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The Touch of the Fabric

Pain, pleasure, and connection in aerial silks.

Even though the apparatus is made of silky soft fabric, aerial silks is not a painless art. This is a lesson that students usually figure out on day one, right after they hoist themselves above the hammock knot and the fabric squeezes their upper legs like there’s no tomorrow. 

“Don’t worry, you get used to it over time.” The teacher is met with dubious glances.

It’s true. But why? When I started out in aerial silks, the teachers claimed that silks kills your nerves. I was pretty skeptical when I heard that, and since then this case has been closed by physio therapists who assure you that no, silks is not killing your nerves. 

It seems that there is not a very thorough understanding of what really happens, but in part there is a mind-body adjustment. At first, the nervous system responds very strongly to a new sensation that might be threatening. After you do it 100 times (because your teacher made you repeat a skill until you were an expert at it!) and you never injured yourself or died trying, your nervous system says, “Okay, this is actually fine. No need to send off a big alert each time.” If you want to remember that pain from day one, try doing skills you rarely do on your non-dominant side. 😉

So yes, pain is a part of aerial silks (although typically it is a much gentler apparatus than lyra or trapeze). But there’s much more to our tactile relationship with the fabric. 

The way the fabric touches us
I remember after my first few silks classes I was walking around upstairs at home and I noticed a feeling on my leg. It was the feeling of silks wrapping my leg in a basic wrap. I marveled, and realized I needed to sign up for another class. “My body is telling me to go back,” I said to my friend. I wanted that feeling back. This was the first time I noticed that the way the fabric felt on my body was changing my life. 

The way the fabric touches us can be beneficial to our health. Applying pressure to various regions of the body can aid in circulation, lymph flow, organ drainage, and digestion. Silks offers many levels of pressure, from extremely light to remarkably strong. When we move into and out of poses, lean into the fabric, wrap it around ourselves, and let it hold us up, we are in a sense experiencing something akin to a full-body massage (if only that’s how we felt after we trained!!!). 

There’s more, though. In my experience in four years of training aerial silks, I have discovered an emotional component to the fabric. It flows, it supports us, we hold on and then we let go; in passing through many forms enabled by the fabric, we encounter diverse expressions of ourselves. We expand across the chest (delight, openness), we hold the fabric tightly (dedication, focus), we fold into ourselves (protection, grounding), and we let the fabric fall out of our hands (release, freedom.) We send our energy outward, inward, upside down, and spiraling through space. In each skill–and often particularly in the transitions between them–we receive an outlet for something we might have been holding inside. If we were feeling heavy, we can feel light in being airborne. If we were feeling adrift, we can feel grounded in the wraps of the fabric around the body. Our movements and the fabric together create a transmutation of previously stagnant physio-emotional states. Training becomes therapy–training heals diverse aspects of the self, from body to pysche (not that they are separate).

The way we touch the fabric
More lessons came my way as I pursued the art of aerial silks. I began to uncover a relationship forming between the fabric and myself. I began to sense a deep and meaningful connection taking shape as I became more and more familiar with the way the fabric moves with and supports the body. I began to find just how I could rest into my wraps to exert myself less. And as if the silks were a person, I began to feel a clear and strong emotional connection with the apparatus itself.

The fabric has empowered me, helped me through emotional difficulty, and provided a source of discovery and inspiration. It offers purpose, direction, delight, and beauty. The touch and the emotional versatility of the fabric come together in a way that really tempts me to use the word “love.”

But sometimes, in all honesty, the fabric is a source of frustration. It spins us to a point of nausea. It depletes our energy. It bruises and burns us. On drier days it loses its grip, and our hands and feet begin to slip. 

But it has always just only ever been fabric. Really what we experience in the fabric is ourselves. Whether we are frustrated or joyful, it is because of the energy we brought to the fabric. It reflects.

And so, as a student and a teacher I bring emphasis to the way we relate to the fabric. If we approach it with openness, honesty, and curiosity, we are more likely to find ourselves inspired and joyful as we train. It is important to gauge our own energy levels and decide whether or not it is a good day to train or to rest. If we are careless in the way we touch the fabric, are overly self-critical, or mis-use our energy during training, we find ourselves at odds with ourselves and our apparatus. 

Personally, I write this after a day of training that was pure frustration. I had to ask myself why I would let this happen when all my rest days I just dream of getting back on the fabric? How can I let myself waste a precious training day approaching the fabric in the wrong way? So I write this to encourage myself and others to make the most of each training opportunity and to prioritize our relationship with the fabric, because ultimately, it reflects and impacts our relationship with ourselves. 

We won’t always remember to be mindful, or have only perfect training days, but if this self-awareness can rest as the foundation of our practice, we will stay close to that beautiful, connected, loving relationship with the fabric and with ourselves.

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