The day I’ve cheated on my first love with...Yoga

Another type of injury prevention and recovery as a high level physical performer...

Having started my artistic life at age four, by the time this day came, I had already been physically involved in classical dance, gymnastics, acrobatics, circus arts and all sorts of “non always healthy to your body” types of exercises for quite many years. My deep love for my art had also become a steady relationship with well established habits. 

In my teenage and young adult years, I was so ambitious to become the best that I was often on a borderline overtraining schedule. At some point of my career, while touring with a circus company, I was not only performing from 9 to 11 shows per week with numerous very demanding acts in the show, but also training for personal goals and improvements before and after the public performances, always keeping in mind my soloist career I was already designing from such an early age.

Through the process, I was carrying a lot of inflammation and had very few recuperation periods. I kept going everyday with great energy and passion. My body was sending me obvious signals in different forms of physical reactions but I probably raised my pain tolerance without being aware of the damages I was inflicting to myself so I could kept going. 

With all these years of education in my own field as well as connecting ones ( circus arts, dance, contortionism ), I had meticulously designed my perfect warm up and preparation routine before every show in order to be in top-notch condition once I stepped on stage, or at least that was what I thought.

My first time

I remember this particular Sunday of November, in rainy Northern Germany where I was performing every night during a four months period. I had made an exception that day and accepted an invitation from a colleague to try a “Bikram Yoga” class; a type of yoga performed in a heated room and consisting of 26 poses for a total of 90 minutes. That meant cutting out my training session that afternoon and skipping right to pre-show routine as soon as I'd reach the theatre. 

At this time of my life, the word yoga itself sounded boring and low intensity / low performance activity for non-athletes who wanted to feel flexible or believe they were being active. In my naive and arrogance tainted mind, I went through the 90 minutes class, pushing myself to my limits and even beyond, while making sure I would not disappoint myself in the process.

After the class, I felt honestly great and to my amazement, I had spent enough energy to experience a rewarding feeling from it once my ego had stepped out of the studio. Some poses were actually difficult in their own way and I had finally been using my body in a new challenging way. 

After a quick bite, the usual hair and make-up preparation in my dressing room, came the time of my warm-up session which would lead to my first act of the night on stage.

My body reaction

My body felt effortlessly smooth that night. Even a very flexible person need the proper body preparation to reach his/her complete range of flexibility, especially when working in such a state of inflammation and overuse. It can take a very long time to stretch and reach good results or what you are expected to do on stage.

That night, it was like if I could skip half the preparation and be in a good performing condition quite quickly. But more importantly, something else struck me right away: The excruciating pain in my lower back that I would normally push through, having accepted it was part of my job, was not present. It’s only after the show that I realized I had performed without pain, for as long as I could remember, the very first time in years.

At some point, you get so used to chronic aching that you somehow assume everyone is feeling the same and nobody mentions it. I was clearly confusing physical discomfort with real unhealthy pain. 

Pushing it to a new level

That day I seriously thought of pushing my first flirt with yoga a bit further and in the next decade I have been discovering all sorts of different practices from all around the world. I started to feel comfortable enough that it became my life partner. Without this yoga encounter, who knows to which extend I would have mistreated my body, not realizing that I was shortening my career little by little.

Today, I practice yoga everyday, first thing in the morning as a special indulgence to my body to make it forgive me for everything I force it into on a daily basis. A way to realign and calm my aching muscles, compensate for the unhealthy way I have to work during long hours of hand balancing sessions, aerial contortion and acrobatic practices. Yoga is now part of my life hygiene, and after near a decade, it has grown into my own type of body preparation to let me get the best physical results while continuously healing my body. I made my practice evolve in a very personal way and I feel I now know myself much better as an athlete and performer. That allows me to actually adjust to the ever changing body I work with.

Yoga helps me reach new summits in my performances and as I keep being amazed by what my so tiny physique can accomplish and bear, I am grateful I once cheated on my own routine and beliefs, giving a chance to a new passion to enter my world and extend greatly the power of my long life love: Physical Poetry.

 

I have decided not to mention the psychological, meditative part of my practice in this text since it would open a whole different chapter.

To be continued…

- Erika