Want to improve your skydiving skills, but don’t have thousands of dollars to blow in the wind tunnel? Try yoga! Yoga has been around for thousands of years. What is commonly considered yoga in Western society is actually Hatha Yoga, focusing mainly on physical yoga postures. However, yoga is not just a series of postures or poses. Yoga is meant to integrate the mind, body and spirit, and to achieve a state of enlightenment. For skydiving, this means developing your insight, awareness and focus, as well as balance, flexibility and stability.
Not just an effective exercise for improving skydiving skills, yoga is also extremely convenient to practice at the dropzone. The simplicity of yoga means that you can do it virtually anywhere and need very little to get started. The most important thing you can do is wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing that you’re able to move easily in. A yoga mat is ideal, since it will allow you to grip with your feet and go deeper into the poses. However, poses can be done on grass, a towel or a blanket, if necessary. You can experiment with different yoga postures, breathing, meditation and relaxation exercises to see how they affect your skydiving. Try the following to get started:
Complete Breath: A complete, “three part” breath consists of deep, continuous breathing through the nose. It is referred to as “three part” breath because you breathe first into the throat, expanding through the ribs, then deep into the belly. Slowly exhale, drawing the belly back in. Slow, deep breathing both energizes the body and calms the mind. Try using complete breathing when you’re concentrating on flying a body position that requires a lot of effort. For a relaxed and stable exit, you can also try exhaling completely as you leave the aircraft.
Meditation/Relaxation: Simply close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Let your mind go blank. As thoughts enter your mind, just return your attention to your breath and let the thoughts float away. Meditation reduces stress and tension and improves concentration. Try meditating for a few moments on the ride to altitude before you begin any mental rehearsal. This will allow you to visualize your intention for the jump from a calm and centered place.
Physical Postures: There are many different types of yoga postures to explore. Standing poses, seated poses, forward bends, back bends, twists, inversions (upside down poses), balance poses and relaxation poses are just some of the different types of postures. Let’s take a more in-depth look at sun salutations, twists, inversions and balance poses.
Sun Salutations are an ideal warm-up for skydiving. Sun salutations are made up of a series of poses, flowing continuously from one move to the next. As you move through the poses be sure to hold each one for a few deep breathes. Begin by standing with your shoulders back and body properly aligned (Mountain Pose). Taking a deep breath, stretch your arms overhead, then fold forward at the hips and let your head hang toward the ground (Forward Fold). Step back with your left foot into a lunge. Follow with your right foot, pushing into your hands and feet to create an inverted V shape (Downward Dog). Lower your body toward the ground (Plank), then straighten your arms, looking up and lifting your chest toward the sky (Upward Dog). Now return to your starting position: Push back into Downward Dog, lunge on the right leg, fold forward, and finish by inhaling deeply in Mountain Pose. Try this sun salutation before gearing up for your next jump. You’ll instantly increase circulation, mobility, and flexibility.
Twists offer back relief for skydivers who do a lot of bellyflying. If you spend a great deal of time arching, try a Half Spinal Twist to release tension in your back. Sitting down, bend your right leg to bring your foot toward you. Lift your left foot and place it on the outside of your right knee. Looking over your left shoulder, place your left arm behind you and your right arm around your knee. Breathe deeply and twist through your spine. Along with relieving tension, spinal twists will increase flexibility in your back and neck to help you further improve your RW skills.
Inversions are poses performed upside down (with your feet above your head). They improve circulation and increase the flow of oxygen throughout the body. Inversions allow you to become comfortable in an upside down position and to work on balance with your center of gravity above your head. To try the Half Shoulder Stand, lie on your back and pull your knees to your chest. Support your back with your hands and straighten your legs above your body. Your weight should be on your shoulders, not your neck. Breathe deeply and remain strong through your core to help you balance. The Half Shoulder Stand is an excellent inversion to work on if you’re learning to fly head down.
Balance Poses deserve special attention when it comes to skydiving. There is no better way to develop balance, strengthen stabilizer muscles, and increase mind-body awareness. Warrior 3 (also known as Airplane) is a good pose to begin working on your balance. Start by standing tall and lifting your arms to shoulder-height. Place your weight on one leg, lifting the opposite leg and leaning forward until you form a straight line. Hold for a few deep breathes, then repeat on the opposite side. Holding a balance pose will quickly make you aware of your alignment and body position. If you do any freeflying, adding balance work to your routine could give you the edge you’re looking for.
Enjoy your adventures in yoga! Test out the suggestions in this article and continue to experiment with different postures to find what works best for you. Always work at your own pace and stop if you experience any pain or discomfort. Remember, it’s about the journey, not the destination, so don’t worry if you’re not an expert right away. To learn more, consider attending a yoga class or inviting an instructor to teach at your dropzone. With practice you’ll start to notice improvement in your skydiving skills through increased mind-body awareness, balance, focus and control. Keeping your body strong and flexible will also help to protect you from hard openings and not-so-perfect landings.
Blue skies, or as we say in yoga, Namaste.
Nadene Beyerbach is a skydiver and yoga instructor. She is certified by Body Training Systems as a Group Centergy instructor and is a member of the Canadian Yoga Association. Learn more about skydiving specific yoga at Flex Fly.