How Aerialists Find Motivation During Difficult Times

How Aerialists Find Motivation During Difficult Times

I received several requests from aerialists to write about the problem of motivation in the midst of everything going on. I decided to turn the question back to the aerial community, since there are so many different perspectives on this problem. The responses I received back were depthful and varied, and they all remind us that each of us is doing our best to get through the hardships of our personal lives, our closest communities, and our world at large.

This blog post includes 11 tips for boosting motivation and perspectives and ideas shared by aerialists from around the world. I received so many amazing answers from aerialists that the post ended up being quite long! If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, save it in a tab for later, because the end is incredibly sweet and heartening.

Struggling to find motivation? You are not alone

Everyone has a unique circumstance in their aerial life right now, although it is safe to say that everyone is facing new challenges caused by the pandemic. I know of quite a few aerial studios that have permanently closed, which has been cause for a lot of grief throughout the aerial community:

“I miss aerial violently and I am heartbroken by the changes the pandemic has brought. My studio has closed, which hasn’t helped me to think positively about my future in aerial. It has been an incredibly painful experience to say such sudden goodbyes to a place that has become my home over the last 8 years. I won’t give up on aerial circus, but my future as a student and performer has gotten much more complex.”
-Shelby Becker (@shelbybecker01)

For others, temporary closures have been likewise frustrating, even when access to an apparatus is available:

“I’m just a beginner and I can do very little, so even though I bought both silks and a hoop to be able to keep practicing on my own, it was so frustrating and demotivating that I ended up giving up until my classes were back.”
-Maria Fernandez (@Fluesimple)

For many, motivation and mood have fluctuated over the months:

“It has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs depending on the news, weather, my mobility and mindset. Some days would be amazing, stretching and thinking up choreos, and other days I would have a hard time getting out of bed.”
-Petra Messink

Not having training space, or not knowing when classes might resume seem to be factors in motivation:

“Discovery that my winter/spring conditioning was paying off in effect of being able to execute new skills drove my motivation until until I began to see that the payoff was going to decline (mostly due to losing the workable space I was using to practice), which then snuffed the motivation.” -Anonymous

“I have been on a motivational roller coaster. Sometimes, I am all about aerial and fitness. Other days, I look at the rig and think, ‘Nope, not today.’ I think part of the problem was the uncertainty of when studios would be open again. Not knowing how long I would be on my own made it very difficult to establish goals and a training program.” -Kristin Derus

Some aerialists don’t have the right equipment, or internet access, which interferes with their ability to keep training:

At the beginning of the shutdown, I was very motivated to continue at home exercises to maintain my current fitness. I did not want to lose strength, flexibility, and technique that I had acquired through classes over the past year and a half. Due to my limited at-home equipment and lack of internet, I soon discovered how hard it would be to practice my aerial silks skills. I became frustrated, but tried to maintain floor strengthening exercises. Once my field-related job began in late May, I put my training on hold. -Amy Wicks

With a great deal of grief to process, I know that other aerialists and myself relate to what Nicole (@midnightcorvus66) described in the motivation survey:

“I can get through conditioning and all the prehab and strength routines but actually pushing through that warm-up pain in the apparatus, I can’t seem to get myself to do lately.”

And it seems that for some, the beginning of the pandemic was particularly challenging, with acceptance and new options helping as time went by:

“At first I was de-motivated to train because it didn’t feel “worth it” with so much going on, but now I feel like I need it as a necessary form of creativity and escape.” Anna Cicone @00silkdrop

Note: If you do not have access to an apparatus, some of this can still be helpful, but you will have to apply it to what is available to you–perhaps handstands, flexibility, dance, or whatever your other favorite physical exercise is.

Tip #1: Make a training schedule

Look at your weekly planner (or make one on your computer) and carve out 2-4 times per week that you can dedicate to physical activity. But allow room for it to change–Everything I plan at the beginning of the week is subject to change as my variable schedule takes shape. Don’t worry about sticking to exact time frames, but focus instead on the number of times you want to be sure to set aside time for a full workout.

