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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 17, 2018

Steph Davis: Flow, Focus, and Feeling in Control

An insight into free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis’s reasoning behind what she does, and why she does it.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

“How can some someone experience the freedom of flying?”

It’s a question that Steph Davis answers for herself every day.

American free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis, is a force to be reckoned with. Her accomplishments are on par with some of the greatest athletes of all time. And yet, despite all her successes and achievements, her humble personality allows her to stay grounded and focused.

Photo Credit: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes

While speaking with Davis, we talked about her emotions, her needs, her tragedies, her relationships, her successes, her failures. Amazingly, she appears to be a normal person… a normal person who performs superhuman feats, and doesn’t question them.

Steph’s drive to do what others can not and would not is fueled by her curiosity for the world. Curiosity to see new places. To learn new things. “Just understanding that there was so much knowledge out there and so many amazing places that I had never seen, and would never have the ability to see without these other skills of climbing up mountains and just all the things that it leads you to do. I’m travelling around the world, spending time with people in different cultures, different places, and then, you know, of course learning – how do you actually get up a mountain with a vertical terrain, and then get yourself back down.”  Yes, how DO you do that?

Photo Credit: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes

For Steph, climbing and BASE jumping aren’t just about getting up the mountain and back down again. For her, it is about flow and focus. In order to do what she does (and do it safely and successfully), she must achieve a maximum level of focus. She must be 100% centered on the present moment, so as to avoid any and all mistakes, which, when doing what she does, could be fatal. When Steph is flying through the air on a BASE jump, or high above the ground on a climb without a rope or any sort of safety protection, her brain slows down and enters a flow state. Flow state refers to an experience when one is fully immersed in what they are doing, to the point of forgetting anything and everything else in their life at that moment. All other thoughts, feelings, and emotions leave the body, and the brain is 100% focused on the present moment and present activity. It is common for extreme sports athletes to achieve flow state while performing their sport, especially when their sport relies on it not only for success but for survival.

According to Steph, the easiest way for her to achieve flow state is to escape outside energy. To be alone. “For me, a big factor for reaching focus, or flow, is getting away from outside energy — so free soloing inherently works really well because you are alone.” When Steph goes BASE jumping, the activity is so intense that she has no choice but to enter Flow State. “With BASE jumping and wingsuit BASE, getting there (flow state) is pretty much guaranteed because it seems like there’s no choice but to enter that state of pure focus when leaving the edge — although it’s a pretty short-lived experience because BASE jumping is over very quickly. Still, sometimes it can be challenging because outside energy can still affect my mindset and BASE jumping can turn into a more social experience with people hiking together in bigger groups, so I’ve found I need to limit the group to just one or two other jumpers and forego certain jumps if I know it will be a large group… If I’m with anyone else, I usually jump last so I can be alone for a few seconds or minutes at the top without any outside energy, and that’s when I feel the calmest and focused.

Photo Credit: Vincent Kleine for She’s Mercedes

The thought of feeling “calm” and “focused” before jumping off a cliff with only a parachute as your safety net may seem crazy to the rest of us. For Steph, this is what keeps her coming back. She loves the idea of such an uncontrolled situation. With the training, learning, visualizing, and practising, again and again, so many times, she is able to control the uncontrollable. “Seeking the ability to do something that should be impossible and yet to be doing it in a way that’s actually pretty reasonable.” Steph is only satisfied with her performance if she has done her climb or BASE jump in a controlled, and calm fashion. When she does that, it feels as if she was in the right place at the right time. As if she was meant to do it. As if it was her purpose. “I know for myself that when I’ve had those moments where it kind of just worked out and I almost felt that I got lucky… I’m usually really dissatisfied with that experience. What I prefer is to feel like I’ve entered the situation in a very calculated way. I’ve really prepared. I’ve gone through all the permutations. Plan B, plan C, plan D scenarios. I’ve tried to really think through everything that could ever go wrong and feel like I have a plan for that. And then when it started happening, I feel like I’m very in control of the situation because I chose to get into it feeling like I’m really ready for it. When I either land from a jump or top out a climb, I feel like, ‘wow, you know, I really belonged there and I wasn’t just kind of scrapping through it’.”

A feeling of belonging is what Steph is looking for. She looks like she has found it. “I’m 46 now and I’ve been climbing since I was 18, so my entire adult life I’ve been doing these sports in various form… I am hoping to keep doing my sports for the rest of my life. It is honestly really hard for me to imagine not being out in the mountains and being out in the desert and just doing these things that I love doing.”

READ NEXT: Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

 

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 25, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 3 – Transforming Your Body

Tony Riddle recommends small changes in our daily lives that will add up to massive lifestyle benefits over time.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony Riddle about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle in line with our ancestors. In Part 1, we introduced Tony’s outlook in Rewilding. In Part 2, we learned about how children internalize behavior from their environment and how we can better preserve their innate abilities. In this installment, Tony discusses how his individualized coaching practices can restore our bodies back to the way they were designed to be.

Training with Tony can help you get in touch with your primal self.

HANG IN THERE

TOJ: When someone comes to you and asks for coaching or attends one of your retreats or workshops, what kinds of changes or transformation are they hoping to achieve?

