I PREFER endorphins over adrenaline. I’m not averse to an adrenaline rush, but I like modest doses and no heights or danger, thanks.
Skydiving falls into the category of too high, too scary and too much adrenaline, even though I know intellectually you can do it safely. I’d rather not.
But when I found out you can get in a wind tunnel, fly like you do in the sky without jumping out of a plane and risking life and limb, indoor skydiving sounded potentially fun.
The iFly location in Tukwila is the only wind tunnel for ordinary civilians in the Pacific Northwest. Anyone can do it, no matter your age. IFly has flown paraplegics and injured veterans. Andrea Stickel, an employee, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, uses flights as therapy.
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“People go to yoga to clear their minds,” she says. “I go in (the tunnel).”
Newbies learn to fly belly down first. I watched a video, then my teacher, Peder, had me practice the flight stance — legs wider than hips, slightly bent at the knees, pelvis forward, arms out and up, chin up.
With wind blowing more than 100 miles an hour, the tunnel is loud, so people communicate with hand signals. He showed me ones to change leg position, to lift my chin and to hold still. Some people are wiggly out there.
We suited up and put in ear plugs. Time to go.
Peder stood inside the doorway, adjusted my goggles, motioned me forward, and I launched into the air.
I thought indoor skydiving would be akin to floating on a cloud.
Not really. You have to keep muscles engaged to maintain your balance and stability, though it took a couple of flights to figure that out. During the first one, all I could process was that everything I understood about my body in relation to gravity was gone. Peder had me straighten my legs and pulled my arms farther in front of my face.
During a break between flights, he told me I was letting my arms lift up and it was throwing off my balance. Keep them in front of me.
The next round, I resisted the wind a little more with my arms and felt my shoulders engage. As soon as I pressed down with my hands, I flew higher. I also had zero clue how to control my position. Sometimes I would spin or move higher or lower; I never knew why.
Occasionally, Peder let go. It was thrilling, until I started to swerve toward walls or fly up higher than his head. I reassured myself he was tall and still could reach me.
Next, we did a “high flight.” Peder took hold of the handles on my suit, spun me around and flew me up the tunnel, back down and repeated two more times.
It fulfilled every dream of flying I have ever had; my face felt like it was going to crack from smiling.
And just like that, it was over.
I watched other people. Experienced fliers went upside down, did the splits, and twirled as though performing a weightless ballet.
The basic premise to flying is understanding how to use the surface area on your body against wind speed to move around, Peder said. Sometimes they will take down the wind speed to work on technique, then amp up the wind to fly you higher.
I was surprised at how much body control was required. My core and hip flexors worked hard, and I felt it in my low back the next day.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to jump out of a plane, but I’m ready to jump back into the wind tunnel.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.