If your yoga teacher told you to jump out of a plane, would you? This is the question that Alyssa Manny, owner of Ohana Yoga and Barre in the Berkeley neighborhood, posed to her students this summer.
“It was this massive response,” Manny said.
Joselyn Perez, who is self-described as “picky” when it comes to choosing a yoga studio but “adventurous” in all other respects, jumped at the chance to skydive. She was one of the 16 Ohana students who decided to jump out of a plane over the course of the last weekend of July. Skydiving has always been on her bucket list and, this year, she decided to cross off 33 bucket list items in celebration of being 33.
“When Ohana and Alyssa was offering for us to gather as a community to do this, it was exciting for me,” she said. “Like leading up to this is exciting.”
Perez, who says she isn’t scared of heights, maintained that excitement throughout the day and only first felt a twinge of nervousness occurred when Alyssa dove – solo, as always – out of the open door.
“She just like, popped out the plane,” Perez said.
Ohana, which means “family” in Hawaiian, has been under Manny’s ownership for five years. It was named in honor of Manny’s late sister-in-law, Denise, who was originally from Hawaii. Denise was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer just one year after she married into the family.
“Her and my brother moved back to Hilo on the Big Island so that she could be really close to her family and I have sincere roots there now from living life with Denise,” she said. “It’s in honor of the family that both my brother and I have in Hawaii now.”
True to its name, Manny wants Ohana to be a place for her clients to find connection with each other both inside and outside the studio, and she hopes that the hikes, dinners, and now skydiving trips run through the studio will strengthen that ethos.
“This is a safe and inclusive second space where people can come and really be in a community that’s connected,” she said. “We’ve got all these opportunities to do that whole fitness thing, like work out or whatever, but it’s really about that.”
Manny’s passion for skydiving is decades-long at this point. Not long after she found her passion for yoga while she was in college, Manny’s boyfriend at the time, an experienced skydiver named Mike Bohn, showed her a DVD of one of his jumps.
She was hooked and got started that very weekend, even going so far as to get the training and certifications necessary to do her first ever dive solo. Two instructors were in the air next to her, but nobody was strapped to her back.
“You really become acutely aware of standing at the edge of that door. You know, there’s basically a minute between you and your own death,” Manny said. “And at a certain point in that sequence, you decide to save your own life.”
For over eight years, skydiving was Manny’s life. It allowed her to travel the world and even be a part of setting a world record.
“We completed the women’s head down world record in 2014,” she said. “And so, the years up to that was just traveling from state to state, place to place, to train to be a part of this world record, which was my ultimate goal at that time.”
Contrary to popular belief, skydiving isn’t just jumping out of a plane and hoping for the best – much like yoga, it’s a sport that requires strength and focus.
“You learn how to move your body in a way that’s all tempered by the strength of your core,” Manny said. “It’s actually completely in tune with the practice of yoga because there is complete surrender when you step off the edge of a plane at 13,000 feet.”
While she takes plenty of safety precautions, Manny has had a few scary moments – most memorably, a “total malfunction” on her 16th jump. Manny’s pilot chute – the small parachute responsible for pulling the pin that deploys a skydiver’s canopy – got stuck. She was forced to deploy her reserve canopy, meaning that she was freefalling until she was only about 1000 feet from the ground instead of 3000.
“Altitude goes by really quickly, so even in your attempts to figure out what is the issue and what’s the problem, you lose so much altitude that you’re coming to critical levels,” she said.
The landing ended up being pretty smooth – reserve canopies are larger and “more forgiving” – and Manny was, clearly, unperturbed.
The skydiver boyfriend who got her hooked, Mike Bohn, would eventually become Manny’s husband, and the two have taken countless skydiving trips together. Although they split up recently, Manny says that she and Bohn are introducing adventure into their kids’ lives.
“When he and I decided to have children together, that was our goal. It wasn’t to do it perfectly,” she said. “It was to lead with the example of living our life to our fullest so that we can give them the gift and the permission to not live their life in fear.”
The kids spend alternating weeks between Denver and Fort Morgan, where Bohn owns a skydiving center called Orange Skies – which happens to be where Manny brought her students for their big dive. At just four and six years old, the kids aren’t jumping out of planes just yet, but they get to enjoy country life and watch the action from the ground when they’re with their dad.
“On the weeks I don’t even have them, I get to go up there, skydive, and get to do gymnastics on their packing mats with my children,” Manny said. “My six-year-old is my daughter, Samantha, and two weeks ago she was bawling because daddy wouldn’t let her skydive.”
For Perez, the camaraderie in pushing herself and trying something new is proving to be great motivation. When she told her coworkers in hotel operations that she jumped out of plane, “they were shocked about it, but a lot of my friends were more like, oh my god, you’re so brave,” she said. “It’s more like, you know, sometimes it’s a step out of your comfort zone even though it’s within your comfort zone.”
“If there’s one moment in my life I could relive for the first time again, it would be jumping out of the plane,” she said.