthly unlimited membership plus the benefits of the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew. There will be three benefits to the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew in May.

The first will be a Sunday noon to 1pm Aerial Practice hour. This will follow the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew 11am-noon training time and will be supervised by Mason. People can work on fabric, rope, sling, hoop, trapeze, or acro. Mason will not be teaching during this hour but will be supervising to keep things safe and sane. Only Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew members will be allowed.

The second big change will be on Wednesday nights. Lauren Kettner will be teaching a three hour block of classes on Wednesdays as follows:

6pm-7pm Aerial Fabric

7pm-8pm Aerial Sling

8pm-9pm Aerial Hoop

These classes will be restricted to the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew. Drop-in will not be allowed for these classes. People on regular $160/mon unlimited memberships will not be allowed at these classes either. These classes will be restricted to Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew members only.

The third big change will be a special for May. The trapeze workshops and private lessons with Eric Newton were so popular that I wanted to bring trapeze into the studio on a more regular basis. The best local teacher isn’t that local. Sara Sparrow is the founder of the wonderful Olympia based aerial studio the Aviary. Sara will be teaching trapeze at Knotty Yoga the first and third Tuesdays in May from 7pm-9pm (May 5th & May 19th). Mason will be running trapeze practice times on the two other Tuesdays (7pm-9pm) to practice the skills that Sara taught the previous week. These 7-9pm trapeze slots in May will only be for the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew.

Sara will also be available to teach private lessons 5pm-6pm & 6pm-7pm on May 5th & May 19th. These lessons are $80/hr and the first people to contact me and pay for them get them. You do not need to be Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew to book the privates. Sara is an amazing aerialist and teacher. I highly recommend you taking advantage of this opportunity since I’m spending a lot of resources to bring someone I highly respect and recommend to the studio.

A larger goal of the Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew is the same as the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew. I want to develop a consistent and more serious aerial program at the studio. Aerial is a high skill, high fitness, high commitment activity. Drop-in aerial has really not been successful at the studio. I would rather have fewer people participating but have more success and consistent attendance. People who succeed at aerial at Knotty Yoga will be people who attend several classes a week at the studio: conditioning and skill based classes. I want the pricing model to reflect this. People who attend three or more Knotty Yoga / Circus Circuit classes a week, and a couple of skill classes a week, will make a lot of progress. This pricing model will also let me keep aerial class sizes on the small side while hiring high level talent to teach the classes.

The big shift is that beginners won’t be allowed to take explicit aerial skill classes. The path for beginner aerialists at the studio will be Circus Circuit. This is where people will learn the basic climb, Russian climb, and foot locks while building the strength needed to do pull-ups and straddle climbs. Circus Circuit, Knotty Yoga, and a subset of the acro classes will continue to allow drop-in students. I believe the fastest path to becoming a fledgling aerialist is getting the strength needed to do aerial which involves pull-ups / rope climbs and working on the strength needed to invert (ie. Hold on to an apparatus and flip upside down). A person who can easily invert multiple times in a row and easily do several consecutive pull-ups will find learning the skills needed to do aerial fairly simple (aesthetics and form aside). It’s also hard to care at all about aesthetics and form when you are so weak you barely have the strength to flop into moves. Circus Circuit also scales far more easily to large class sizes and varied levels than skill based classes do.

I realize a good number of people have bought punch cards for aerial classes. For people with non-expired punch cards (ie. Punch cards purchased after Feb 1st, 2015), I will allow people to apply the unused, pro-rated value towards a Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew membership for May. This is a one-time offer for May. So if you had a $130 punch card and had four classes left, you could apply $65 towards your $200 Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew membership.

In summary, all of the classes that Vivian teaches now are currently available to all students drop-in and $160/mo unlimited membership. These classes will all be gone at the end of April and people who are drop-in or $160/mon unlimited members will not be able to take any of the new Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew classes (Sara’s Tue night trapeze class, Lauren’s Wed night classes, Mason’s noon-1pm Aerial Practice Hour). With the $200 Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew, students will be able to take classes on four different apparatuses (adding sling and trapeze) and get access to a long requested open gym time. Going forward, we will have special performance opportunities for Knotty Yoga Aerial Crew members with multiple months of continuous attendance as well as more guest instructors. I’m very excited to build the pool of talent at the studio!

Girls Will Be Boys!

On Friday, April 10th at 7pm, Knotty Yoga will proudly host a fundraiser for youth trans / gender awareness. The show will be called “Girls Will Be Boys” and feature a celebration of all that is queer. We have made so much progress over the last couple of years on the LGBT rights space that it’s easy to forget that we still have a long ways to go and the battle is as much in our minds as much as it is in court cases and the legislative process. The first question that is asked about us is if we are a boy or a girl. Based on knowing that decision, color schemes are picked, clothes are bought, toys are purchased, and a whole set of expectations and preconceived notions are formed. This is all great but can be challenging if the child doesn’t match these expectations.

This is a personal thing to me. My college best friend’s daughter has chosen to elect a gender neutral life. A close trans friend was beaten violently after transitioning and walking around at the mall. But gender identity is also something that imprisoned me growing up through my early adulthood.

