'Contortion is a unique art you perform in front of thousands. Yoga is something you do for yourself. You don't need to be bendy to do yoga; you can just show up as you are.'
Uranbileg Angarag is a professional contortionist, hand balancer, aerialist and yoga teacher from Mongolia. She's been doing circus for the last 23 years and has worked with many circuses, festivals and events, including Cirque du Soleil. She started her yoga teaching journey in 2020 and became a yoga sport athlete.
What made you want to become a contortionist?
When I was a 5-year-old, I went to see a circus show and loved the contortion act so much that I pictured myself on stage that day. So afterwards, my parents took me to audition at the Mongolian National Circus. This was 23 years ago, and since then, I've been doing what I truly love and have had the opportunity to travel around the world doing it.
What leads to success as a movement artist nowadays?
The main traits of a successful artist are confidence, concentration, energy and emotional management. And, of course, consistency, which I consider key to be successful in circus and movement arts.
Have you noticed a difference in your flexibility as the years go by and the collagen level decrease in all of us?
Yes, I have noticed that my body has become less flexible as I get older. Due to this natural physical change, I've delved into yoga and a healthy diet and have become more attuned to what supplements I can add to my diet to support my body for longevity in my career as a circus artist.
What made you want to become a yoga teacher?
I have always enjoyed teaching contortion. The idea to become a yoga teacher came from my desire to learn more about my body and how I can keep my body and mind healthy in the long run. When the Covid-19 pandemic happened and the entertainment industry was paused, I finally got the time to dedicate myself to learning about yoga on a deeper level. Before that, my artistic life always kept me so busy I never had time to really focus on it. Then the more I learned, the more my passion and enjoyment for teaching grew. Yoga is a mind and body practice that can build strength and flexibility. It may also help manage one's pain and reduce stress. Various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation that can push and transcend one's body-mind connection. All of these aspects are what attracted me to pursue my teacher training.
What do you think is a misconception about contortion and yoga?
Contortion is a unique art you perform in front of thousands. Yoga is something you do for yourself. You don't need to be bendy to do yoga; you can just show up as you are.
How is your typical day of training and performance?
My typical day starts with a drink of aloe water, herbal tea, nutritional smoothie with collagen. Then I find a spot with sunshine coming through the window and do a light stretch to wake my body up. I usually do 2 to 4 hours of training daily, but my training schedules vary. My warmups typically last one hour. I always love to keep my warmup interesting, so it may vary from doing yoga, weight training, dance, or general workout. Afterwards is when I do my deep stretching and focus on my contortion and aerial acts. I then train handstands as well as different types of physiotherapy and conditioning exercises. Lastly, I do my cooldown and stretch to finish for the day. I try to keep my meals healthy and not eat 2 to 3 hours before my performances. If I have a show that evening, it would look the same: one hour warm up, and after my act, I do strength conditioning with a long handstand training to maintain my body for peak performance.
Do you include specific foods or supplements in your diet to enhance your performance or flexibility?
Yes, I add many supplements to my diet. Such as nutritional protein shakes, vitamins, and branched-chain amino acids to support my body.
Where do you look for inspiration for your contortion performances? How does the creation process go?
First, I find my story and then develop what I'm trying to convey and express in my act. This process allows me to bring something unique and different to my stage performances. I try to find inspiration from every little thing I observe, which could be really anything.
What do you think makes a contortionist stand out nowadays?
Contortionists stand out by their style and techniques. Each contortion artist needs to take time to explore more of themselves to find and develop their uniqueness.
What is your philosophy around flexibility when teaching yoga?
You don't need to be bendy to do yoga. The main mistake during yoga practice is comparing yourself with others and exceeding your limits. This internal competitiveness is a high-risk recipe for getting injured and subsequently stopping the yogic practice.
How do you deal with the lack of motivation for training?
First, I will try to listen to my body and ask whether I really need to relax, take it easy, or have a day off, or am I just being lazy. Then, I remind myself how my choice will affect my performance. Then mostly, I choose to put my music on and go for my training. It's definitely a big mental game, but once I get started, I realise I actually feel good!
Have you ever gotten injured? What changes did you make to get through it?
Most of the time prevent injuries and pain as much as possible by being intentional with my practice and seeking different injury-prevention therapies. But, of course, life happens and I have injured my ankles quite a few times. With these injuries, I have done physical therapy and upped my supplements to help the healing process.
What would you tell someone who wants to become a contortionist?
To be a contortionist is a lot of effort and a full-time commitment. Consistency is key. If you are thinking about starting this journey, first, you truly must love this art form and then find a professional teacher who can safely guide you.