If being bendy is one of your goals, then expert contortionist Laura Proud tells how to deepen your practice with assisted contortion.
Assisted contortion is not as scary as it sounds. It could be as simple as using blocks to having advanced instructors manipulating your body.
Laura Proud is a professional contortionist and aerialist that travels the globe with her international circus career.
She shares some fresh moves and assisted contortion techniques that you can incorporate into your flexibility routine, to take your flexibility to the next level.
I began my aerial performing journey at the age of 22. I found aerial hammock and took private lessons with my teacher back in Reno, NV. After two weeks she told me I was ready to perform. I did ambiance hammock to live music at an art show. After that, I did corporate events and club gigs.
When I moved to Jacksonville I taught aerial and one of the visiting students happened to be a retired circus performer. Her name is Xan Kaplan. She is now one of my best friends. She got me my first gig touring Canada and Alaska for three months with a show called The Great Benjamin’s Circus.
My first break in contortion was on my first tour. We were in a small building and couldn’t do a lot of our big acts. We needed a ground act. I volunteered to do contortion. I practiced that day and the pictures you see in the blue costume are the result of that one day of warm up.
I had honestly not been practicing contortion for the last four years!! But my body just knew what to do.
I’ve been doing shows all over the country since then. Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and a few of the states. My next adventure is to Stuart, FL for a state fair from Feb. 15-24.
The most AMAZING stretches for me have been C Back stretch and Chest to Walls (Assisted). Both of these exercises help you to access your middle and upper back (the hardest part to get to bend).
I have a VERY bendy lower back so it was important for me to learn how to lift and protect my lower back from taking all of my weight.
The C Backstretch is used with a weight in a bag to assist you to build greater strength and flexibility in the spine. Using the weight in the C Backstretch is really awesome too. I highly recommend it IF you know what you’re doing. You must be able to come up safely and with control. The added weight can be dangerous if you’re not ready for it.
The Chest to Walls are good to do on your own but what really helped me break through a wall (I think of back bending in terms of walls; you have a wall in your back you have to break down, was having a coaches hands-on assistance.
Once you can bend with ease I literally had my instructor push on my middle spine while pulling my chest back, almost like a bow and arrow.
I literally felt the tension release and I have been able to bend with such ease ever since.
I use blocks when practicing chest stand. I have to admit, I’m out of practice with that one and the block makes the stretch much safer for your neck. It’s very easy to choke yourself in that posture and the lift from the block keeps your airway open.
I also use a bar or a towel to do shoulder dislocates. Those are amazing for getting shoulder rotation to increase.
The video below is a laying version of the shoulder dislocates stretching process.
I use my aerial silks to assist with my active split. I do an exercise I have dubbed: Splitty Squeeze Ups. I do foot locks and then slowly lower into the splits and use as much muscle as I can to squeeze myself back up. And I do it for all three directions. This forces you to use your adductors and abductors and keep your hips in alignment.
Having a squared-off split is very important for hip health so using all the muscles around your hips and glutes will keep those areas safe.
Another good way to implement this process if you dont have silks is by using blocks to place under your feet and extend into your split and then return to the beginning position.
I grew up doing Bikram yoga so you could say I’ve had a coach to assist most of my life. My yoga practice set me up to have body awareness and safe practice methods.
In my later years I have had assistance from Catie Brier and a few other close friends who knew what they were doing. It’s good to have a spotter for certain postures, like contortion handstands (which I’m still working on), and standing backbends/walkovers (I had a coach assist me for all of those when I first started).
Wall walks were taught to me by Esak Garcia, a world yoga champion. He taught me most of what I know about back bending and I use most of his methods to teach and to apply to myself to this day. I wouldn’t be where I was if I didn’t have my yoga teachers to start with.
Thank you so much for your time and advice, Laura! If you would like to follow Laura and her circus and contortion adventures you can find her on Instagram as @proudaerialist.
If you are still looking for some more assisted partner stretches to advance your contortion journey check out the video below.
Stay long and limber,
Check out my flexibility classes and online coaching.