From childhood to age twenty-four, I had a brain tumor that interfered with my hormones and kept me from producing testosterone (among many other issues). I essentially didn’t go through puberty until I was treated at twenty-four. I was basically genderless.

My parents bought me a book called “What’s Happening to Me?” when I was an adolescent. It had a set of things that I was to expect to happen to me. I felt like a caterpillar that was going to change any moment into a butterfly. Or a big, burly Viking. I came from a family of well-built, butch, burly men. I was waiting for my turn. It never came. My voice never deepened. I didn’t need to shave. I trained at the gym but muscle never arrived. I got taller but just looked like a large child. While all my peers were getting crushes, I felt nothing.

As time went by, I felt more and more isolated. I came from a very sexist, old-school family. The men would gather in one room watching sports while the women gathered in the other room making food and gossiping. I had no idea which world I belonged in. I cooked and gardened and was teased that, “some day you are going to make someone a great wife.”

It’s humiliating to be an eighteen year old boy and be repeatedly asked, “don’t you like girls?” “Who do you have a crush on?” At the time, I hadn’t realized I was gay. I just didn’t have hormones and didn’t feel that way about anything. I had friends when I was younger but started to pull away from everyone because I felt so different. When I went to college, I avoided getting close to anyone.

I had a boy call me out in high school for sounding too much like a girl. In response, I altered how I spoke. It’s amazing how much power we give to people who are assholes. If I couldn’t speak lower, I altered my voice to speak as monotone and boring as possible and to try and hold my voice to as low of range as I possibly could. I hated answering the phone and having people think I was my mom. I stopped talking on the phone. I would never speak in class even when I was excited and really wanted to.

One of the hardest things for me was needing to use a public restroom. From the outside, I was clearly a male. From the inside, I definitely knew I wasn’t a woman, but I didn’t feel like a man. I felt like an imposter every time I went into a men’s bathroom. It was the most awkward, unsettling feeling possible. To the Republican’s across the country trying to criminalize trans people for using the bathroom of their chosen gender, hatred does not to do justice to how I feel towards you. This is such a cruel and vile thing to make people feel uncomfortable about.

I thought about killing myself every day through college. I would wake up and try to pep talk myself into getting out of bed. I somehow made it through college with a Computer Science degree from a hard school while working a lot and never skipping a day at the gym. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I survived and I feel proud of myself.

I remember being diagnosed with my brain tumor and being ridiculously happy. I had always felt like something was wrong with me and worried that I was just broken. It was so weird to find out that while I was indeed broken, I could be fixed. Treatment was also crazy because it was so rapid. Having a normal testosterone level for the first time in my life was surreal. It was crazy to have male-ness just arrive all at once.

I started sprouting muscle everywhere. I had gone to the gym religiously for years but never gotten any bigger. I suddenly had stretch marks on my arms from them growing so fast. I had to triple the amount that I ate. My voice deepened, the shape of my face changed, and I started growing body and facial hair. I started masturbating ten times a day. I had been living in my parent’s basement and suddenly felt territorial and ambitious and had to strike out on my own. I could suddenly sleep and I felt happy for the first time in a decade. I started to notice how many beautiful people there are in this world.

It was weird how much impact adding this one missing hormone added to my life and how much sadness the lack of it caused. It was also weird to realize that I could take testosterone and inject it into a woman and in three months, she would feel very much feel like a man and, to the outside world, look mostly like one too. It’s not quite as simple for making a man start to look like a woman, but it would be similarly easy to make one start to feel like one with a few hormonal changes.

We all have different hormone levels and differ in the ways that we respond to these hormones. There are so many people in this world and it seems unreasonable to expect all of them all to fall neatly into perfect boxes and simple categories. And why should people have to?

I feel blessed to have Knotty Yoga. It gives me a chance to have a small platform and have a voice to talk about things that I want to share with others. It’s also nice to know that I have created a place where a trans person can come and be celebrated and cherished for who they are as a person regardless of which pronoun they go by. I’m excited for our “Girls Will Be Boys” show and the chance to celebrate things that are different and queer. I hope you will join in this celebration and, more than anything, start a conversation and raise awareness.

Presenting the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew

Getting better at anything takes a commitment. I added partner acrobatics classes to the Knotty Yoga studio in November of 2013. Since then, the program has grown by leaps and bounds and I now want to move on to phase two. Starting in April, we will debut the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew. This is vehicle through which we will take partner acrobatics to another level at the studio.

