Circus performers are both emotional and physical athletes. We need to consider all aspects of our body and mind to be flexible in our practice and do our best work. But, as much training as we do, we rarely actually take the time to feel. We ignore our emotions to push our limitations. We take pills to make the physical pain go away. Sayings like “sleep is for the weak” and “I’ll rest when I am dead” help us believe ignoring our limitations is simply discipline and necessary to continue the work.
Yet, the practice of feeling oneself has been the primary focus when I have taken class in dance, clown, yoga, contact juggling, mindfulness or Alexander Technique. It has been included in my university classes, my counseling sessions and seems to be one of the most important focuses for fostering good physical and mental health. If we are athletes why are we ignoring the things that make us healthy? We sleep too little and push ourselves too much. Instead, fueling ourselves with coffee and using all of our time to push our limitations without rest. We need our body to be in good working order to have the longest career possible, but we often take it for granted.
This is very important. Take 20 minutes and lie on the floor to feel your body. Take this time to try to tune out of the mind and ask yourself what your body is telling you. Does the whole body feel the same sensations, or do you feel relaxed in some places and tension in others? Where do you feel happiness and where do you feel sad, or angry? What do they feel like and where do you hold these emotions? Does it change when you focus on them? Can you create more space and allow your breath into the spaces that feel tension? Do you feel numb in some places? If you place your attention to the numb places does this change?
Do a full scan of the whole body, head to toe, at the beginning of this session. Try to see how each part feels. What does your underarms feel like? What does your neck feel like? Are you aware of your ears? Go through the whole body. We often carry weight in our jaw, tongue and face. Can you relax these parts? Do this again near the end of the session and see if it has changed. If you pay attention to your feet a while, check back into your face and see if it is still relaxed. Notice what your body is holding, and what your body is numb to. This will all change, although you may find similarities.
This is a practice we should be doing daily, both because it is good for our body but also because it is good for our mind. When you do this every day, you will notice how you are different from yesterday. See how your brain reacts differently each day to trying to bring attention away from the mind and into the body. Feel your breath and how it expands your ribs. Notice how each breath is different from the last.
Circus artists get’s so caught up in training and technique and how we present ourselves we ironically forget our bodies exist. Taking the time to feel your body will change your practice, get you more in tune with your rhythm, and help you understand your training more deeply. Most of all, it will make you more aware of what everything feels like, which is inherent to being a physical and emotional athlete.