I collapse onto my back, sweating and panting heavily. I’m flushed, both from the heat of the room and the flood of endorphins, and I can’t stop grinning. My muscles are deliciously sore from use, and I can already feel bruises beginning to form on my hips and thighs.

But I’m not in my bedroom, at a play party, or in a dungeon, and I haven’t just had sex or bottomed in a scene. I’m in a fitness studio, surrounded by little else but about eight other women, a bunch of mats, and fabric dangling from the ceiling.

I am not an exercise person. I have gone through periods of fairly regular gym attendance at different points in my life, but at my core, I will never be someone who enjoys working out. It’s a necessary evil, something I do because I know it’s good for me, both physically and mentally – but I will only do it reluctantly, and I will pout about it, and I will easily talk myself out of it.

Or at least, that’s what I thought until about seven months ago, when I attended my first aerial silks class and immediately fell in love.

I’d been trying to find a “fun” fitness class for a while, at the suggestion of my therapist. I am currently not on medication for my depression, for various reasons, and in order to help me maintain this, she had the idea for finding a class-based exercise to incorporate into my routine. Not only would it get my body moving (and in a more interesting way than simply going to the gym), it would also get me to interact with other people, and I struggle to do both of those things when my depression is especially bad. I love my therapist and have received nothing but helpful advice from her, so I was game to at least try.

My best friend is a total gym rat – I still have nightmares about a pilates class I attended with her once – so I was no stranger to the idea of group fitness classes. I considered yoga, pilates, zumba, kickboxing, pole…but none really called to me. Then I remembered hearing somewhere about aerial silks and thought, “Hey, I did gymnastics as a kid and sometimes do rope as an adult, maybe I can do that!” I immediately began googling and found several studios, but one in particular seemed more welcoming to novices, and I decided that I would give it a shot. I signed up for a 7 week series, one class per week, paid for all up front (because I figured that if I already paid for it, I’d be far less likely to talk myself out of going!)

I don’t remember a lot of the specifics of my first class, but I do know that I was so, so nervous; I had no idea what to expect, and I was terrified that I would fail miserably. Thankfully, there were a couple other total newbies in the class with me, and the people who were more advanced were so kind and helpful and supportive. I struggled to do the most basic of basics, I was sweating buckets, and my muscles felt like jello…but at the end of the class, I started crying. Not from sadness, but from pure catharsis and joy. From that moment, I knew I had made the right choice in attempting this new and scary thing.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take me long to make the connection from what I was feeling in these classes and how I felt after rope and impact scenes. Essentially, I’d found a way to do something akin to self-suspension under the guise of vanilla fitness, and it was fulfilling needs I didn’t even consciously realize I’d missed. It isn’t exactly like subspace or rope space, but it’s analogous enough that my intense cravings for kink scenes lessened – which, considering I was without a partner at the time, probably saved me some heartbreak.

In addition to the kink-adjacent benefits, I have noticed a marked improvement in my mental health. The studio has a big thing about discouraging negative self-talk, which is also something I’d been working on in therapy; I immediately noticed that I’d improved on shifting my internal dialogue after only a few classes. Instead of “I suck and can’t do this,” I began thinking, “This is hard and I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress.” I have become more aware of the strength I possess in my body, and I only feel myself getting stronger. Instead of avoiding the large studio mirror at all costs, I actually enjoy catching a glimpse of the shapes and positions my body can make.

The other main “rule” in the studio is to not compare yourself to others, which admittedly is my biggest obstacle, especially when a new 7 week series begins and someone comes in brand new and immediately nails something that took me a couple of months to figure out. But there are a handful of us who continue on from series to series, and they’ve been so supportive in my journey. Every time someone accomplishes a new move, another person inevitably offers to grab a phone and take a picture. There are constant refrains of, “You got this!” and “That looks beautiful!” echoing throughout the space, and if an instructor is occupied, the more experienced are more than happy to give tips and assistance if someone is in a bind, both literal and figurative.

Now I won’t lie: even over half a year in, it’s not easy for me. I still struggle with some relatively basic skills, my movements are often stilted and awkward rather than smooth and graceful, and I tire more easily than I’d like to admit. I get frustrated with myself, blurt out expletives, and once I even started crying in the middle of class out of pure exasperation.

Usually when something is hard, I want to quit. I’ve been like this ever since I was young – I’m a perfectionist, and if something doesn’t immediately come easily to me, I don’t deem it worthy of continuing. But the thing is…even though it’s so hard, but I don’t want to quit this. I cannot imagine giving this up for anything. Silks has become an integral part of my routine, and if I could afford to take multiple classes every week, I would.

I am strong. I am powerful. I am resilient. My body can do incredible things. Even if I am unable to do something one day, that doesn’t mean I won’t eventually be able to do it. Silks reminds me of this every single week, and I am so deeply grateful to my instructors, classmates, and brilliant therapist for bringing this incredible hobby into my life.

A cropped image of me doing the splits (…sort of) in double foot locks