Setting an intention in advance makes it much easier to step into gear when the time comes. If you have already made the mental decision that the workout is happening, it is much easier to follow through. In my experience, trying to motivate yourself without a plan partway through the day has a low success rate.

Tip #2: Make a training plan (or several)

One of the best ways to make sure you get some kind of meaningful training in each week is to have your training plans pre-written with checkboxes. I designed this training planner to track workouts, goals, and to help other aerialists and myself to make plans and remember to hydrate, eat enough, warm up, and warm down. I make a few different training plans and keep them for a month. Then I switch things up (though much of it stays the same). The Aerialist’s Workbook is also helpful for organizing goals and tracking progress.

You can reference my free aerial drills page and my youtube channel for some conditioning ideas. I also offer custom training plans (aerial silks only at the moment) if you’d like more thorough guidance and the support of an invested teacher.

Tip #3: Make a fallback training plan (or several)

Fallback training plans are physically and mentally easier than whatever your usual training plans consist of. For example, if I am feeling energetic and my schedule is working in my favor, I go for my full silks training plans first. My back-ups are three pre-written plans: trapeze conditioning, straddle/split flexibility, and “creative silks.” These are all shorter and easier workouts but they get me moving, keep me consistent even during these crazy smoky california days, and help me maintain a sense of continuity throughout this disorienting year.

It might not feel like a really easy workout is worth doing, but it’s about more than building muscle or burning calories.

What’s equally important is going into the training headspace, and making the point to carve out time to be present in your body. It may not be ideal, but it’s definitely going to be better than nothing. My boyfriend and I even did a “kitchen circuit” involving pushups, handstands, and other exercises in our kitchen and living room. Our house was hot because the smoke outside made turning on the swamp cooler hazardous. I did not love this workout. It wasn’t inspiring or pleasant, but it was better than nothing and I’m glad we did it. The physical movements helped me to get out of my head and the feeling of blood flow was great.

Tip #4: Take online floor and/or aerial classes or online tutorials

Virtual classes are widely available, with many floor options and some aerial options. I know some of my students love them, while others detest online learning. I asked readers how they feel about online classes–here are some of the responses I received:

“I have taken a ton of online workshops and private lessons. I have had more instruction since COVID than previously when I would take class maybe once or twice a month…Learning new stuff in these workshops and lessons has helped fuel my motivation.” -Carmen Parcelli

“I have worked full time through the whole of the pandemic and although I see the benefit of love classes I would rather have recordings to do in my own time as and when I can. They are a great addition to aerial classes and are often cheaper too which makes them more accessible for a lot of people.” -Heidi Dowie (@hides6)

Online instruction is becoming increasingly popular now that access to physical studios is limited.

“I have found online instruction very useful. Subscribing to Aerial Silks Online has helped me stay motivated, either to learn new things or to maintain/improve my current skills.” -Kristin Derus

Note: My Aerial Silks Online Platform is featuring tutorials by the amazing Anna Cicone @00silkdrop this month! Use code ANNA10 for 10% off and a free trial

 

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Tip #5: Create an inspiring atmosphere:

With many of us feeling cut off from the inspiration of our studio, it can be tricky to get into the right state of mind for creative movement. I loved this response from Petra Messink about what helps her feel motivated:

“Putting on some music that I love and simply moving my body. Getting flowers and scented candles to boost my morale and watching videos of home workouts and actually doing those.” 

I can’t wait to implement this! I still have some research to do about where to get sustainably sourced flowers in my town, but I do know where I can get locally made candles (and I’d like to learn to do this myself too!)

P.S. Check out Fit4Flight, a series of aerial-specific workouts you can do at home and on your own time.

Tip #6: Invent a new purpose

Many aerialists no longer have something clear to work toward–a showcase, a competition, festival, retreat or admission into the next class level. Some aerialists were simply motivated by having a class schedule to follow. Without these structures to guide us, it can feel like we’re just treading water.

