I Used Indoor Skydiving to Practice Mindfulness

" god, I'm fucking flying."

by Rajul Punjabi
Jun 29 2018, 8:20pm

I went fake skydiving last week. Well, the formal term for jumping into a giant, vertical wind tunnel that simulates free-fall is “indoor skydiving.” But let’s call it what it is—a watered-down version of an extreme sport for pansies like me. The press event, thrown by New Balance, was held at iFly, a spaceship-looking facility in Westchester, New York. I got out of the bus still unsure if I was going to go through with it. It sounded scary, I’m not even good at regular sports, and also this was a group event and I wasn’t fully into the idea of 30 members of the media and a few professional skydivers watching me flail about in a clear wind tunnel, mouthing get me the fuck out of here.

Still, I really wanted the rush, and thought it might be a worthy experiment in mindfulness. I have a lot of trouble meditating in conventional ways, mostly because it’s boring as shit, “clearing your mind” is actually impossible, and there’s nothing calm or still about my being. I’m certain many of you can relate.

Every year on my birthday, I do something I’m afraid of, for the sake of growth and all that woo-woo crap that people do when they start getting old and making more than minimum wage (fake extreme sports are expensive). A few years ago, I tried trapeze lessons—I’m afraid of heights—and found it incredibly freeing. It was a safe, controlled environment: under a tent, over a giant net, and strapped firmly into several harnesses. I remember choking back tears after I was done because of the adrenaline and endorphins that came with the overwhelming feeling that a human body doesn't often experience. I was basically a bird with training wings on.

So when a similar opportunity arose—and for free, mind you—I had to quell the fear that might make me chicken out at the last minute. I don’t have my shrink’s cell phone number (still working on that) so I texted my yoga teacher, Tracey, and let her know I needed some encouragement.

“Think of all the ways you feel fettered, like your wings have been clipped,” she said. “And then let this experience liberate you.” It was going to be a great opportunity to experience being weightless without the actual fear of plummeting to my bloody death that real skydiving instills. She even offered me a mantra that seemed to fit: “I. Can. Fucking. Fly.” A yogic mantra with the f-bomb in it: I truly am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

After we went through a mini training that taught us about proper mid-air posture, I waited—heart racing—in a small booth for the instructor, who’d be in there with me to make sure I didn’t break my whole ass. I was to get into superman-flying-position and basically dive into this thing like it’s a pool. The air would hold me up, I was told.

And I did it. The wind was everywhere. I was falling and rising and being whipped around. All that looped through my mind was, I can fucking fly. Other people’s faces, the sound of wind, and even my smoldering-green-eyed instructor were non-existent. It was the most contrived version of forcing simplicity and in the midst of hot chaos, I found quiet.

“Anything you do that requires your fully engaged attention will pull you into a natural state of mindfulness,” David Klemanski, psychotherapist and professor of applied psychology at NYU Langone Health, tells me when I ask him if my mindfulness take makes sense. “In skydiving and other similar activities, there is little to no room for extraneous thoughts to come to mind.” That’s definitely what it was for me. I have so many thoughts happening at once (hi, anxiety) that it’s hard to even narrow it down to three at a time.

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After my first two “flies,” which were about a minute a piece, I walked around, trying to find someone to tell I wanted to go again. Jeffro Provenzano—the Beyoncé of skydiving, who flew in the tunnel earlier in the day to show us some fancy stunt shit—asked me if I was ready for the real thing. “Seriously,” he said when my eyes widened, “You can totally do it. Let me know and we’ll set something up.”

Klemaski confirms that a part of the reason I found so much peace fake skydiving was because it presented a level of risk I was comfortable with. Any more might have thrown me into panic mode. Also, he adds that mindfulness is potentially indirectly linked to adrenaline and endorphins because you’re allowing yourself to pay attention to those bodily changes that are hormonally-driven. I feel him because the only thing that’s better to me than surging feel-good chemicals is being fully aware that they’re surging.

Anyway, I politely declined Jeffro’s invitation. Actual skydiving is both my nightmare and mindfulness fantasy in a nasty collision for which I do not have insurance. And while I still think meditation retreats in Sedona are rich-white-people fuckery, I would fully drop the 50 dollars a fly to spend another couple of minutes in my practice.

Update: This story originally spelled the professional skydiver's name incorrectly as "Jethro Provenzano." The correct spelling is Jeffro Provenzano.

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