The Knotty Yoga Acro Crew for a given month will consist of people who were unlimited members from the previous month, the current month, and attended six of the base partner acro classes from the previous month. For now, these base acro classes will be defined as:

  • Sunday 10am
  • Monday 7pm
  • Tue noon
  • Thu 7pm

I will be adding these classes just for the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew:

  • Sunday 11am-noon (requires attending 10am-noon)
  • Thursday 8:30pm-9pm (requires attending 7pm-8pm)
  • Saturday noon-1pm (requires attending 11am-noon Circus Circuit)

Attendance of the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew only classes does not count towards the six base classes needed for Knotty Yoga Acro Crew eligibility and eligibility is determined freshly each month. The new acro schedule will be:

  • Sunday 10am-11am (all level – shortened 30min)
  • Sunday 11am-noon (Knotty Yoga Acro Crew only / must also attend 10am-11am)
  • Monday 7pm-8pm (all level)
  • Tuesday noon-1pm
  • Thursday 7pm-8pm (all level – shortened 30min)
  • Thursday 8pm-8:30pm (Knotty Yoga Acro Crew only / must also attend 7pm-8pm)
  • Saturday noon-1pm (Knotty Yoga Acro Crew only / must also attend 11am-noon Circus Circuit)

The focus of the new classes will be:

  • Sunday 11am – Becoming an acro bad ass. Hand to hand, foot to hand, croc, fireball, standing acro, and advanced sequences.
  • Thursday 8pm-8:30pm – This will mostly focus on letting advanced people run through a challenging sequence and drilling hand to hand.
  • Saturday noon-1pm – This will be my acro lab class. We will play with new concepts, ideas from workshops, and try to invent new moves and transitions.

Starting last spring, I started working with Andrew several times a week. We had a very structured conditioning and training regimen. We quickly progressed from glorified beginners to being able to do standing hand to hand in about six months. If we had a better understanding of technique, I think we could have done this sooner. The structure and content of these training sessions became what is now Circus Circuit and the lessons learned will guide the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew.

I have a number of flyers who can now fly low hand to hand on me. I want to start moving to standing hand to hand and ramp other bases up to be able to base hand to hand.

The Knotty Yoga Acro Crew is all about commitment. I want to invest in the people who are committed and create something special. I have had tiered class levels before and special classes and found it daunting. People who weren’t qualified would come to supposed advanced classes. Some people would only come to the advanced classes and my all level classes would be gutted.

I feel like the key to acro that makes it special is the idea of community. It’s in the best interest of the community to mix people of different levels and have the beginners grow quickly by learning from the more advanced people while the advanced people refine their skills by mentoring the people with less experience. Hence all the acro classes on the schedule will be all level.

All of that said, there is something to be said for having some timeslots without beginners where we can safely explore the hard stuff and be able to tackle things that wouldn’t be safe with beginners present. The Knotty Yoga Acro Crew only classes will be the vehicle for this. None of these classes will be listed on the studio schedule. These will be Knotty Yoga Acro Crew only and I will be super hardcore about this. I also like the transparency of this plan. Before there would be an “advanced” or “invite only” class on the schedule and it would seem to people like there were favorites or a clique. I love the solution of having things driven strictly by attendance.

I will also be offering special opportunities for Knotty Yoga Acro Crew members. I will bring in guest teachers, special events, and access to outside training. Knotty Yoga Acro Crew movie night! I want to make the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew highly desirable and will invest heavily in it. By requiring a high level of all level class attendance from the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew, the high level concepts mastered will nicely disseminate to the all level classes. This will be an awesome way to reward loyalty to the studio.

I’m setting metrics for the success of the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew. To keep things simple, there will be two criteria for anyone who has been in the Knotty Yoga Acro Crew for three consecutive months: be able to do a controlled, ten second hand to hand and be able to tuck from star through fireball to an L-sit. If people aren’t hitting these goals, I’m not doing my job!

Knotty Yoga Versus Circus Circuit

Knotty Yoga originally started from a need to quickly get people fit enough to be ready to do aerial acrobatics. Your average person off the street isn’t going to be nearly fit enough to do much of anything interesting on rope or fabric up in the air so Knotty Yoga began as a conditioning program for aerial. Over time, I fleshed it out to become a complete, whole body workout. Now the studio has both aerial and partner acrobatics programs and I’m back to wanting to have a specialty class to focus on prepping people for those classes. That is the niche that Circus Circuit fills.

In general, Knotty Yoga is the go to conditioning class at the studio. Our acro and aerial classes are short (an hour) and are focused on the skills needed but contain little conditioning. We split conditioning out so that people who can choose to condition how or when they want to. The students who condition the most have the most success in the skill classes. The students who just take the skill classes, and don’t condition, generally never progress.

In general, I would recommend that people who are not highly fit or used to acrobatics and aerial start with Knotty Yoga and/or Circus Circuit. Both will feature workouts on rope, fabric, and trapeze and get people used to those apparatuses and build the strength needed to do interesting things on them. If you aren’t strong enough to do a pull-up or flip yourself upside down into a straddle, why try to learn fabric when you aren’t strong enough to be able to do any of the moves. I highly recommend people get the needed strength and then fabric will be really easy to learn.

Knotty Yoga works out the whole body, not just muscles needed to do aerial or acrobatics. It’s a blend of strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility. We also focus on working across all movement planes and using as many parts of the body as possible. Knotty Yoga is focused on producing all-purpose athletes. It’s a great preparation for aerial, but not focused on that.

Circus Circuit specifically focuses on making you better on rope, fabric, and at acrobatics. In general, you will do at least ten climbs of some sort in every Circus Circuit class and do several hand stands and hand stand drills. There is a heavy upper body and core focus as well as an emphasis on inversions. We also do things like planches, meat hooks, straddles, and assorted common acrobatics moves. There is a huge focus on the hand, wrist, and forearm strength needed for hand to hand in partner acrobatics. The flexibility portion of Circus Circuit is mostly focused on splits, straddles, wrists, and opening shoulders for handstands.