Tony Riddle: It’s multifaceted. I always use a classic example of my long-time client, Yahuda, who came to me when he was 72. His story gives you some understanding that it doesn’t matter where you are in your evolution, there’s always a point where you can change. He came to me when he was 72, so we’ve been working now for six years together. Initially, he just wanted to re-learn how to walk. This stooped, crumbled up old man arrives at my gym door and his neck is bent forward, his head is bent forward, he’s completely bent in his posture and he wants to learn how to walk.

“Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, and Mount Kenya.”

I videoed him on a treadmill firstly to show him his posture, because without showing someone what’s happening, they’re subconsciously or unconsciously incompetent. So by showing them the video, they’re now consciously incompetent. He was shocked, “I never knew I walked like THAT!” The first stage with him was to rewild his feet and transform his feet from being shoe-shaped into more wild, natural feet because the foundation is everything. And then I went through various different ground rest positions with him.

Tony demonstrates a series of resting positions that are more natural for our posture than sitting in chairs.

Then we learned how to hang. Hanging is so important for unraveling the spine, lifting the rib cage, opening up the arteries, and even restabilizing where the shoulder blade should be on the thorax. It also develops grip strength. We have all the brachiating abilities as all the other apes, we just don’t hang anymore.

Tony practices his balance on a tree branch.

Once we have all that we start working on the squat. From squatting, we start to walk and so on. Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, Mount Kenya, and he loves walking.

On the way to work, Yahuda walks to the tube in his Vivobarefoot shoes. Most people ask if he wants to sit because he’s 78. But he doesn’t, he hangs on the bar. When the train’s going he’s hanging, when the doors open he squats. He alternates between hanging and squatting the whole ride. And we’ve just introduced breathing techniques. So he now works on nasal breathing and he does a few breath holds on the tube as well.

Once at the office, in addition to a kettlebell and mobility mat, he has a pull-up bar inside his office with gymnastic rings that he hangs on. At his standing desk, he has a platform that he can stand on with stones in it, so he gets different feedback rather than being on a linear surface.

“If I just make a small change to the way I move today, it will have a massive impact in future years.”

So that’s a person who was completely crumpled up at the age of 72, now at 78 years of age he’ll tell you he’s moving better than he ever has in his whole life. That’s how profound it is. And that’s just by making the small changes.

It’s my understanding that if I just make a small change to the way I move, breathe and eat today, it will have a massive impact in future years. You don’t have to do it all at once, you could pick a month and decide that, “This month, I’m just going to work on my movement brain, next month I’m going to work on my nutritional brain, next month I’m going to work on my breathing brain”. And each time, even if you drop stuff off, you’re still making improvements. Some of it will remain and you’ll figure out what works for you individually. The key to all of this is I have to learn how to be a Tony in this world, not like everyone else. Part of the coaching is to help people recognize that it’s individual specific. On a retreat even, it’s still individual specific. I can hold a presentation and I will be gifting to different people in the room what I feel they need at that particular time and what resonates with them.

Tony offers workshops and retreats to pass on his rewilding practices.

TOJ: When you are teaching someone new coordination for walking or running, are those changes happening in their body or are they happening within the brain?

Tony Riddle: Well it’s both. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the movement brain and the body. We have this obsession with physical muscles, but really there are two systems – you’ve got kinetics, which is the forces and you have kinematics which are the shapes you make to produce those forces.

Let’s take running. Running is a skill, right? In terms of the kinetics of running, there’s gravity. And how does gravity become tangible? It becomes tangible through body weight. I make the appropriate running shapes using the appropriate muscles and tendons to produce that force through body weight. It’s a whole system, a hierarchy starting with perception in the brain and moving down through the muscles and tendons. If you were in a petri dish and you surrounded yourself with amazing movers and you were cultured into that petri dish, your mind’s perception of that environment is how you behave. So everyone ends up as amazing movers. If you have a petri dish full of compromised movers with sedentary, poor hip mobility through to the spine and down to the ankle, and you only observe that behavior, that would be your behavior base. The mind’s perception of the environment is the most important thing and it has to go through that tool before you can make physiological adaptations.

REFUSE THE CHAIR

TOJ: What’s a small change that people can make today to rewild their bodies?

Tony Riddle: For some people, their HR department won’t allow them to have standing desks or they have to drive on their commute to work. Sitting is just part of our culture right now. So my view is that once you get out of that chair, or whatever that sitting position is, do something that will rewild the behavior of standing, which is generally squatting or one of the rest positions. I’m about to fly to LA next week, which is an 11-hour flight, and there’s going to be some brutal sitting going on there. But the thing is, I’ll get a pre-fight squat going, and during the flight I’ll be squatting and post-flight as well.

Even in an airplane, Tony finds space to squat and practice mobility.

TOJ: How do you deal with instances where it’s not socially acceptable to move freely?

“They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.”

Tony Riddle: I used to live between Ibiza and London and I would do two flights a week. I would choose between various different methods. You can kneel on a flight in the aircraft seat. You can even squat in an aircraft seat. You take your shoes off and walk up and down the aisle or go into a larger area and have a squat, move around and do mobility work. And yeah, people might be looking at me as if I’m nuts, but I’m looking at them thinking they’re nuts for sitting down for that length of time. They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.

Check in with The Outdoor Journal next week as we further discuss Tony’s motivation for running barefoot across the island of Great Britain, daily practices for building the body into a “superstructure,” and how Tony moved past childhood trauma and stepped into his power.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

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