Yoga and Skydiving – A Powerful Match

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More and more skydivers seem to be doing yoga. We asked Alethia Austin, freefly coach and yoga teacher, why they are the perfect blend…

Alethia Austin conducting a yoga session during Flanders Boogie

When Skydive Mag asked me to write an article on yoga and skydiving I had to really sit for a while to figure out which direction I wanted to speak about. There’s so much to the practice of yoga and quite a lot of connection between yoga and flying. I thought that perhaps the most bite-sized approach to such a vast subject was a very topical look into what sort of role it plays into body flight and the act of flying. 

Note: Although I am a certified yoga teacher with hundreds of hours training, teaching, leading and practicing, I am very much still a beginner. 

Body Awareness

One thing I like to tell those I’m coaching in the sky is that what we’re doing on a day of coaching is expecting to have 6-8 successful minutes of performance over the course of potentially a 12 hour day. That’s a 6-8 jump day. When we boil it down to the actual time we have to perform these physical, choreographed, high speed asks, we really are actually demanding quite a lot of performance skill and body awareness out of ourselves. For the average person, we’re going to need all the available help we can find to make a jump day with progress as a goal, a successful one. 

Yoga is strongly rooted in being in your body in terms of awareness. As you breathe into a posture, you’re mentally searching your body for the feeling of it, searching it for space to move further into it, looking within the body to engage and recruit different muscle groups or to align different parts of your body. All of these small tweaks of your body take a tuned in approach to your body awareness that sticks around once you’ve been practicing yoga for a while. This awareness, this switched-on approach to your body translates to your skydiving. Whereas before you became a yoga practitioner, it might not have come easily for you to notice a small adjustment to the position of your head in a skydive or the movement of your hands in the air. Through regular practice of yoga, you become more adept at feeling your body and the micro movements, micro pressures that make up a large part of the outcome of how we fly. 

This awareness, this switched-on approach to your body translates to your skydiving

“The side effect from rolling out your mat is generally a melting away from what came before and the thoughts of the after”
Image by Norman Kent the New Year’s Beach Boogie 2020, Puerto Escondido

Calm and Focused

One of the beauties of getting on your yoga mat and taking that time for yourself for whatever your reason may be, be it a physical exercise, a mental holiday, a break from the world, is that it naturally brings you to a place of calm and focus. The side effect from rolling out your mat is generally a melting away from what came before and the thoughts of the after. That state of calm, of focus and the pivot in the moment towards embracing that current moment is a tool that, when repeated enough becomes a habit.

That habit has many benefits to skydiving. To be able to be in such a high speed, fast performance activity with a calm state of mind and a calm focus is a rich skill. I don’t need really to elaborate on why it’s beneficial to have a sense of calm when you’re learning something new or involved in a high-level dive flow. But it definitely is worth mentioning that there’s a learned calmness in yoga that is easily applied to your training and jump days. 

“To be able to be in such a high speed, fast performance activity with a calm state of mind and a calm focus is a rich skill”
Image by Norman Kent

Breath Benefits 

Before I started practicing yoga 20 years ago, I don’t think I had really understood fully how powerful such an act as breathing was to any sort of life’s discomforts/emotions. Naturally, we know it’s life. But to understand its power when in use during challenging moments, anything from frustration over lines, difficult personality clashes, to breathing through fear, sadness, anger, the entire rainbow of human emotions. An exhale can release so much of what can build in us in a single second. But are we using that powerful tool enough? Yoga aligns each inhale and exhale with the flow of a practice. It also explores pranayama, which is a practice of breathing techniques. 

Learning how to breathe intentionally, with a myriad of different techniques, not only draws your awareness to the moment, but it helps reduce stress, anxiety, fear, and again, the rainbow of human emotions we can fall into simply by living a human experience. In skydiving, an exhale in the sky quite often means a new calmness in what may have been a noisy body, or an exhale may mean finding new space into that slot or getting on level, or finding that extra gear. Quite often I see the tension build up in a student who is learning angle flying. Every second of their skydive seems to pull their shoulders closer to their ears, make them more slippery, making their jump a constant battle of input and correction. 