By not having to worry about creating a balanced workout, Circus Circuit is free to focus on less and do more with that area. My first teacher, Lara Paxton, used to always say, “poco bueno.” We would translate this as “do less, but do it better.” All the drills that we do in Circus Circuit are also exercises that we would do in Knotty Yoga. But in a Knotty Yoga class, there are so many other options to include in a class. Circus Circuit is a subset of Knotty Yoga focused on making you a better acrobat.

So who should do what? Who should take Knotty Yoga? If you are out of shape, I’d suggest you start with Knotty Yoga. If you are just interested in fitness, I’d suggest you start with Knotty Yoga and then add Circus Circuit if rope work and hand stands interest you or you want extra core and upper body work. If you care about lower body work, I’d suggest you do Knotty Yoga. In general, I’d recommend Knott Yoga for everyone.

So who is a great fit for Circus Circuit? I would recommend Circus Circuit for people who are already at a pretty high fitness level and are looking to increase their ability to do aerial and/or partner acrobatics. If you’ve been coming to Knotty Yoga for a while and you wish you could do all the assorted rope climbs that you see people doing or you want to work on your handstand, you should take a Circus Circuit class. Or if you are an aerialist or fledgling acrobat and want to get stronger, Circus Circuit is a great fit.

Training Versus Exercise

Training Versus Exercise

For most people, exercise comes rooted in fear and goes hand in hand with a “diet.” Instead of working out for love of something, people exercise to avoid becoming fat, flabby, and old. Other people are driven entirely by vanity. While there is a multi-billion dollar industry built around preying on these fears, it’s so much more interesting to focus on doing something for positive reasons and objectives. While most gyms are set up to sell exercise using guilt as a weapon, Knotty Yoga is setup to create and facilitate athletes.

Exercise is the domain of people who run on treadmills and have “chest” and “leg” days. Exercise is largely focused on making bodies smaller and selectively making certain body parts bigger. It largely has no focus or goal other than looking better in a swimsuit or getting “abs.”

Training is activity focused. A great example would be training to do a marathon, doing a press handstand, moving from a 3.5 to a 4.0 in tennis, or being able to climb a rope without using your legs. Instead of isolating certain muscles to work for maximal visual results, athletes use their bodies as they were designed to perform interesting movements and accomplish tasks.

The body is composed of systems of muscles that work in tandem to do something. Most exercise uses these muscles to do very mundane things but athletes harvest this potential to do things that are amazing. For instance, the biceps are generally a small, supporting player in any movement. They tend to play second fiddle to the muscles of the back and torso. Many gym rats have biceps that are greatly out of proportion with the muscles that actually are the primary movers. This sets these folks up for injury. Many of these people also lack the shoulder strength to even hold up these disproportionately heavy arms.

At Knotty Yoga, we focus on making athletes. We have classes that teach you how to do an activity and classes for conditioning. The activity classes would be fabric, hoop, and partner acrobatics. The conditioning classes are Knotty Yoga and Circus Circuit. We explicitly split the training out from learning the activities taught at the studio. This allows people doing activities outside of the studio to condition at Knotty Yoga and pick how much they condition and when. The activity classes are fairly short (mostly an hour) and they feature very little in the way of conditioning because we offer many conditioning classes. To make progress in the activity classes, people will need to attend many of the conditioning classes or have their own conditioning routine.

No matter what your sport or activity is, Knotty Yoga (the class) is designed to support your conditioning and training. We focus on working functional groups of muscle together the way they were designed to work. There is a lot of asymmetrical, high range of motion work with a lot of instability to challenge balance and improve flexibility. It’s a high intensity but low impact workout so it pairs well even with high impact things like running, tennis, or dance. Knotty Yoga is designed to help you get better at whatever your sport or activity of choice is.

Climbing a rope challenges your body so much more thoroughly than doing a biceps curl. Holding a person on your feet and moving them through interesting ranges of motion is so much harder and works so much more muscle than doing squats or leg presses. It also improves your flexibility instead of eliminating it. Balancing and stabilizing on a fabric with just your arms on the ground activates your chest so much more athletically than a synthetic, fixed activity like bench press. It also teaches your core and chest to work in tandem. Doing a back lever for ten seconds takes more energy and works more muscles than most people will call upon during an hour in the gym.

I find if people have goals like: I want to do the splits, a pike climb, a front lever, a hand stand, etc. they will work so much harder and feel so much more accomplished than they would from just exercising. They will also end up with a much more functional and athletic body.

Becoming an athlete also changes a person’s outlook on food. Instead of turning food into something to avoid, athlete’s look at food as something that they need and that nourishes them. I’ve found that when I have clients who eat poorly or drink heavily, they naturally scale back their drinking and seek out better food as they start to make progress in their training. It’s a huge win to have people shift from viewing food as something that makes them fat into something that helps them to get strong.

