Andrew Keir, a.k.a AK from AWOL, held a webinar on meditation, yoga and how to use those practices to benefit skydiving during our Weatherhold Woogie. You can check out the webinar on our YouTube channel (and subscribe to get the latest updates). In the meantime, we asked AK to give you guys some starting points on how to use meditation in skydiving. So here is AK’s 5 ways meditation can be valuable in skydiving.
Meditation and it’s benefits in skydiving
What is meditation?
Before we get into why I find meditation enormously valuable, we should cover briefly what it is, for those that have little or no experience with the practice. The way I think of meditation is simply a process to train your attention. Your attention is that which you focus your energy on. Much like you would train your muscles in a gym, you need to train your attention. The more you train, the stronger your muscles get.
In this same vein – the more time you spend meditating the greater the quality of your attention. There are many different forms of meditation. Many involve sitting still being guided verbally by an experienced meditator. You can do a number of different exercises to highlight different aspects of this inner dimension, and it can give rise to profound learnings and insights about the nature of one’s own mind. I think it is important to acknowledge there are many ways to skin a cat, and to this end many different forms of meditation but, at least in my understanding, most have similar intended outcomes.
How can meditation be valuable in skydiving?
Skydiving is such a unique sport when compared with most traditional sports like basketball, soccer or tennis, etc. Specifically in relation to the body and mind relationship, and even more significantly when you consider time. What other sport can you think of, where you can be in a period of waiting, potentially for hours, sometimes even days, and can only try and imagine the activity. You cannot perform any repetitions of the actual physical activity at all. You cannot kick or throw the ball, lift the weight, catch the ball, run, jump, sprint, or whatever is relative to the sport you may think of.
How do you prepare? The primary way that you can prepare is by thinking about doing the activity – by using your imagination. This is essentially the case in the sport of skydiving. Of course, we prepare the actual activity of flying over time. Jump by jump, and training in the tunnel flight by flight. However, specific to the more immediate time frame in and around skydiving, this is typically not the case.
So let’s think about it for a moment… You can be on the ground for hours or days potentially waiting. Whether it be fun jumping, at an event, or some kind of record attempt. Eventually to be given a call to then board a plane in a specified upcoming time. You could then be sitting in an aircraft for 20 minutes or more, often packed in like sardines. Your physical body cannot move at all and is dormant for 20 minutes or so, depending on the aircraft. After that, you have approximately 45 seconds of “performance time” to execute the actual activity. When you think of it through this lens, it’s a fairly unique scenario.
Unlearn what you have learned (as Yoda would say)
For anyone interested in, or beginning to explore meditation it’s important to try and drop any preconceived notions and ideas of what you think meditation is. Instead, simply be open and curious to explore something new. Otherwise, you can easily become discouraged thinking “I’m not doing it right” or “it’s not working”. In truth, this is not really possible and is just a thought that is distracting you from potentially starting, continuing, and achieving further clarity on the practice. Just begin… Cool.
So how can all this hippy nonsense be relevant to my super hardcore rad AF super mega ultra skydiving mastery, that I miss so very much right now? Below are a few ways that I believe you can find utility in having a meditation practice specific to skydiving. But also know the true value of meditation, in my opinion, is far-reaching beyond the sport of skydiving.
Here are 5 ways meditation can be valuable in your skydiving journey and practice.
Preparation is key to all aspects of skydiving
- BETTER PREPARATION (Close the apps!) Better quality attention, naturally leads to better quality preparation. At least it definitely can. One thing I often bring to light when coaching is how busy your brain is, and the need to remove as much of the mental clutter as possible. Your focus can be super narrow once you’re on the aircraft.
When we are in the plane we can be thinking about a myriad of different things. What are the conditions like? Break-off height. Deployment height. Which way are we likely landing? Did I pack my parachute correctly? Maybe you have changed canopy recently? Maybe a little un-current? Perhaps it’s your first jump at a new DZ? What are we doing on this jump? And the list goes on…
On top of all this, your mind is busy AF constantly taking in so much information unconsciously via your sense organs. In the aircraft, for example, it can be really cold or really hot and very noisy. There may be nonverbal behavioral cues you may process unconsciously from other people. You might be thinking about where you are in relation to the ground/dz, the altitude and physical movement as the aircraft climbs to height. Even the smell of burning fuel and the conditions at different heights etc. can have an impact.
It’s not just about being prepared, it’s the quality of preparation that counts
When you consider this, it highlights the value of the highest quality preparation possible. The better we prepare, the lower the risk profile. Think about your brain like a Smartphone. When you double click the Home button it shows all the applications that are running on your phone at present. Think about these Apps as many of the processes we mentioned above. So many times I’ve found myself on the plane and I can still be thinking about all kinds of things, that ideally should need little further thought.
