On Top of the World! Angelo Declerck and Maddy Heath-Kelly — by patrik minar
“Yoga means addition – addition of energy, strength and beauty to body, mind and soul.” – Amit Ray
I started doing yoga about 6 years ago when a friend of mine suggested it might help with a recurrent back problem I was having. It did help, and I soon realised that there are a lot of other benefits to practicing yoga too. I had already been skydiving for a few years at this point, and it didn't take long before I started bringing my mat to the dropzone – I thought stretching probably wasn't a bad idea before skydiving! What I've noticed over the past few years is that more and more people are practicing yoga on dropzones. And what's really nice is how these days, as soon as I get my yoga mat out, other people wander over to join in, or to do their own stretching alongside me. It makes sense to stretch and warm up our muscles before doing any sport, but there's more to yoga than just a warm up…
What are the health benefits of yoga, and how could these help with skydiving?
Practicing yoga regularly can help improve our body alignment (how our head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles line up with each other). Our muscles and joints work better when our body is properly aligned and this leads to better coordination, and increased strength and power. Over time, regular practice can improve our flexibility, helping our overused muscles become more supple, and our underused muscles become stronger. Being more flexible can also help prevent injury in the long run. Yoga can improve our body awareness, with many postures focusing on strengthening core muscles, and improving posture, balance and stability. Developing these areas could improve our performance in the sky and help us to become more stable, solid flyers. Some of the opening postures have been shown to increase our respiratory capacity and improve circulation which can make us feel more energised, and increase our endurance and stamina.
But yoga isn't just beneficial for our physical health; it's also excellent for our mental well-being. Breathing technique is equally as important as the postures. Yoga is considered a way of practicing mindfulness. Put simply this is about paying attention to the present moment. Who can focus on much else when balancing on one leg?! But seriously, mindfulness can help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and to the world around us. When we do that, we can understand ourselves better, gain control over our thoughts, become more aware and focused, and reduce our stress levels. As fun and awesome as skydiving is, I think we've all had times where it's actually been pretty stressful, whether that's during AFF, or whilst training hard for competitions or at world records, when the pressure is really on. Relieving some of that stress allows us to focus our thoughts and energy on visualisation and ultimately improve our performance.
And this is nothing new… other athletes have been practicing yoga as part of their training for years! Marathon runners, cyclists, basketball players, climbers, skiers and snowboarders… the list goes on!
So, if you're looking to improve your skydiving skills without spending all your savings in the wind tunnel, give yoga a try! It's also a great activity to add to your bad weather programme, to keep boredom at bay and as an alternative (or addition to!) drinking tea and watching skydiving videos. It's a good idea to take a few yoga classes first before you develop your own routine, as over-stretching can do more damage than good! Just pay attention to your body, and know your limits.
My boyfriend Angelo and I have taken things a bit further and for the past year we've been practicing AcroYoga together, combining our love of yoga and flight. AcroYoga is a combination of partner yoga, acrobatics, and massage. He is the base, and I fly on top of his arms and legs. We started off pretty small, practicing on the mats inside the hangars, but recently we set our sights a little higher…
Since we started acroyoga, it's been a dream of ours to fly on top of a Skyvan. When the pilots at Klatovy trusted us to climb up on the plane as the sun set, they made our dream come true! Massive thanks to Patrik Minar for capturing these moments for us!
How else to celebrate the completion of the 17-Rings Sequential Games Challenge?!