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July 26th, 2013

Letting Go

By Annette Lyn O'Neil

"Let go of that which does not serve you."

It's easy to keep that piece of wisdom on the mat, isn't it? Relax your face; it's not going to help you in Hanumanasana. Release your shoulders. Don't clench; if you do, energy can't flow.

Off the mat, it's harder.

Two weeks ago, I was in Norway. I was hiking out to a classic BASE jump over the Lysefjord. I was high above a verdant Scandinavian paradise with beloved friends, I was bubbling with excitement, and I misplaced a step. I fell ten feet down a rock, bouncing three times before I stopped myself with my forehead.

OUCH. Right?

I credit my yoga with the remarkable superficiality of the injuries I suffered from such a significant fall, and for the quickness of my recovery so far. However, weeks later, I still have a hulking hematoma on my right hip, some truly unsightly bruising and a right arm that chafes at the idea of doing pretty much anything. At the moment, though the situation is improving by the day, I can hardly move anything below the elbow. I certainly can't move through a Surya Namaskar or correctly land a parachute.

Today, I'm in Kemaliye, Turkey, where I was invited with a group of other BASE jumpers from around the world to do a demonstration of the sport at the regional Outdoor Sports Festival. The Turkish government has erected an incredibly unique BASE object in Kemaliye: hundreds of meters of metal cable, strung between two cliffs approximately 1,200' above the Euphrates river, with a ski-lift-style chair attached to it on rollers. Two or three BASE jumpers sit on this chair, which is then rolled out into the center of the canyon. There, the jumpers depart the chair by whatever means strikes their fancy (which, on account of the great height and the excellent separation from any strikeable objects, generally involves an inventive exit with lots of flips) and land in the canyon below. There is a small landing area against one of the canyon sides. Alternatively, the river in the center of the canyon is generally calm, reasonably clean and patrolled for the term of the event by professionally crewed safety boats. It's absolutely possible to land in it.

Here's the rub: there's a stigma against landing in the water at events like this. Landing in the water implies that you didn't deploy early enough, set up your landing well enough, and/or control your canopy with sufficient skill to land where the big kids land. If you land in the water, you get razzed. Heavily.

I knew when I arrived here that I'd be landing in the water. My right arm is too weak and too painful to complete the "flare" -- the final, critical part of the landing procedure -- with enough precision to land in a relatively small, uneven space. I risked far greater injury by going for the dry landing. Even so, sitting on the chair as it was cranked slowly out to the middle of the canyon, I had second thoughts. I was surrounded by some of the world's best BASE jumpers, not to mention news crews, helmet cameras and an eagle-eyed cadre of Instagram addicts. Couldn't I just give it a shot? Couldn't I probably squint and grunt and manage it?

"Let go of that which does not serve you."

I let the mantra roll with my breath.

Practicing with an injury was an excellent preparation for the yoga of that particular moment. A wonky practice -- one which, for the moment, can not even include chatturanga, high plank or a dog facing any direction whatsoever -- challenges the idea of what a yoga practice looks like. It forces the practitioner to embrace the body in its current iteration, as the body unsubtly demands, while opening the practice up to new challenges: for me, for example, a cleaned-up dolphin and a longer, stronger forearm plank. Fixating on forcing oneself into the poses the injured body can not enter does not serve the yogi; letting go allows the practice to help the body heal.

It is much the same in BASE. Letting go of the expectation that a successful BASE jump must end with a dry, tiptoe landing helped me embrace the fact that the only safe landing was a wet one. I stood facing the chair. I leaned back over the canyon, my heart open to the wide Turkish sky, and exited in an exultant backflip. When I landed in the water, I reveled in its cold and let it wash away the last of the thoughts that this wasn't the perfect way to end the flight.

1 Response(s) to Letting Go

On July 30th, 2013 at 4:27 pm, elyzzi said:

Lovely. thanks!

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