Breathing… it’s life

Yoga can give a more balanced, stronger, leaner body which is stronger against injury
Image by Norman Kent

A Subtle Redirection 

Whether or not this can directly relate to skydiving is up to you. But the practice of rolling out your mat consistently can create subtle redirections in your lifestyle and daily habits. Within the first few months of moving my life to Amsterdam, my dog of 12 years died suddenly without warning in my arms the day after Christmas. Alone and grieving, I bought a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of wine and worked through the all-encompassing grief you feel when you lose a part or your soul. As a non-smoker in my life, I suddenly found myself with cigarettes as a part of my day for a few months after losing Echo. I started rolling out my mat in the mornings after my morning cappuccino and cigarette. I’d practice on the mat, then step onto my balcony for a cigarette with my fresh pressed juice.

Yoga made the most sense to me during that second stage of grieving, and cigarettes no longer seemed to fit into this process for me. It was a subtle redirection of my actions. The act of yoga took precedence over this out of place thing I’d picked up during my grief. It wiped out the need to put my pain away by being busy with a cigarette, and allowed me the place to confront and work through the pain on my mat. 

A place of calm and focus
Image by Norman Kent

Related to skydiving and our sport, a yoga practice could mean all of and only the things already mentioned. Or it could mean a new awakening to your connection with yourself. Or possibly a new relationship to physical health in your body. It could help to remove poor habits by creating new positive habits. It could be the gateway to other mindful, physical, playful things that are positives in your life. 

We know that what we do is actually a sport. At a certain point in your skydiving career you may cross the line from no plan fun jumper to determined, training, progress driven skydiving athlete. At that point, it’s possible that the state that your body is in, the tools you’ve honed for your mental game, and your ability to work through some of the emotional challenges could all very much be a benefit or a drawback to how we perform.

Practice in yoga can help regulate mental conversations and status
Image by Norman Kent

Getting Physical

For many, yoga is just another movement practice used for losing weight, staying in shape, etc. Which is great, and definitely, contrary to some mostly masculine ideas, is an added benefit to practicing. A shortlist of some of those physical effects of yoga include increased flexibility, protection from injury, better balance, lean and muscular shaping, better posture, increased joint health. 

Practically, to apply this to skydiving would mean we would have a more balanced, stronger, leaner body which would be stronger against injury, and come with a new-found awareness of posture, position, and overall condition. 

For those who are lifting heavy weights without the balance of stretching, working on posture, and increasing their range of flexibility, I find blockages within skydiving in their range of motion. For those who haven’t found their way to a yoga mat, and whose lives are without any sort of regular physical health routine, I find they are challenged when they are hoping to perform well in those 6 minutes per day without any connection to their body on a regular basis. For those who are hoping to show up for a day of coaching and go through the ugly parts of learning without being too hard on themselves or being able to work through their disappointments in momentary fits of not nailing something, I see how much a practice in yoga could help them regulate their mental conversations and status. 

… the powerful connection between yoga and flying

There’s a long list of how we can tie the practice of and benefits of yoga to the art of body flying. To name them all in an article would be a challenge of reader attention spans. I will say, however, that there’s nobody who practices yoga that wishes they hadn’t. I haven’t met someone in our sport who practices or teaches who doesn’t know the powerful connection between yoga and flying. It would be worth it to explore this connection. Not only for flying, but also for the shifting into a healthier, more mindful, deeper lifestyle. After all, who isn’t looking for an upgrade to their human experience, and the human experience most certainly is painted by our physical, mental and emotional state. All areas where yoga touches on and effects. 

For any questions, inspiration or just to rap about yoga if you’re interested, reach out to me anytime.

Image by Norman Kent

All photos by Norman Kent Productions were taken during the New Year’s Beach Boogie 2020 hosted by Skydive Cuautla at Puerto Escondido, Mexico

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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time international angle and freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for over 8 years around the world. Some of her coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia was a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record and has two world records. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at Instagram.com/alethiaja

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