This is an unpaid review of Shannon McKenna's newest E-manual (featuring Dr Jennifer Crane of Cirque Physio) "One Arm Positions for Aerialists - A Practical Manual for Hanging Upside Down on One Arm", and if you think the title is a mouthful then get ready for a three course FEAST for your inner aerial-geek. Not only is this manual chock-full of gems about the technical aspects of Inverted one arm positions, it is easily digestible, practical and a riot to read along to. Shannon has a fantastic way of breaking things down into simple cues, instructions and drills, whilst incorporating the necessary anatomical knowledge. This balanced approached has wide appeal to both teachers and students who are ready to apply themselves comprehensively to the art of aerial. As a physiotherapist when I'm teaching it can be difficult at times not to get swept up in anatomical detail in an attempt to arm (oh yeah, I made that pun) the student with as much knowledge as they need but it's not always the best way of educating movement. What Shannon has done perfectly is present in a concise way, only the pertinent information, building on the knowledge of the first manual "The Fundamentals of Aerial Alignment" which covered the all-important "Shelf", the group of muscles supporting us when hanging upside down. This time the main focus is the one arm nemesis Meathook and the ever-allusive Flag Positions. Shannon also describes One arm Neutral, Reverse Neutral and a drill called the Conveyor Belt, as foundational to achieving these advanced positions.
What I LOVE about this manual is the layout - yes she's hilarious which makes for easy reading - but the way each skill is broken down into three main focus points makes for very easy progress in both studying the information presented, and planning your next session to train. Each new skill has a "How to" section, Tips for Spotters (which as a teacher is a brilliant addition and an area not widely covered) as well as Troubleshooting pointers along with video demonstrations of each.
NEW things I learned..
1. The term 'extension energy' - the idea of elongating a limb towards the periphery with active tension in order to balance/support the overall body shape. Although I know this concept from my ballet days, having something accurately termed is a powerful way to improve the language we use to instruct and learn.
2. Using weights (or the weight of the free arm) to progress towards a static one arm hold. Again, although not a brand new concept, Shannon explains the benefits of training using a small weight for both positions and how each technique differs.
3. The importance of Pectorals Minor - in general, becoming aware of common mistakes and things that can "sabotage" your progress is GOLDEN information, particularly for instructors. Dr Crane's insights here are invaluable. Too often we focus on the steps, the strength required etc, but we miss out on what I call the "Peripheral knowledge" every trick contains. Knowing what doesn't help is JUST as useful as what does. And it increases your "aerial IQ", which makes potential troubleshooting easier to navigate or foresee.
OTHER stuff I LOVED...
1. The emphasis on longevity is something that is hardly every voiced and goes hand in hand with injury prevention - a cause loudly espoused by both Jennifer and Shannon.
2. The way Shannon writes comes from a perspective that supports the necessity of solid foundations to serve performance and inform creativity. . If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times...CREATIVITY is not a lack of structure, although it may be a departure... it demands STRUCTURE. As in medicine, if you want to diagnose abnormalities, you first have to know whats normal. Creativity and exploring your own style is no different - you have to have a solid base to build off. As a Physio, performer, instructor AND student - this manual inspired me to have a more comprehensive understanding of the tools I need to do these harder positions (and I'm not giving up on that flag! #goals)
At $69.99 The price point is well...on point; accessible and worth every penny. I believe as students we should be investing well into our training not just blindly training and attending classes in the hopes of somehow metamophosing into our idols. I cannot recommend this manual enough - it makes sense, its progressional and safe, and I can't wait to start the journey towards achieving these positions myself!
Recently a friend pointed out that perhaps I was in the habit of judging things I’d never tried and it surprised the heck out of me! First of all, we were only acquaintances at that point (instantly became friends coz I respect that level of bluntness haha) but it was hard to take the fact that I held opinions about something that I had zero experience with.
But he was right, I did.
And it got me thinking..how often do we say we WANT something, but what we really mean is that we want it under certain circumstances. Our desire comes with conditions. We want it as long as we get it instantly, or in a reasonable timeframe, or it doesn’t cost us too much. And when those specific circumstances don't happen, we end up NOT getting what or where we want. Because that’s not how it works. If you’re waiting for an easy way to get rich, you’ll die waiting. If you want to be fit, so long as it only takes a comfortable amount of effort, money, dedication etc....it won’t happen.
We want Abs or we want to be stronger but we don’t want to learn HOW to get there; we aren’t really WILLING, or else we would already have what we wanted - wouldn’t we?? With the exception of specific knowledge that can only be taught to you if you pay THIS much money, or see THAT trainer or go to THIS University...most of what we want can be found in the DOING. It’s in the effort. The experience of the thing itself, pushing through the ‘usual’ amount of discomfort, following rules that don’t make sense to us yet, submitting - in a way - to that new process and the journey. That’s the only way any real transformation ever happens. The reason why any diet or any type of exercise “works” is because you commit to it and DO it.
