Did you watch Felix Baumgartner’s 24 mile, four minute, 834 mph jump from a helium balloon 128,100 feet above Earth? Wow. My first reaction was vicarious terror. This guy is insane!
This video shows him preparing to jump, guided by Joe Kittinger, age 84, a retired Air Force colonel who set the longest/highest/fastest skydive record in 1960. My second reaction was vicarious reassurance—thanks to Kittinger’s steady voice.
Kittinger guided Baumgartner through a 40-item checklist, which the video catches from “item 26.” Surely he already knew the sequence, which includes simple steps such as “slide the seat forward” and “release seat belt.” But he relied on Kittinger to ensure that nothing was overlooked.
Calm and confident, Kittinger also provided moral support, occasionally saying “attaboy!” Before Baumgartner’s jump, he said, “All right, step up on the exterior step. Start the cameras. And our guardian angel will take care of you now.”
What’s this got to do with yoga?
For some reason, Kittinger’s step by step approach reminded me of Iyengar yoga teaching. I know, I know: Doing yoga isn’t remotely like free falling from unimaginable heights.
But I could relate to relying on someone—a teacher—to guide me toward my limits. I could relate to trusting a teacher to push me further—and to responding positively (or negatively) to tone of voice or choice of words. Listening to Kittinger, I thought, “Okay, I’d trust this man to lead me through hell and high water.” (Those of us who are also teachers can relate to both roles, to being guided and to guiding.)
As they proceeded through the checklist, Kittinger would notice if Baumgartner paused and he’d re-prompt him. Or he’d correct him, once directing him “a little bit further forward.” Likewise, a good yoga teacher observes whether students are following instructions and verbally or manually adjusts them toward ideal alignment or perhaps to safety.
Here and there, Kittinger tells Baumgartner to “say ‘roger’ if it’s so” or to “give me a thumbs up.” He wanted Baumgartner to confirm that things were on track, that he was okay. Similarly a teacher might check in, with questions about relevant body parts or with a simple “Are you good to go?”
Ultimately we must do the final act—whether jumping from the stratosphere or dropping into a backbend—by ourselves. No one can do it for us. If we are ready, we would probably succeed regardless. But it can help to have an ally as we approach the threshold.
For better or worse, writing this blog has only increased my tendency to see yoga parallels everywhere!