A: It happened naturally. I started jumping in 2004 and gravitated toward the discipline of Freestyle, which is like acrobatics or dancing in the air. The more flexible I am, the better, because it allows more range of movement to create different shapes. I’m too accident-prone on the ground to be a dancer or acrobat, but the freedom of flying lets me experiment without fighting gravity. Most freestylers draw inspiration from their gymnastics or dancing background; I use yoga.
Q: Do you find the two influence each other?
A: Absolutely! When skydiving, there’s no choice but to be completely present in the moment. I can’t think about what I want to eat later or the errand I forgot to run. In yoga, I’m trying to stay present voluntarily, even though most of the time it’s tempting to dwell on the past or the future. Mentally, yoga is an essential tool in dealing with the nerves before a jump when the pressure is on. I use pranayama and meditation to stay calm and focus rather than imagining the ways things could go wrong. On a physical level, my yoga practice makes me a better flyer. The strength and body awareness help me figure out and create new moves, while maintaining those that get less attention. I’ve jumped much less in the last four years compared to earlier in my skydiving career, but I was still able to make it onto the U.S. team and compete at the World Meet with less training. That’s a credit that to my yoga practice.
Q: How do you choose poses to take from the earth to the sky, and what goes into making it happen?
A: It’s trial and error and a lot of flailing! The rig on my back limits range of motion, not to mention the lack of physical foundation to ground into. There’s a misconception that moving around the sky is the hardest part, but it’s actually more difficult to be still in the sky; to hold a pose without being tossed around takes more strength and control. Usually within a few attempts I can tell if it’s something that I can control and fly versus something that seemed cool in my head. After that it’s practice, repetition, and adjusting until it looks and feels the way I want.
Q: Does yoga in the sky feel more like performing or similar to practice?
A: When competing, there’s definitely an element of performance, but skydiving is something that is best experienced rather than described. The best explanation I’ve come up with is that it’s a taste of purity. In “yoga speak” I would liken it to a place between santosha and samadhi. I’m in control and aware of everything, and yet completely free and at peace at the same time.
Q: What has been your most memorable jump?
A: Skydiving with my mom. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and her short-term memory is almost non-existent. I wasn’t sure how she would respond or realize what was happening. Would she reset in the plane and freak out? There was no way to know, but it was something I wanted her to experience even if she forgot it later. The first half of the jump she was overwhelmed, which is a normal reaction most people have. But as I was flying next to her, we locked eyes and she completely lit up! There was complete clarity; she knew exactly what was happening and had the biggest smile on her face. It is a moment that I will never forget.