We want the results of the effort, not the actual process. And yet that is where true learning happens. In the process. And in the case of fitness, its all about learning what you're capable of. We deceive ourselves (as did I) when we think that wanting something BADLY is a indication of our actual desire to give effort. I’ve wanted to be stronger for years, but I’ve never committed to be(coming) stronger. I’ve gained strength in fits and starts, but mostly due to increases in workload, stress-induced weight loss (yes you can feel stronger by being lighter) and other stuff that wasn’t in my control. In other words, not due to my efforts. And this is what happened to me - I had plateaued and I couldn’t understand why! Because I couldn’t see that I wasn’t WILLING to do the work to get to where I wanted to be.
The outcome, the end product, always comes from EFFORT.
Every time I DO, I learn. Nothing is wasted. I cooked Risotto for the first time last night and I already know what I’ll do better next time (follow the recipe for starters hehehe!). Knowing what your body can take, is a very specific type of self-knowledge, and I think it's important to know that when you start out aiming for fitness, this is one of the first lessons you'll learn. In my case, I had to forget about my self-imposed limits - within safe boundaries of course. Learning not to give up when you fail is the lesson, and the teacher was "Rach trying to get fit". Humans are made for change. MADE for it, NEED it even. We are adaptable, which is what makes fitness a never-ending journey.
So here’s what I learnt from a few workouts with my friend, several on my own and an “Intro to Crossfit" class.
Product (p)review: Aerial Spinning Reference Guide by Aaron Kozloff feat. Angela Prescott PT, DPT, CSCS
The first time Aaron Kozloff and I met we immediately struck up a conversation centred around mutual values of teaching, anatomy and the application of tried and true principles. So when he asked me to review this new work, the physiotherapist and performing artist in me was overjoyed to be reading something not only of scientific value but something practical to apply to our work as aerialists. This in-depth guide is part-drill part-skill based and chock full of gems that come with years of practical experience in this niche industry of ours. Straight up I will say this isn't for the faint hearted, both the theoretical information it covers and the drills, exercises and skills on which the guide is based (two/one and a half/one arm spinning flares into a variety of ending positions including meathook and flag) are high level. However I think that's where its value lies, in giving that middle-to-upper level group of circus artists some real anatomical and biomechanical meat to sink our teeth into. And I don't say that lightly, seeing as there is an abundance of STUFF out there, not all of it good, and not all of it readily applicable. This is a great resource, and personally I found a lot of it very useful to build on my current level of strength and knowledge of the physics of spin.
The inclusion of physiotherapy tips throughout the guide on injury prevention and adequate strengthening are fantastic and an Anatomy Appendix serves to define a lot of the scientific information that grounds the theory of the drills and will please the movement geeks (like me). However the text itself IS lengthy and can be a bit jargonistic so take it slow or do as Aaron suggests - skim read the whole thing and then savour it slowly in bite sized pieces for more detail. My advice, watch the videos and follow along with the pictures and attempt only a few drills/skills each training session.
At first glance the drills seem basic (they always do, in fact they must be because in essence they are a watered down version of the full skill) but I'd never heard the term 'floorial' - which describes a drill or mini-tutorial to practice part or all of the action on the floor - so I spent some time reading through the entire guide and practicing these "floorials". In terms of training the muscular patterning and neurological connections they are great but they mostly give you some muscle memory for the leg action and so don't expect to jump from the floor based drills into the full skill in the air.
Because the guide is specifically addressing spinning strength and technique it is most applicable for straps and split-piece work on silks or hammock. Personally I've learnt more steps to progress towards a reverse flag and one arm flare to meathook and readers will still gain lots of overhead positioning technique for spinning and one-arm skills in general. It certainly hits at a niche for advanced students but I will go as far as to say its a must-read for any teachers who include flares in their spin repertoire and any of these higher level one arm skills. Release date is set for April 6th and right now Aaron is doing a free giveaway challenge on both his Instagram (@circkoz) and Facebook (Aaron Koz) pages! You can also check out their websites:
Product review: Shannon McKenna's E-Manual - Alignment Upside Down: A Practical Manual for Hanging Upside Down
One of the wonderful things about travelling to a new city every 3 months or so, is meeting a variety of people in my industry. Not just the Health and Fitness industry but also in the Circus Arts and that beautiful cross-over niche that exists between these two complimentary disciplines.
Shannon McKenna (@the_artist_athlete) is one such superstar whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Atlanta last year and she has recently released a manual for aligning yourself upside down! So I thought I'd give it a bit of a read through and let you all know what I thought!
