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All is Full of Circus
It's the end of 2016 and my life is very simple:

I get on planes.

I fight fascism.

I go to the Very Serious Circus School.

I'm going to talk about the third thing.

When I took my sabbatical last year, I swore I would return to aerials. I understand if people don't pay a lot of attention when I swear that I'm going to do things. I don't always follow though. But I went to the Very Serious Circus School every day for three months like it was my job, so that by the time I had to go back to work, I had proper callouses on my palms and shoulders that didn't fit into most of my shirts anymore.

I was afraid that the circus would not survive contact with 50+ hours a week at the Mysterious Workplace. I feared that once I started traveling again, I would get out of the habit of constant exercise. I have traveled more in 2016 than I have in any previous year--go back and see all those times I have sworn that this is the year I will spend less time on planes and laugh at me. Go ahead. I won't blame you one bit.

I did not give up on the Very Serious Circus School. When I am not out of town, I take five classes a week: conditioning, stretching, rope, hoop, and intro to contortion. Genetics being what they are, I will probably never look like someone who spends all of their time in a gym, but I can do a lot of pull-ups, climb the rope hand-over-hand without my feet, and lift my toes to the trapeze bar an infinite number of times. The other day, I casually dashed off fifty tricep push-ups. Beginning-of-2015-Never was exhausted just thinking about fifty tricep push-ups. I suspect that the way one brags about these things now is by taking selfies of oneself flexing in the mirror and posting them to Instagram. In some ways, I am still a brain in a jar and the idea of taking a photo of video of myself exercising fills me with horror.

I started stretching classes thinking that I was flexible, and spent months discovering that it's just my hamstrings. I could bend over and lay my hands flat on the floor, but it turned out that my hip flexors were so tight they might as well have been frozen. I did my splits and bridges and everything else that required flexibility at the front of my hip by arching the hell out of my lower back. This made my lumbar spine hurt. A lot. It hurt too much to sleep. It hurt too much to go to class. I popped a lot of ibuprofen and did physical therapy exercises that stretched my hip by engaging my glutes. Contortion turns out to require a lot flexibility (surprise!), but also a lot of stability and strength from muscles I did not use much while up in the air. And that's how I ended up spending an inordinate amount of 2016 thinking about squeezing my butt.

My back hurts much less now that I have achieved victory over my hip flexors. My splits are nice and square and I can make full use of my back flexibility to touch my toe to my head in a variety of alarming ways. All of this means that my form is much improved and I make prettier shapes when I'm up in the air, which pleases me greatly. I'd built up years of bad habits by only doing the things that were relatively easy. On my return to the Very Serious Circus School, I have devoted myself to the things that are hard: straight legs and pointed toes, moves that require timing or momentum, all the things that I could technically do before, but that never looked quite right. I still have plenty of goals left for 2017 (flat center splits, forearm stand with my toes to my head, a solid one-arm hang on the rope, heel hang on the hoop) but there is almost no one outside of the Circus School to whom I can brag about the things I've done already. At parties, you can find me in the corner with the jocks and the yoga people, because who else is going to have a thirty minute discussion about getting adhesions out of your rhomboids?

And in this terrible, terrible year, it matters so much that I have a time when I have to leave the office and go to a place where no one wants to talk about digital civil liberties. It is good to have a place where I absolutely cannot be a brain in a jar and I have to pay close attention to the meat suit because it is twenty feet up in the air, upside down, and spinning.

I come home tired and sore and happy. I have weird bruises and I'm covered in chalk. I fall asleep watching YouTube videos of aerialists in Brazil. Then I wake up in the morning and I fight fascism.

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I am pretty sure we are in different stratospheres of conditioning/training, but I am in the market for hip-opening exercises on the recommendation of my RMT so if you have any tips I am all ears.

And while I may not understand your obscure circus-technique brags, I can grok 'fifty tricep push-ups' just fine and you are clearly a badass.

I can make some recommendations, but some of it depends on how your form is right now. When you do a deep lunge, can you feel the stretch at the front of your hip? You can increase the stretch by concentrating on tucking your pelvis under so that the stretch is in your hip and not your lower back. It also helps to squeeze your butt while pushing forward with your hips, because engaging your glutes opens up your hip flexor.

If it's hard to get that stretch while you're in a lunge, I've found it helpful to do my lunge with my back leg (straight) on my couch.

what are these magical hip flexor exercises? I too can flat palm the floor, but can't do much of anything else, and yes my back hurts too much to sleep most of the time. Pigeons and frogs just make my sciatica act up, but they are what everyone around here says to do.

also, man. I am jealous (in a good way) of your 5 classes a week. It sounds divine, and you sound amazingly strong now.

When I went to the doctor and explained that I had hideous back pain, she suggested that I should "stretch more and strengthen my core." I gritted my teeth and explained that I was already quite bendy and that my hobby requires tremendous core strength. As it turned out, I needed to work on loosening my hip flexors, learning to engage my glutes, and some very specific trans-ab exercises.

Hip flexor stretching is mostly about lunges, and finding new ways to make sure that you're doing them with your tail tucked under, pushing through your glutes into your hip.As I said earlier in the thread, putting my back leg up on the couch, or anything that's about the height of two stacked blue mats, also helped me get into my hip.

I tried some of this in conditioning class yesterday and last night was the first night I've slept all the way thru without waking up wanting to cry.
Thank you so much for writing this out.

I'm glad I was able to help.

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