“Becoming an athlete” sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. For someone who can’t do a full blown pushup, it could be as simple as working up towards a three-quarters pushup on knees, then a full pushup on knees, then a three-quarters pushup on feet, which leads eventually to a full pushup. Same with pullups, head stands, hand stands, etc. The key thing is to set small goals and then train with the right level of consistency and intensity to achieve these goals. Each goal might seem small but these small goals will add up to a lot over a year and can take you to an amazing place in five.

You won’t get rich as an aerialist

About every other month, I see an aerial friend post an article like this:

The general gist is someone attempting to support themselves as a professional aerialist, and as an aerialist alone, complaining about people performing for free. It is implied that this is wrecking the industry. The funny thing is that I have about an equal number of friends who are software engineers as I have aerialist friends (a sign you live in Seattle!). I have never had a software engineer friend complain about people programming for free and encroaching on their turf.

Anyone who thinks that they are going to make real money doing circus arts is delusional. Starting pay for a 22yo new college graduate with a computer science degree as an entry level software developer this year at Microsoft runs about $110k base salary not counting bonus and stock. The largest circus studio in Seattle pays their ridiculously talented staff just fractionally higher than minimum wage. The market is very good at paying people how society values them.

People want to do aerial. People are proud to do it. It has infinitely more sex appeal than doing something that involves a lot of math and sitting at a desk forty hours a week. It’s desirable enough that people who are independently wealthy or making a good income from a higher paying career will pay for the privilege to perform. I’m not even saying that people will do it for free. I’m saying people will pay to be able to perform because they love it and feel a passion for it.

Willingly putting yourself into a career space where you are competing against people willing pay to do what you want to get paid to do is going to be rough. Hopefully a professional aerialist is going to be better than a part time person doing it for fun, but this isn’t always the case and, for a lot of people looking for talent, the less costly alternative is often good enough.

The sad thing is that the situation is getting worse. Aerial is getting more common. There are a ton more people doing it than there used to be. It’s far more of a commodity. There are probably about 20x as many aerialists in Seattle now as there were ten years ago. The collective talent level is much higher and the pool of artists is larger but the number of gigs probably is about the same.

The artist also used to be a lot more important. Cirque du Soleil used to hire artists to perform their signature act in a show. If that person had a day off or was sick, that act wasn’t in the show. Now they have people create acts and then they hire a pool of acrobats to staff that role and slap them in elaborate costumes and makeup to the point that the individual is irrelevant. Cirque du Soleil is the star. The performers are just a resource. Pay drops and the performers have almost no artistic control.

Locally, Teatro ZinZanni used to staff its shows with exotic performers from the far corners of the world. Lately, the shows are increasingly filled with local performers. The prices of the shows are going up but the money spent on food and talent is dropping.

People should do a serious reality check before deciding to try and make a living just as a circus performer. If they do decide to go down that path, they should realize that they are following their passion in exchange for reduced financial security. They should also realize that just talent as a performer is not going to get them very far. The most booked and highest paid performers will always be the ones with the right connections and some business and marketing savvy, not necessarily the best abilities.

I have friends who are very good aerialists but also have other careers to pay the bills. I’ve also seen people spend a lot of time getting grants and other ways to fund their art. Most aerialists I know teach and everyone that I’ve queried about the topic has told me they make more from teaching than from performing.

I can honestly say that I’ve seen way too many aerial performances in my life and I don’t really enjoy watching anything other than super high level, professional talent. I don’t have any interest in watching people who would perform for free or a low wage. I love crazy good aerialists and seeing top tier aerial. I’m not a hater. I appreciate and love art. But I know I’m the minority and that your average Joe is going to be impressed with the girl in fish nets and heels flopping around like a fish in the air if she is cute enough.

I come to aerial from another direction. I know I have no natural talent as a performer but I still love aerial. I like the physicality of it. I approach it more as a sport. I want to bring more people to this space. I’d much rather see more people doing aerial than Zumba or Crossfit. I feel like the number of people doing aerial will continue to grow and I think that is a good thing. The increased number of people doing the activity will mean even more people looking for chances to perform. Unfortunately, this will ultimately drive down the prices that people can ask to perform and make it far more competitive. All of this means I’ll probably start seeing Facebook posts once a week about people performing for free instead of the current rate of once a month. People need to know that they are choosing a super difficult, highly competitive profession with very limited income potential. This is most likely even going to get worse going forward and aerialists should have plans B & C ready.

To Base or Fly?

Many times, the choice of base or flyer is made for a person by their genetics. A 4’11”, 105lbs woman isn’t going to do much besides fly while a wall of muscle like me is generally as out of place flying. I was working with a tallish, larger framed woman the other day who was in that nebulous “tween” size where she could easily go either way. Given the abundance of flyers that day, she had to do a good amount of basing. She did it out of necessity but commented how she couldn’t understand how anyone would want to base by choice.

To those who don’t know what I’m referring to, in partner acrobatics, there is generally a base and a flyer. The base tends to be the one supporting the one anchored to the ground or and apparatus in aerial. The flyer tends to be only supported by the base. In the embedded video, I’m lying on the ground as the base and Andrew is the flyer.

