3 years of contortion: an update

I said this before, but I’ll repeat myself for whoever wonders: I never trained flexibility at a young age, but I’ve always done sports and some of them (ballet, track and field) required some flexibility, especially on the lower body. It was only when I turned 27 that I started taking group classes purely for flexibility training (it was April 2012), and by November 2012 I was doing my first steps into learning the beautiful yet challenging art of contortion.

I wrote before about the discoveries I made training contortion at an age considered by most very late and quite dangerous. I’m glad I did follow this desire of becoming more flexible, because I learned so much about my body and how the mind can decide if something will or will not happen. Contorting gives you access to new heights, also in terms of feelings, you listen more carefully to what’s happening and develop fine tuning within… the blood rushing, the heart pounding, the need to grasp air, the sweat, the muscles fighting and relaxing, the bones aligning inside, tension released, the whole body accepting and conquering dark fears. I felt the deepest body and mind connection and the truest sensation of what being alive means. Training this kind of stuff is a cathartic experience.

I love to make lists, and today I’d like to sum up some of the most important points I gathered about my experience with contortion, some are new, some I must have mentioned before but it’s a good reminder anyway. Please note: this is my personal journey, not giving medical advice of any sort!

1. Trick Progression

I believe that to learn contortion in the safest and most effective way (=results), you need to have a coach you trust that can show you what to start with and what to move into next. Too often I’ve seen people jumping from trick to trick without mastering the basics first. For example, in order to have a beautiful zigzag, you MUST have a perfect solid, comfortable cheststand. Why? Because zigzag requires balance as long as flexibility plus it’s even harder to breathe. Another one: in order to train triple fold, you need head-sit first (cheststand with legs straight, head touching butt). Or to train 1 hand handstand, you need to have a strong basic handstand before. It is dangerous and counterproductive to skip steps.

one of my first zigzag

one of my first zigzag’s

chest stand, looking at the camera

chest stand, looking at the camera. Clearly comfortable enough!

Especially at later age, the body is slower at learning, progressing and recovering. You can’t be in a rush and doing “half-ass” tricks here and there. Forget about what others are doing, they’re not you, not on the same journey, not with the same background, ahead or behind of you, who cares, it’s not a competition. Do not copy cat other’s training, listen and trust your coach (or an expert you look up to) and train the basic tricks first (those that constitute a foundation for other more advanced ones). That way you can add moves and variations to your training, without losing what you learned first. Be strict, repetitive and diligent until you’re told you’re ready to advance.

2. Uniqueness

Your body is unique, especially as an ADULT.  You have a personal history written all over you. Me for example, I’m 5 11, long legs that add lot of strain on my lower back if I’m not careful, 11 years of bodybuilding, couple past injuries and so on. I learned what moves feel good, look good, hurt but I need, hurt and never did again. It’s a trial and error! You’ll have the privilege to choose after you mastered the basics and got to know more about your body.

IMG_1744

probably my signature move!

3. Correcting imbalances

A big part of getting more flexible/better at what your training for is addressing imbalances. We all have them, because of postural habits, past injuries, past sports/activities that favored one side over the other one. You don’t want to overwork one side only because in the long run it might get injured for the repetitive stress and I just find it silly to neglect one side over the other anyway, if you’re training keeping a healthy approach in mind. Of course when performing we all use our best side to show off the most beautiful and close-to-perfection moves, but when training, both sides of your body need the same attention. A tip to address imbalances: train in front of a mirror. For example, do a cheststand and look if you “sink” on one side. If you do, that’s your most flexible side, move to the other one more! Gently, like back and forth. Another way is just spending a little more time on your “bad” side (let’s say your bad split is with right leg forward, you’ll do two or three extra splits on that side).

IMG_1719 (1)

4. Injury/stall moments

As any sport, when you reach a more professional level (or your training just gets more intense) injury WILL happen. Sorry I don’t want to bring you bad luck, but it is what it is. Even the most careful athlete will experience some sort of injury, mild or severe, at a point in his career. Hopefully you’re being smart enough to listen to the signs of your body, and recognize early symptoms so you can get treatments and get back to your training with little time off. Also it’s important to figure out what caused the injury and correct/change your training if needed. Stall moments (when you keep going but see no improvements) can be caused by overtraining, a recurring injury or it’s time for you to try a new exercise routine.

5. Performing vs training

This is something I think of quite a lot… do I train to perform, or do I train… to train? I love training more than anything else! I also like to train so I can become a better teacher. Performing is just the cherry on top. But I train mostly to feel the mental connection to my body, the meditative state during and afterward, the satisfaction of conquering fears by tearing down limits built up in my head. if you train to perform, building an act and mastering it is your end goal. If you train to train… you can have an act occasionally, but your main focus is keep improving, learning new transitions/tricks, keep practicing what you know, getting a great workout, stay healthy and inspire others through your journey. At least that’s me!

Hope you enjoyed reading my post, comments/questions are welcome 🙂 Don’t forget to check out my coach DVD if you need help starting with flexibility or are curious about the approach I’ve been trained with, also my tutorials for all body parts!

Ciao

6 responses to “3 years of contortion: an update

  1. Dear Sofia, thanks a lot for sharing your beautiful journey of contortion. You have always been a great inspiration for me. I have a couple of questions here. First, I understand that you were not trained in flexibility at a young age, but are you naturally more flexible than others or naturally more able to gain flexibility than others? The reason I am asking is that I noticed my back flexibility progress is relatively slower than the girls who started at about the same level as me and take the same amount of training. Especially my lower back, it just refuses to open, which does dishearten me sometimes. Second, I wonder how many hours you train each week (just on contortion). I have started focused flexibility trainin in Feb this year and I usually train 7 hours a week (two 2-hour deep stretch and three 1 hour not so intense ones.) Do you think its insufficient? Third, there is no contortion coach where I live 😦 the one i m training with is a yoga teacher. Do you think online class could be an option? I purchased the flexible body art video but i m a bit scared of training on my own. Sorry for the long questions. Thanks a lot 🙂
    Love, Kitty

    • Hi Kitty Thing,
      let’s say, I wasn’t born naturally flexible but not even particularly stiff. With that I mean, I improved quite quickly for having started so late. I train about 6hrs a week. I don’t do more or I become too sore and stiff, I need longer time to recover that’s why I don’t train more. Amount of training is subjective, but it’s never the more the better, but the quality of the time you spend training. I teach online if you ever need some advice!

  2. Dear Ciao,

    I like your article.

    How often do you take contortion classes in a week? I just started last fall but only go once a week. I’m only seeing improvements although minimal. I’m wondering if I should take more classes in a week.

  3. I’m really excited about finding all of this. It’s like someone finally understands. I’m just trying to be more flexible. I don’t want to be a yogi, athlete, or professional performer and I need help going to the next level. This is a goldmine to me. I’ve been stuck doing the same front splits (now on my bed) for years. I just learned how important back bends are. It’s like I’ve been trying all types of bad (flexibility) “diets” and I’ve finally stumbled across someone that can really help without wasting time with stuff I don’t need.

    • That’s awesome Dossell! Thats how I felt for a while and then finally met a great coach who pushed me in the right direction and started also blogging about it since I couldnt find anything in either books or online. Best of luck with your journey and I’ll keep posting 🙂

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