Marielle Gallagher / The Bulletin
Jason and Chelsey Magness take everyday sports like mountain biking, rock climbing and yoga and push them to the extreme to test their personal limits for what is physically and mentally possible.
Such as walking a 1-inch-wide slackline hundreds of feet over a canyon.
Or Chelsey balancing in a perfect handstand atop Jason's extended hands
Or multiday adventure racing in Patagonia, where they crossed snowy passes in tennis shoes with a single rope and no ice ax.
“You have to get to these places where you don't think you can go any further and somehow redefine what life is, what that next step is going to be like,” said Jason.
Both longtime athletes in various sports — including yoga, rock climbing, kayaking and mountain biking — the Magnesses elevated their yoga practice in the mid-2000s to include acro and slackline yoga. Adding the acrobatic and extreme balance elements to their traditional yoga poses keeps them challenged. Acro yoga is a two-person practice that blends modern acrobatics with traditional yoga poses. One person lies on their back as the base and the other is the flier. Slackline yoga is doing yoga poses on a slack line anchored between two points.
“We were doing super advanced yoga, but we weren't at the place where we were being pushed up against this edge and figuring it out,” said Jason, 38.
Some yogis get stagnant in their practice and the highest challenge is just to learn new poses. “When you're doing acrobatics or on the line, that goes away because it's hard to even stand on the thing,” said Jason. “It's hard to even balance on someone else's feet. So you have to go backwards to that beginner mindset of really connecting with your breath, connecting with your partner.”
Just standing on the slackline for three seconds was an achievement when Jason first took it up.
It wasn't until he realized that he had to let go of all desire for achievement that he was able to balance on the slackline, he said.
“That idea of wanting to achieve something on the slackline, it doesn't happen until you let go,” he said.
Expanding their practice to include acro and a slackline yoga, the Magnesses say, has taught them profound life lessons. The way a slackline wobbles under a slackliner's feet, for example, is a reflection of the mentality the person brings to the line.
“If you step on the line and you're afraid, you have ego, you want to do something so that someone will think it's cool. It makes it so much harder. ”
Acro yoga incorporates a similar element of learning with the addition of another person. No matter the physical capabilities of the two people, the key is clear communication. “I could be the most amazing yogi handstander in the world. She could be the most amazing gymnast, and we could come together and not be able to accomplish anything because we don't know how to listen and communicate,” said Jason.
The Magnesses work out nearly every day in order to sustain a high level of physical endurance and strength, but the key to achieving the near-impossible poses they pull off is mental acrobatics.
“The mental aspect is huge in everything we do. It's about 95 percent mental and 5 percent practice and training,” said Chelsey, 29. “The mental part is the ability to keep pushing the edge, to hit that move in acro ... We can walk a slackline in the backyard all day but when you put it up over a canyon (highlining), it becomes all about the mental ability,” said Chelsey.
The Magnesses' regimen of high-intensity, high-risk sporting leaves no room for internal conversations of doubt or ego. “Both in highlining and in acro, there's not very much place for hope,” said Jason. “You don't get on a highline and hope you're going to walk. You don't do some crazy pop in acro and hope it's going to work. When you're out there on the line, hope doesn't get you very far.”
Instead, the internal conversation has to be about conviction. “Sometimes you fall. You lose that moment but (the conversation is) 'I'm going to cross.' ... (or) 'We're going to do this now.' That's why we talk less and less. You know when you're ready. You feel it and then you go and if you don't feel it, you don't go.”
Other inherent qualities of acro yoga are human touch and playfulness. Many times, as Chelsey balances atop Jason's feet and is spinning side to side, she is smiling. When she hits a serious pose that looks like “The Thinker” statue, she laughs before breaking the pose and moving to the next one. “A lot of people are on their phones these days and communicating through text and not a face-to-face or a human touch way, so that's why I really feel strongly about acro yoga. It brings that sense of play and communication and touch in a safe, fun environment back to this world,” said Chelsey.
How they do it
The Magnesses don't exclude any foods from their diet and they don't count calories, but they exercise a lot. Any particular week, their exercise may focus on slacklining or acro yoga or endurance if they have an acro yoga performance or adventure race approaching. For the most part, no two days look the same when it comes to their workouts, which include endurance, interval and distance training and time trials. “Every day we do something. There's rarely a day where we do nothing except right after a race when we're driving,” said Chelsey.