Here are some ideas to help cope with that…

Invent a new benchmark for yourself
Set a deadline to release a DIY at-home performance on YouTube or IGTV (if you don’t have access to your apparatus, maybe it’s time to branch out!).


One of my quarantine performances that blends floor work (something I am VERY new to) and aerial.

Of course, the absence of an in-person audience can’t be overcome with a virtual performance, and that shared connection with an audience is what many aerialists find inspiring and motivating:

“My motivation dropping off has more to do with wanting an audience to interact with and give energy to and receive back from.” –Anonymous

“I feel highly motivated to stay in shape…but a lot less motivation to create new complete acts or works since there isn’t a live audience for them…” -Anonymous

Treat yourself to a new costume or apparatus
Maybe you can find a super sweet costume by a maker on Etsy, or secondhand (please try to avoid fast fashion options) and let that be a little extra inspiration for you. If you have a rig, consider upgrading your apparatus or adding a new one to the mix. You could also choose to purchase a new costume or apparatus after you meet a certain training goal you set for yourself.

Schedule a social-distance photoshoot with a professional photographer, or simply with your friends.

Outdoor photoshoots are definitely an option if you have a rig. If you are lucky enough to have a freestanding rig and decent weather and air quality (fires all along the West Coast right now) have your friends join you for aerial photos. Be sure to take necessary precautions to avoid contacting anyone who is not in your pod.

aerial-silks-caitlin-motivation

Photo of Caitlin Wellwood – @cait.wellwood  by Sara Kaiser – @sara.liana.silks in Bishop, California

Organize or join a local social-distance outdoor performance

Outdoor performances can be a great recourse in 2020, although depending on where you live it could be difficult to navigate weather or smoke.

And, as one reader points out, these events tend not to measure up to past performance endeavors:

“I’ve done two rather last-minute outdoor street shows with other artists in “green alleyways” for local communities, and we passed a hat to collect funds, but that hasn’t provided nearly the income nor mental stimulus I would normally have from planned and more long term projects.” -Anonymous

“We moved some performances outside or held them virtually. As we head into winter, we face a whole new host of problems getting shows pulled together.” -Kristin Derus

 

Tip #7: Make up or try someone else’s challenge

Can you think of something you’d like to understand better, or figure out in your apparatus? Aerialist Carmen Parcelli shared a great idea:

“When I do need motivation in practice sessions, I will sometime set myself a challenge. For example, the other day I challenged myself to come up with a belay entry from catchers on a single silk. When I figured out how to do it, I was so pleased and have been developing a sequence from there for the last several days.”

Here’s a challenge I offered up on my Instagram based on a sequence I posted on Aerial Silks Online:

 

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Tip #8: Get to the heart of it

If the normal reasons we train are removed, what is left?

One anonymous reader pointed out,

“Seems like generally what’s behind motivation is the ends, not the means. Conditioning is the means, so it’s not been my main motivator. The best outcome possible for the investment made–the payoff–is the motivation, so it feels like the means are only worth it if they match the end.” 

We train *for* a performance, a competition, or a show. Sometimes we put ourselves through a lot of stress for the sake of that end. Would you still train aerial if there were no performances to work toward? If yes, what is it about training aerial that is intrinsically valuable to you?

This time of lost reasons could be bittersweet opportunity to explore what you love about aerial that transcends goals, milestones, or anything that centers around other people. Focus on what you like about how it makes you feel–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Throw away the rest of the reasons for now. They can come back if and when the time is right.

“Other times, I motivate myself by just doing an aerial play session – just experimenting and doing weird or silly stuff.” -Carmen Parcelli

Bookmark this post, The Touch of the Fabric, to help reconnect with a deeper love for aerial (even if you are not specifically a silks artist).

Tip #9: Get an accountability buddy

This one doesn’t work well for me for whatever reason, probably because it actually increases the amount of organizing you need to do, so I don’t have a lot to say about it. But lots of people have success with an accountability buddy. Schedule weekly check-ins to discuss training plans and goals, and call/text each other with updates and encouragement.

Incidentally, nobody mentioned this in the survey!