I’m the total opposite. To me, the base is in charge and leads the flow. That is far more interesting and it makes my Type A / alpha heart beat. There also are fewer bases than there are flyers so the exclusivity is appealing. Basing is also much more of a workout and a lot more physically challenging so it is a fitness win as well. These are all reasons why basing appeals to me, but there is another reason that appeals to me even more.

A good base can take a totally inexperienced person and do quite a lot of acrobatics with them. It’s exciting to take someone who sees some acro and says, “I couldn’t do that,” and lift them up and take them through a set of moves they assumed would be impossible. People come down from flying and look like they are on a chemical high. It is super empowering to know that you can share that experience with someone.

The flip side of that is not true. Even an awesome and experienced flyer is going to have a hard time doing much with an untrained base.

As a business owner, studio manager, and instructor, I cherish my great bases because they are harder to come by and require a larger investment to train. Once trained and capable, talented bases are a massive asset to an acrobatics program. Not that talented flyers aren’t great, but flyers are much easier to come by or to create, especially at a studio with a lot of aerialists.

The appeal of being the flyer is obvious since they are the one who is “flying.” It’s a kind of freedom and trust that is amazing. People who aren’t trusting are horrible flyers. When I find someone who just puts themselves into position and trusts that I will catch and balance them, it’s awesome how easy things are. It’s so foreign to me. Trusting someone else to catch you…Trusting. Someone. Else. To. Catch. You…It’s just such a bizarre concept. I’m all the more amazed when I see people have total faith in me as we move through a flow given how hard it would be for me to do the same. It makes the basing experience more sacred when I feel like I need to work hard and focus to earn that trust.

I’ve been working on hand to hand with a person doing a hand stand on my hands. One day I was working with two flyers. One has a solid hand stand. The other doesn’t have a solid hand stand but is good a holding steady while flying. The flyer who holds steady was actually much easier to balance than the smaller flyer with the better handstand. This is because the flyer who held steady wasn’t balancing on their own and fighting my attempts to balance them.

Flying isn’t all just about blind faith. It’s generally easier physically and the flyer tends to be the person who gets to create the interesting shapes and gets more of the attention. Not having to work as hard and getting to be the showy peacock appeal to a lot of people. Flying also rewards light weight and flexibility so people who are smaller and bendy will obviously have a big advantage over the bigger and stiffer (not that you can get away with being completely inflexible as a base).

There is a yin and yang aspect to acro as well. As a big tennis fan, it’s interesting to me that tennis was originally created to be a sport that both genders could participate in together. There aren’t too many activities that couples with a 6’1”, 190lbs guy and his 5’2”, 110lbs wife could do together at a fairly equal participation level. Acro turns this size differential on its head and makes it a positive thing. It’s one of my favorite parts of the practice. After the humiliation of recess as children, the 100lbs weaklings of the world must feel jazzed to have people fight to have them on their team in an acro class.

At the end of the day, judging one role as better than the other is counterproductive since one cannot exist without the other. In fact, I feel that it is helpful for both parties to try the other role if only for a few basic moves to get a feel for what it is like for the other person and have empathy for their experience. It’s very good for everyone to be taken out of their comfort zone from time to time.

Falling in Love with Acro Yoga

I have grown to love acro yoga. This was not always the case. When I first encountered it, it really didn’t seem like it was either acrobatics or yoga. I also did not like the community around it. I tried doing it for a couple of years before giving up on it. Every so often, I would try to pick it up again before putting it back on the shelf of things that weren’t for me. A year ago, I tried it again and have grown to the point that I am currently teaching at least one acro yoga class a day six days a week. More importantly, when I stare down a block of teaching four classes in a day, the Acro Yoga class is frequently the one I’m the most excited about.

Acro Yoga compliments aerial really well. The exercises are all about pressing (chest / triceps / legs) whereas aerial is mostly about pulling (abs / biceps / lats). I also love the balance aspect and how grounding it is. The practice has also evolved a lot in the last fifteen years.

There is a communication and trust aspect that I really value and that I don’t get from just doing a solo aerial or acrobatics practice. With enough hard work and training, most acrobatics skills are obtainable. With acro yoga, no matter what you do, part of the equation is the other person that you are working with. I like that everything isn’t in my control.

Working with a partner is an amazing experience. At first, it can be maddening trying to communicate left / right / back / forward / up / down and various body parts when you are both oriented in space differently. At first things are verbalizations bordering on shouting with some flailing and lots of apologies. It’s amazing to move past that and get to where you can communicate and forge connection via subtle taps and shifts in body position. I feel like the spatial awareness and positional orienting sharpen the elusive mind / body link that is really at the heart of genuine athleticism. Having to bridge this gap with two minds and two bodies more than doubles the challenge but makes the rewards of success that much sweeter.

It’s also interesting to me in that Acro Yoga is not a symmetric practice. There are bases, spotters, and flyers and the specialization makes it more fun since there is something for everyone. Imagine a couple with a 220lbs wall of muscle guy and his 110lbs gumby flexible, but tiny, wife. There aren’t many athletic activities that they could do together with equal participation levels. Most sports / athletic activities that would cater to his power would shut her out for her lack of raw force. Dainty things that reward her petite frame would punish his bulk. Acro Yoga allows them to work together letting each one draw on their strengths and rewards the size gap.