Interval training is done two to three times a week. “We do 15 minutes where we go as fast as possible, where we can taste blood in our mouth,” said Chelsey. Or five to 15 minutes of pulling a tire down the road, which Chelsey says makes great entertainment for their neighbors. For a time trial, they map out a half-mile loop to run as fast as possible, then pull a tire for 30 seconds, then run the half mile again in an attempt to beat their first time. Or they might bike a 10-mile loop as fast as possible. “I do not look forward to the interval trainings, but I also do because I like the feeling when it's over. They're really hard but you see results very fast. It's kind of cool like that,” said Chelsey.
They practice acro yoga three times a week and walk or do lunges daily across a 90- or 160-foot slackline strung up in their backyard every day. Other forms of exercise include surf skiing, sea kayak paddling, mountain biking, stand-up paddleboarding and long distance kayaking, covering up to 45 miles in a day for endurance training. They avoid using gyms to work out but sometimes in the fall they head indoors for weight training. “I always look forward to the missions and the acro practice,” said Chelsey. “All of it is fun.”
All the different activities the Magnesses do is represented under the name YogaSlackers (a name inspired by doing yoga on the slackline). “I started YogaSlackers with my friend ... just organically. For a long time we were separating what we were doing on the slackline from acrobatics and from our adventure racing team and one of our team sponsors just finally started calling the team YogaSlackers because it's just too hard to compartmentalize ... If people ask you just say 'Well, I'm a yoga slacker' and that makes sense. It just means you do a lot of different things at your edge,” said Jason.
“All these things for us really play into each other. When we're doing acro we're really building our relationship for adventure racing. When we're doing some crazy adventure race and crossing a river, we're really building our trust for that super hard move in acro or that trust in yourself when you step on a highline over a gorge at Smith Rock. And all of this comes down to the idea of yoga — that total self-awareness. This is just a way to force ourselves to explore and to teach other people.”
Before Jason and Chelsey met, they were in separate parts of the country practicing different types of athletics.
Jason and his twin brother,Andy, pursued body building and rock climbing in college. “We were the little skinny kids ... (We) got into body building mostly so that we could have muscles and maybe get dates.”
They quickly realized that the two sports were at odds. Scaling rocks was hard with hulking muscle weight, so they gave up body building to get serious about rock climbing. Jason moved to North Dakota and spent eight months building a climbing gym. Before the gym was complete, a coach suggested Jason start doing yoga. “I got really seriously into yoga and that kind of set me on a path, not away from climbing, but away from competitive climbing and I became a yoga teacher.”
Then Jason and his brother picked up racing. They competed in a triathlon, then a half marathon and an Ironman.
Jason also tried an adventure race, which involves teams of no more than four people doing multiple sports in often multi-day races with no prescribed route and no rules other than staying with the team.
“That's what I love about it adventure racing. It's not 'I'm a runner, I'm a mountain biker, I'm a skier.' It's 'I'm a sufferer, I'm an endurance athlete.' That you just have to do all these different things and have to make them work. And it's the same thing in acro and slacklining,” said Jason.
Chelsey grew up in Alaska with an early appreciation for spending time in the mountains. When Chelsey got a driver's license, it was the ticket to more freedom. Every weekend was spent with friends backpacking and “getting lost in the mountains.”
After graduating from high school, Chelsey traveled for eight years, following snow and rivers. “I would be a ski bum and when spring hit, water would run off and I'd go to the wherever the biggest runoff was and guide there. And then in the fall I would travel overseas with the money.” All the while, Chelsey had plans to go to college. But a shoulder injury landed her instead in Tucson, Ariz., to live with an aunt. It was there she met Jason when she enrolled in a yoga teacher training program.
“He was teaching ... and I also found out through him about the slackline and acro yoga and I just saw it and I have a pretty obsessive personality. Once I find something that I like I go full on.”
For their fourth date, Jason asked Chelsey to a six-hour adventure race, her first. “We knew we had to finish the race in four hours otherwise we'd be late (for class) and we'd both be in trouble. So we finished in about 3 1/2 hours — about an hour ahead of the nearest team — and made it back to the teacher training kind of cut up and bruised but on time,” said Jason.
Now, the Magnesses teach acro and slackline yoga from their Bend home and in local yoga studios. They are also preparing for a seven-city tour to teach advanced acrobatics, and training to compete in the Adventure Racing World Championships in Costa Rica.