Some examples could be landing direction, or where I’m going to start my turn for my swoop, etc. The more of these items you have not properly considered, prepared, and are still thinking about, the less processing power the phone has available for the primary task you ask of it. In this case, it is the skydive.
There is value in making an effort
We really want to make every effort to answer all these questions, and get very clear on everything we can prior to emplaning. This then allows our focus to become narrower once we are on the plane. We can start to really use this time to slow our heart rate down, focus on our breathing, and truly visualise the skydive multiple times before it actually happens.
Meditation can help to keep calm and focused
- ACHIEVE A CALM & FOCUSED STATE The ability to just slow things down and really take better control of your mind is one that is hard to fully appreciate until you gain better control of it. It could be to stop beating yourself up after making a mistake, in the plane before you exit, or to better gather your thoughts before providing some feedback to a student.
Use meditation to progress your skydiving
- FASTER PROGRESSION To be able to communicate in the sky as you do on the ground (albeit non verbally), but with the same level of cognition and understanding is invaluable. For instance, if our mind is super noisy and our cognition is impaired due to the stress of the situation, it can hard to properly notice what is happening around us.
Focusing your mind can increase your awareness enabling you to feel the wind as it presses against certain areas of the body as you move between different surfaces, or increase/decrease pressure on different areas of your flying surface. The more intuitive you are with your canopy, the better a pilot you will become. Use this practice in freefall as well and just watch your skydiving skills progress!
Reduce the risk of skydiving
- LOWER RISK PROFILE Being calm in high-stress situations in skydiving is obviously impacted by many many factors. Let’s take the example of an aircraft emergency. If we have never considered this, and really thought through and imagined as much as we can in our minds what this would be like, how we might feel in this situation, and most importantly how we would act – the probability that we would respond in the most ideal way possible is fairly low.
Now I don’t want to be misinterpreted by anyone thinking that you can meditate a few minutes a day and that’s it. Boom, you’re safer. That is definitely not the case. However, I do believe in conjunction with all appropriate considerations taken, having a greater level of clarity in your thinking and of your attention offers a significant opportunity to your lower your risk profile. Be it decision making under a canopy, more awareness of actual risks, and increased self-awareness.
It’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination
- ENJOY THE JOURNEY MORE Something I’ve seen so much of already, (and I know I felt this in my first couple hundred skydives too) is this rush to unlock skills. Like unlocking levels in video games. So many people scramble to get to the end of the game. Like there is an end. Haha!
One of the biggest things you can gain from meditation and many mindfulness practices is just enormous gratitude for the journey you are on. The fact you get to skydive! The incredible community around the world you’re a part of. The friends and relationships that are born. The opportunity to spend time outside in the sun at your local DZ. Fly that new Icarus Leia 79 you got just before lockdown 😛 haha
When you get a clearer perspective – it is such a rare and special opportunity and one to enjoy and savour. Don’t rush. It goes fast enough without any help from you!
Thanks for reading 5 ways meditation can be valuable in skydiving!
If you have found this article interesting and would like to try meditation, then consider signing up to Sam Harris’s App ‘Waking Up’. It is the number 1 resource I can recommend for anyone wanting to begin meditation. There is also a wealth of information, videos, and resources online about meditation. And for those wanting to just get stuck in, a good way to start is to commit to 10 minutes a day for 1 week.
Ultimately, this is your journey. Meditation can be an immensely powerful tool, but only if you can recognise the benefit for yourself. Start small and go from there.
Andrew Keir – called AK by everyone except his mum – is the founder of AWOL (an acronym for A Way Of Life). He, alongside good friend Tayne Farrant, organises freefly events around Australia & NZ aimed toward supporting skydiver development through advanced body flying and an inclusive safety-focused flying culture. In a nutshell, he’s a good c*&t.
You’re likely to bump into AK at Angleweek, Hungary Helicamp and FlajFlaj, or everywhere in Australia, running nice, fast, tracking jumps with good friends. “How good is it?!” is a phrase you’re likely to hear when you fly with him, representative of absolute gratitude for the moment, and the opportunity to share those moments with amazing individuals. At home, he has two mini-me’s running around – but manages to get up at 4.30am to meditate. He’s an avid fan of fasting, yoga and healthy living…up until a few years ago he never ate avocados and now he (and his kids) can’t get enough!
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We caught up with AK during our Weatherhold Woogie and spent time learning about how he uses meditation, mindfulness, yoga and healthy living to improve his skydiving.