Training independently can be a powerful way to enhance learning. Is it right for you?
In the last post I shared five ways that group classes could be limiting your potential, with the acknowledgement that group classes are absolutely essential for aerialists and I totally support them (I participate in and teach them). It may seem intuitive that solo training is super helpful for some aerialists, but what is it exactly that makes it so valuable for learning and developing as an aerialist? Who in particular might thrive with the incorporation of solo training?
Removing the layer of self-consciousness
Have you ever found yourself totally in the zone with something until someone came by to watch, at which point all your prowess seemed to slink away to be replaced by ineptitude? If having eyes on you makes you feel disoriented, having the opportunity to train without the possibility of this kind of interruption could be key for you.
If you set time aside to train independently, your mind can relax and give all of its energy to what you’re doing, as opposed to what people are thinking about what you’re doing. This makes it easier to stay in the flow and “sink in,” becoming more deeply present with your apparatus. Being able to get closely connected with your apparatus is great for learning and forming long-term memory of what you work on.
Get into the zone and stay there
Do you stress out about taking up too much air time, or having enough time to work on something? Solo training offers you the peace of mind that comes with being able to take as much time as you need without affecting anyone else. I know I learn best when I have much more time than I need–otherwise I feel anxious about when I have to stop and it feels like time goes by way too quickly. I like to be able to try something over and over until it starts to make sense, and not worry that I’ve taken time away from somebody else.
Furthermore, not everyone can get “into the zone” quickly, or can jump back in easily when interrupted. Having has much time as needed to get into the zone is a benefit of solo learning. I wish I could provide a stricter definition of being in the zone, but I can attempt to describe how it feels for me.
For me, when I sit down with a piece of writing, or work my way through a set of wraps, I begin with a bit of a grappling or thinking feeling. As I continue to work, the context of what I am doing begins to fall into place–words and phrases I need when writing start to come effortlessly.
When this happens in aerial training my physical body starts to feel connected and clear, and movements I need to further the wrap come intuitively. As the context of what I am doing assembles, I can more easily and gracefully develop my work. If I am in the zone and don’t know what needs to happen next, I can just pause. I look like I’m spacing out but really my mind is working below a conscious level, and shortly will produce the idea or information I need.
If I am interrupted, that context breaks apart and scatters, and I have to start over. But, there is a certain mental hurdle in getting into the zone, and once broken out, I don’t always feel like trying again.
To me, this process seems to integrate and solidify what I’m learning so it isn’t easily forgotten. I don’t really ever feel like this when other people are around except when I am teaching something or presenting something verbally. Even in aerial performance I have not yet been able to find this mind space due to anxiety and being much newer to aerial than I am to speaking (6 years vs 27), and that is something I hope to change in the coming years.
It’s important to point out that it is not necessary to always be in the zone when learning. You need to go to classes to gain different pieces of the context that you will later assemble through solo work. I won’t feel “in the zone” in those classes but that’s not a bad thing. I will take that class time to gain the pieces of knowledge I will later assemble and integrate.
To offer another example, when I took German in high school, the teacher would introduce a new grammar/syntax lesson. I would understand none of it and sort of passively listen. Yet, when I had a chance to work through assignments, I found that the lecture gibberish started making sense. Neither lecture nor assignment on their own would have resulted in me learning German. I needed both.
If this sounds familiar, solo learning might be essential for you.
Choose your own adventure
Training solo gives you the chance to work on exactly what interests and inspires you. If group class has been doing tons of drops but you’re all about footlock skills these days, you might lose inspiration and motivation. Whether it’s theoretical puzzles, powerful moves, or flowy sequences, that inspire you, I encourage you to cultivate them. There is a reason you’re powerfully drawn to something, and it may lead you to discover more about your natural movement style. We should of course continue to keep open minds and practice skills that are less intuitive, because it is going to challenge your body and mind, diversify your vocabulary, and may actually lead you to discover you love something you didn’t expect to love.
Training solo can help you discover more and more what makes your body feel good, what excites your mind, and what inspires you to keep practicing. If you’re dreaming of roses, plant roses.
Autonomy & critical thinking
When left to your own devices in aerial arts, you’re going to be challenged in exciting ways. In class, the teacher has everything figured out and they are going to help you every step of the way. When training on your own, you’re the one who has to analyze, troubleshoot, and give yourself feedback. These are powerful skills to grow as an aerialist, especially for those who have a desire to teach. Outside feedback will always be important and valuable, and at the same time, the ability to break down skills, analyze wraps, and evaluate your own performance without help is empowering.
It can be deeply satisfying to struggle with one move or skill repeatedly until it starts to click. Sometimes I use my brain to sort out the roadblock by analyzing videos and visually examining the wraps and body positions. Other times I feel into what I’m working on more carefully with my body in order to better understand it–I might move more slowly or test out different angles of hips, height of grip, etc.
These processes of inquiry are powerful for developing aerial knowledge. I believe these inquires to be central to my ability to create original sequences. Regardless of how exactly you get to breakthrough, it feels really powerful to discover that you can come to an understanding on your own through perseverance.
When you’re not always being instructed, you have the option to go rogue. “What if I do this?” Now, that can be a totally disastrous thing if you don’t have the right understanding of your wraps or apparatus, and it needs to be handled with great care, as I discuss that more in detail in this blog post. Today my point is simply that training on your own gives you a chance to explore new possibilities.
In the last few years of my aerial training, I have gravitated increasingly toward original sequencing. Some of the most fun I have is trying new things and figuring out if and how they’re going to work. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean I throw on a bunch of wraps and let go. I mean I experiment with careful, calculated movements always supported by contact points of security. If you’re curious about what I’ve created, everything I create goes onto the Aerial Silks Online platform where I provide detailed instructions for re-creating the sequence.
Is it for you?
Training solo is for the experienced aerialist who knows how to assess safety and use good judgment. It’s for the aerialist who learns well when they have time and space to sink in, or who is eager to learn what isn’t being offered in their local studios. It’s for those who enjoy the challenge of problem-solving (and know how to go about it safely). It’s for those who don’t mind failing over and over without having someone nearby to encourage them before something clicks. It is also simply for anyone who wants more practice time than they can get or afford at their local studios.
I’ve been revisiting my Aerialist’s Workbook recently for goal-setting and wanted to share it here in case it might be the right kind of resource for you. This workbook is ideal for anyone who wants to structure their own training. Rather than telling you what to train, this workbook guides you in how you train, including forming good habits, creating your own workouts, setting goals, and evaluating your own progress over 90 days. It has reliably helped me hit goals in my own training–every time I use it I finally can clearly see the steps that will lead me toward the skills I long for. It’s a digital document you can download immediately, and there are elements you can work on prior to and between training sessions.
Things to keep in mind for solo training:
- Solo training should take place with a person nearby who can help if something goes wrong
- Solo training requires a strong understanding of aerial fundamentals and is not appropriate for beginners, except in the case of a supervised open climb
- Maximize safety – use a mat, warm up, appropriate rig and rigging equipment
- Know your limits
- Use good judgment
What do you think?
This is a topic I am eager to learn more about. I would love to hear from you to better understand how others experience learning, both inside and outside of aerial. I will be taking responses from the form below to incorporate into a future blog post. Your answers submit anonymously, so if you want to be named please be sure to include your name and/or social media handle.