I also like that Acro Yoga lets me dangle a carrot. I have a number of aerial yoga / conditioning classes. It’s one thing to sell fitness to people as a “do this because it’s good for you” kind of deal. It’s a lot better to have people want to do something like Acro Yoga and see how their lack of strength / flexibility / balance / coordination is holding them back. Having a goal is great motivation to work out so that one can improve their performance.

Acro Yoga on its own though is a pretty impressive workout. The hamstring stretch for the base is amazingly more effective with the weight of a person pushing down on the legs. The sheer motivation to not drop someone / not fall will cause people to extend themselves more than they would just in simple exercise. The fine grained, subtle muscle control and engagement also promotes a highly intelligent, controlled strength that will benefit people more in life than synthetic, simplistic motions like most strength training exercises. For instance, a person who is very good at Acro Yoga will be far less likely to fall when they step on a patch of ice.

Acro Yoga is also rewarding to me because I can do it anywhere. After doing aerial for ten years, I’m always saddened that I can rarely show it to anyone. I’ll be at a party and be telling someone about aerial and have to just pull out my phone and show them a video. The power of Acro Yoga became apparent to me when I was roped into going to a super bowl party this year. During the boring half time, a friend and I flopped down on the ground and started doing fairly basic acro yoga moves in our street clothes at the party. People were going crazy and super impressed. It’s also pretty inclusive since there are a lot of basic moves that you can toss any random beginner into that will make them feel like they have done something exciting and thrilling.

In fact, Acro Yoga has a nice feature that a lot of it seems a lot harder, scarier, and more dangerous than it really is. This is a wonderful way to build people’s confidence. When you take someone into a move that they didn’t think that they could do, it makes it that much easier to talk them into doing something a little bit harder. This builds confidence that over time can spill over into other aspects of the person’s life.

All this sounds wonderful so why did I detest Acro Yoga for so long?

A big part of the turn off to me with Acro Yoga was the community whenever I tried it. No matter where I tried it, it seemed like it was always the polyamorous, hippie, burning man, no hygiene crowd. Being in very close proximity with people you could smell as soon as you walked in the door had little appeal to me. There was also a very overtly sexual aspect and sometimes sexually predatory vibe to a lot of the straight men in attendance that kind of grossed me out.

When I tried getting into acro yoga ten years ago, it was also really easy. At the same time, I was taking aerial classes at circus schools and even some ground partner acrobatics classes. Acro Yoga at the time was frankly pretty dull and boring in comparison. The people also weren’t particularly strong and things would progress super slowly whenever I’d try to take a class.

Acro Yoga has grown up a lot in the interim. It’s become big enough that there is a lot of very high level curriculum and moves that are every bit as hard as the things I’ve done in the aerial world. It also is blending a lot more into the acrobatics world. The ACRO has started to become bigger than the yoga in the practice and things have gotten a lot more burly. I also do it mostly with people also doing my fitness classes so they get to the point of being strong enough to do interesting stuff relatively quickly.

A big thing for me that I enjoy about the practice is that it is at my studio and I have control over things and can set the tone. I have a high quality student base and people are respectful and have solid hygiene. I also have no tolerance for sexual creepiness and go out of my way to create an environment where women can feel safe and not preyed upon. I’ve had multiple women comment that they have not felt comfortable doing partner at other spaces for this reason. I’ve also kicked out guys for misbehaving and have no qualms about doing so. When your breasts are hanging inches above someone’s face and feet are constantly moving into private terrain, it’s pretty important to feel like you aren’t getting objectified.

All of that said, I’m super proud of building a program to a pretty high level in less than a year and look forward to the how much further we will have taken things by the end of the next one. I also genuinely look forward to bringing this practice to more people’s lives. I can’t recommend it enough!

I don’t want to do pull-ups… I just want to look pretty on the ribbon

I don’t want to do pull-ups… I just want to look pretty on the ribbon

One day, I was getting caught up on office work in the front office while Vivian was getting ready to teach a beginner fabric class. A new student popped in for the first time to the studio to give it a try. Looking at her, I saw a middle-aged, overweight, and out of shape woman and knew that she would have a hard time at first, but, if she stuck with it, she could get in a lot better shape. At the end of the class, I asked her what she thought. She almost looked like she was going to cry. She said, “I keep looking for the thing that I can just walk into a room and be better than anyone else right from the start. I hoped that this would be it. It wasn’t so I just need to keep looking.”

This is more extreme than most, but I’ve seen a lot of people be surprised by how hard aerial is and that they can’t just “do it” from day one. When I have tried to show conditioning exercises to some new people, I’ve had many tell me, “I don’t want to do pull-ups, I just want to look pretty on the ribbon.” Let me just state up front, you can’t “look pretty on the ribbon” unless you are willing to get in shape.

This really isn’t a bad thing. Most people would like to be in shape but having a concrete goal, like wanting to aerial, can give that extra motivation to get off the couch and break a sweat. I really, really love aerial and want to have people be successful at it. I’ve had a number of people come to one class a week just to learn tricks. They don’t do any outside conditioning beyond the one class a week, make very little progress, and eventually disappear after a couple of months. We want to fix that!