First of all, let me say that this is something that resonated with me straight away. For years I have been teaching people to 'embrace upside down as the new normal' and 'stop fighting being upside down' - in a way trying to get students to understand that upside down is just another version (different orientation) of Upright and in fact is still a Vertical of sorts. SO it came as a breath of fresh air to read this manual, which features snippets of physio goodness from none other than Cirque Physio's Jen Cane and to see that other professionals were teaching the same concepts of inverted vertical alignment.
The main points I thought I would address...Who will benefit from this manual? To what level of student is it aimed at? Is it worth it ($49.99)? And what did I get out of it personally...
As a whole, I would say that this manual is perfectly suited as complimentary (if not foundational) reading for any level aerialist (hmmmm who was it that always says the basics NEVER stop being important??) and even as a physiotherapist myself, I got some great insights from it. Shannon's tone is informal without any anatomical jargon/buzz words but rather informs you simply of the necessary physiological information you actually SHOULD know (or want to know) as a budding aerial student. In terms of content - it offer exercises to build awareness, stamina, strength and endurance but only covers the alignment of basic shapes such as tuck, pike and straddle. As a former gymnast however, I know that these shapes (as well as dish and handstand) creates the basis for almost every other move - well worth the price tag in my opinion! From the perspective of a fellow performer on multiple apparatus, I learnt some important tips for preserving grip strength and how to orient my shoulders better for inverted shapes. Learning about "The Shelf" which is a really great way to explain the anatomical recruitment required to support upside down alignment, as a teacher who is always on the hunt for better ways to breakdown and explain physiological concepts, I will certainly be recycling this concept - thanks Shannon!!
I've been wondering how to write about this for a week or two now, but haven't been able to put it into words. I'm not sure why, I know I've made the right decision, but I just couldn't find a way to tell people, without sounding like a failure. Because ego gets in the way of everything *face palm*
In 2014, on September 25th, I became a studio owner, something I had never really had in mind but necessity and a random opportunity sort of brought it to my doorstep. My super supportive husband who always has more faith in me than I can muster as well as a few crazy friends, convinced me I could make it work (I blame you guys haha!) As a private aerial coach at the time, I was working out of two or three places and struggling after an injury sidelined me from my first aerial home, Aerial Divas. My own lack of belief wasn't the only thing holding me back. For starters, the rent itself was more than my usual monthly earnings and the space wasn't ready for aerials in the slightest. I relied on friends, family and the never-ending support from my husband to even begin to start envisioning what this place in Abbotsford would, could become. Because of THEIR faith in ME, I somehow managed to create not only a business, but an IDEA took root and together we created a space that was calm, clear and creative. I didn't know it at the time, but in a way, I set my intention, tried every day to become the genuine teacher I wanted to become and eventually what followed were like-minded students who came to value what I valued, to learn and grow. And in return, they taught me more than they will ever know.
From the get-go, the name Aerial Canvas had to mean something to me personally. Every small business owner knows that to keep yourself driven, the WORK has to mean something to you. So we decided on Canvas - the idea that any apparatus can become a space to express your unique self and that helping others become more 'themselves' was not just something to aspire to, but perhaps even the main goal of the whole thing.
Today, as I look through photos of how my beautiful space evolved, the work, the blood, sweat and tears than went into those walls, the students who have come and gone, and the ones who remain - in many ways I could never have imagined such a perfect space to teach, train and create in. Yet in a way from day one nothing has changed. The people who helped make that space are still with me, still some of my closest friends and family.
What changed was ME.
The way I think, teach, believe, love. I've come to truly understand that learning to love yourself and BE yourself is the only way to help others to do the same. The past 4 years has taught me many lessons; that sometimes you don't get what you deserve, that humans have an almost endless capacity for kindness and ability to grow and evolve, that self-expression inevitably takes us on a journey inward and that performing can be a wonderful way to explore (or escape haha) that process.
So, in that frame of mind, I'm grateful for what this season and this space has taught me, and now is the right time for me to move on. I'm sad to say that Aerial Canvas Abbotsford is no more, that I will not be returning there to teach anymore, but I'm excited for the new opportunities that letting go of my aerial home will create. To use a circus analogy - swinging from that trapeze is fun, but if you really want to learn how to fly, you have to let go with both hands to get to the other side.
I still call Melbourne home, and will be returning to Australia to teach in as many new studio 'homes' as I can, as often as I can. For now I want to focus on developing myself professionally to become the best teacher I can be as I continue to learn from my teachers, muses and students. Thank you to each of you who has visited Aerial Canvas Abbotsford over the years and for supporting me whilst I continue to craft my online library of aerial tutorials and develop the global Aerial Canvas Community :)