In this article we get the opportunity to sit down with one of Aerial Art House’s regulars, Amanda, to discuss the importance of maintaining physical and mental health and how circus art can help with feeling low.
It goes without saying that this year has been a test of endurance, patience and strength. We have all experienced some form of hardship and faced the difficulty of navigating through a changing world. Work and home life have been turned upside down, and it can appear as though normality is further away from us than ever before. It is easy to become lost in daily news, as well as conflicting opinions and attitudes. This year has shown us, more than ever before, the importance of building mental and physical strength in order to become resilient and continue on in the face of adversity. But it is not just during a global pandemic that this mentality is so important. In this modern world we are constantly faced with new challenges and changes, and to be able to find ways of handling the stress and strain of daily life is so vital to our individual well-being.
Aerial Art House continues to help the local community with their physical and mental health in Edinburgh. When Amanda first came to the city from her hometown in Illinois, she found herself in a totally new environment and drastically different culture. Just as with many other university students like her, adapting to a new routine was difficult and making connections was a tricky process. In talking about her experiences from this time Amanda describes how during her first semester of study she was ‘restless and anxious’ as she tried to figure out her new life, ‘It became clear that I needed something to take my mind off being in my room, where I was doing nothing,’ she says. It is a familiar story to us all now, but back then this did not feel like the norm. Amanda, who suffers from ADHD and anxiety and depression, decided to take the leap and find herself a new hobby, which she hoped would bring some distraction from her worries and studies. Her objectives were simple: to get in shape and to get stronger.
Amanda, like many of us who find the conventional gym environment to be intimidating or uninviting, was interested in seeking out an opportunity to do something a bit different, community-based and fun. She describes how she came across Aerial Art House online, ‘I was researching alternative ways of working out and I came across a YouTube video that showcased aerial arts. I thought that it looked interesting and Googled “aerial arts in Edinburgh” and Aerial Art House popped up.’ The rest is history.
Edinburgh’s Aerial Art House is just one of a global network of organisations that provide circus-based workshops in order to improve on people’s physical and mental health. Research shows that participating in these classes improves patience, self-confidence and encourages socialising. These qualities all lead to an improved mental state, and make us far more likely to be able to handle new challenges and difficulties. This is particularly true in children and young people, with an American survey uncovering that children who partook in circus classes for six months demonstrated significant improvements in ‘stress relief; self-esteem; confidence; and socialisation’.1 When Amanda first began classes at Aerial Art House, she felt defeated by her lack of strength, ‘At first, I actually couldn’t do it at all, because I was so weak’, but with the encouragement of Hania Chwialkowska, the Director and Founder of Aerial Art House, she began to fall in love with circus and all it had to offer. Over time Amanda began to feel strong, powerful and in the best shape of her life.
Classes begin with stretching and friendly chit-chat, with all of the members of the group catching up with one another again. This then leads into conditioning, giving attendees time to go through exercises to improve their flexibility and build muscle. After this, the real fun begins with the mats and apparatus being brought out for the group to practice and learn skills. Amanda describes the environment of each class as very supportive, ‘We cheer each other on all the time, if one person is trying a new move we will stop and encourage them. It’s very uplifting to know that people actually care, and it helps to build confidence because it shows that even if I do fail, it’s okay as the class won’t think of me differently. They will still be there to support me.’ This newfound confidence extended outside of the studio and into Amanda’s daily life, as through these classes she found a friendship base with whom she could socialize with. In her own words, ‘It’s nice knowing that you have someone to talk to, someone that you have a real connection with and that shares the same interests as you, and so have the same vibe. As I came to Edinburgh from a different country, that has been really important to find.’ Each class is made up of people from all ages and abilities, with everyone being very invested and enthusiastic in circus art. ‘It really makes me happy and you can tell that it really does something for the attendees. It puts so much value into people’s lives’.
The introduction of lockdown restrictions across Scotland has temporarily halted the classes that Aerial Art House are able to provide. In this new and unfamiliar way of life Amanda, and many others like her, have gained a new perspective. They have come to realise the importance of social interaction and regular exercise, and look forward to reconnecting in the studio once again. Amanda reflects on her experience of lockdown, ‘Spending too much time alone leads to me getting inside my own head, if I am around people who are uplifting me at the art house then it helps a lot.’ In simply seeking out a new hobby, Amanda ended up discovering her own talent and a community she can rely on.
For Amanda the evidence is obvious, ‘If you look at a person when they walk into the Art House studio and you look at the same person when they walk out, there’s a clear difference. That really inspires me, because the classes are doing so much good for people.’ Amanda’s advice for someone who has never tried aerial or circus classes before is to just give it a go. ‘If you stick with it and work for it, you will be able to do so many incredible things and be so proud of yourself. Don’t be disheartened. I never thought I could do all the things the professionals do but the more I have worked towards it, the less it feels like work and the more fun I’ve had.’ When asked to sum up Aerial Art House in one word, Amanda chooses: Magical.
If you are interested in taking part in one of Aerial Art House’s classes please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Instagram.