I will be honest. If you do one aerial class a week and do nothing outside of that to strengthen the muscles needed to do aerial, you might as well not bother. I’m not saying that you need to do several aerial classes a week to make progress (even though people who do tend to get pretty good at it quickly!), but you need to do some work during the week to strengthen your arms, back, and core.

We have put together a multi-pronged approach to solve this:

  • New 30 minute rope and fabric boot camp classes at the studio
  • Hour long beginner fabric class with an emphasis on conditioning
  • Knotty Yoga Aerial yoga classes
  • A Knotty Yoga daily home workout

We have added 30 minute rope and fabric boot camp classes on Wednesday from 8pm-8:30pm and Sunday from 1:15pm-1:45pm. These classes are for all levels but are a great way for beginners to come and learn how to climb a rope or fabric and perform a set of targeted conditioning drills to strengthen yourself for aerial. It’s also a great way for more advanced students to log a lot of rope climbs and do some fun drills.

The Tuesday 8pm-9pm Beginner Fabric class will have a heavy emphasis on conditioning instead of mostly focusing on learning tricks. This is the best usage of time for brand new people.

All of the Knotty Yoga classes are a great way to strengthen for aerial as well as improve balance and flexibility while conditioning the whole body as well. Knotty Yoga is a great foundation for building the strength to do the more advanced acrobatics moves in your future.

We are very proud to announce a Knotty Yoga daily workout. Knotty Yoga students should do this workout every day that they don’t attend the studio. It can be done in less than ten minutes and will radically prepare you to make progress towards being able to do aerial acrobatics. Get strong so you can look pretty! The home workout is here:

Rethinking the Yoga Mat

I had been doing Pilates for years before I started doing yoga. The Pilates classes I attended had these massively large, well padded (two inch plus thickness) mats that we did the classes on. When I started doing yoga, I bought a yoga mat and went to the studio. I was surprised how small and ridiculously uncomfortable the yoga mat was. However, the yoga mat seemed to be a defining trait of the exercise modality. I came to accept doing lunges with just millimeters of some crappy synthetic padding between my knees and a wood floor as some kind of hazing ritual by which I could be initiated into the cult of the yogi.

This is actually ridiculous.

Yoga mats are a new thing (as in less than the last twenty years). There is no connection between the yoga mat and the thousands of years of tradition of yoga. One does not achieve enlightenment by grinding their knee cap into wood or concrete. They are not comfortable and, even worse, put restrictions on the type of practice one engages in. When placed on a long, skinny penalty box, teachers and students constrain their practice and movements to fit in this framework. I think that this leads to a lack of creativity and causes people to think in a very front to back, linear way. It also keeps people from spreading out to occupy more space than would be covered by a mat.

When I first started doing aerial yoga, I tried doing it with mats under the equipment on a hardwood floor. I wasn’t happy with the results at all. When holding onto a fabric, one naturally wants to move side to side and front to back as well as twisting. I tried doing things like two mats in a cross formation Universal Yoga style or even side by side mats to make more of a square, but the mats would get snagged and move around and it also just wasn’t enough padding to be comfortable.

I had a friend moving away and selling roll-out, two inch thick, carpeted acrobatics flooring. I bought it from her and taught on it for a couple of years. While it was quite comfortable, padded, and had excellent traction, it was so thick that balance exercises were challenging and the carpeted surface couldn’t be cleaned easily or thoroughly.

Around the same time, my friend Matt Meko tried using inch thick martial arts flooring in his studio. He raved about it. I went to check it out and liked it. It featured a surface finished like a yoga mat but it could be sprayed and mopped clean easily like a hard wood floor. It was very comfortable for something like falling out of a handstand or dropping down from a low height aerial move but not so padded that it hindered balance poses like tree or handstand. Traction was a little slippery when brand new (but not so much as a brand new yoga mat), but quickly became grippy.

I’m frankly in love. The thought of ever doing yoga on a hard wood floor on a mat seems silly to me. Like a trying to make a smoothie with a wire whisk after you’ve gotten used to a Vitamix. I went to a conference with yoga mats on concrete floors and it felt like the dark ages. I seriously don’t get why anyone practices like this anymore.

I suppose the lesson to me is that we shouldn’t just blindly follow things and accept them as cannon. To many people, the yoga mat symbolizes yoga. In reality, someone came up with the idea very recently, marketed it well, and it got some traction when insurance companies started requiring it to insure people. While I appreciate the business chops of the person who pimped this out to the masses, I really think that yoga mats hinder one’s practice and studios should investigate alternatives. In general, I think people should use a skeptical eye towards many of the assumed sacred cows of yoga. I’m going to look at some other aspects in blog posts over the next couple of months, but it’s a good idea to remember that yoga was very recently transferred to the West and has been HEAVILY modified and been filtered through a corporate machine to make it more marketable. I feel like the yoga industry tries to bully people into compliance with the supposed thousands of years of tradition behind yoga when a large portion of Western yoga is a modern creation with very little linkage to these millennia of tradition. It’s always a good idea to ask questions and research things that don’t seem natural to you. You might come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the doubted item. Or you might come up with something that works for you better. Both possible results are goodness.