Tip #10: Set your boundaries

Maybe you just need a full break from serious exercise right now. (Please do try at least to take walks, or bike or do something to get the blood flowing, because it is important for you in so many ways.) But maybe aerial takes a backseat for a while. Think about how long you are willing to let this break last. Maybe two months is good. Maybe a year is realistic for you. But if you have the information you need to do so, try to make a decision about when and how you will return to this practice, and mentally prepare yourself by making training plans and/or scheduling benchmarks for yourself as the time draws nearer.

Tip #11: Bribe yourself

There’s no problem with a good old fashioned bribe! Think of some “healthy” bribes and some extra special bribes for more challenging times. Some of my favorites include:

  • 1.4-liter bottle of ginger kombucha (still working on getting myself a SCOBY so I can make my own!)
  • New plant (this could add up fast though haha)
  • Afternoon Cappuccino (or your favorite pick-me-up drink)
  • A piece of homemade dark chocolate (this recipe is SO good and easy!) Works well before and/or after training
  • A scrumptious baked good from a local shop

Aerialists share: does social media help or hurt motivation?

It seems that everyone has their own relationship to social media. About half of the responses I received said social media helped their motivation, while the other half found negative effects. I’ve certainly experienced both sides of this. Here are some contributions from aerialists on this topic:

“It helps. It’s good to know there’s circus and aerial out there in the world.” -Anonymous

“Helps mostly, gives me something to move towards (goals), and seeing other people struggle helps remind me that we are all human.” -Petra Messink

“During the beginning of the pandemic, it somewhat hurt my motivation because I see people who have their personal at home aerial silk set up. I became frustrated because my small apartment does not allow for any aerial set up.”
-Amy Wicks

“I stopped Instagram for a little while because it seemed like it was making me feel “less than” and was also just a time-suck. But recently, I reinstalled the app. However, I unfollowed some of the stuff that was making me feel bad. For example, I was following some lyra stuff, but all the images of super-flexy-bendy hoop stuff made me feel bad since flexibility is my weakness. However, in terms of silks, I see stuff sometimes that inspires me to try something or try to copy a trick. That is the good side to Instagram.” – Carmen Parcelli

“Instagram is a huge motivator for me, seeing other amazing artists gives me things to aim for and tips for stretching etc., also my usual class coach hosted online zoom classes for flexibility and conditioning which would complement aerial.” -Heidi Dowie (@hides6)

“I am not on social media. Some friends at the gym were just discussing how disappointing their training videos are compared to things they see online. Comparing yourself to the best edited video of a professional seems to bring people down.” -Kristin Derus

“On the one hand, seeing cool stuff sometimes makes me want to train and do the cool stuff…on the other hand, when I’m tired and stressed and the cool stuff feels SUPER out of reach… it feels more like, why bother, I’ll never be that strong/flexible/etc.” -Nicole (@midnightcorvus66)

“I have avoided social media for the most part over the past few months. It generally doesn’t help my motivation or help me feel better. I am only interested in social media when my life is otherwise unproblematic, which is not currently the case.” -Shelby Becker (@shelbybecker01)

“Hurt—I just can’t stop watching tiktoks.” -Anonymous

 

Words of wisdom and kindness from aerialists around the world:

I wish everybody had the chance to enjoy something in life the way I enjoy improving on my aerial life. Lockdown has been way more bearable thanks to my instructors and the knowledge thats I could go back to it at some point. It saved me from depression.” -Maria Fernandez (@Fluesimple)

“I believe the most motivating thing we can do now is be kind to ourselves. Train when it feels good and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not feeling it sometimes.” -Kristin Derus

“I want everyone to be safe and to be excellent in what they’re doing and so seeing other people have projects happening or achieving new skills doesn’t get me down or demotivate me. I’m thrilled for them.

If anything, seeing other people succeed in big and small ways alike, particularly when they’re achieving creative new work, gives me motivation to figure out what unique things I can develop that have artistic value too.

The goal is not to surpass or chase after or copy someone else’s accomplishments, but rather to put the time in to discover my own.” -Anonymous