“My yoga practice was wonderful and I really enjoyed it, but slacklining really took it to a whole other level, because my yoga mat…all the sudden became one inch wide,” says Dustin Lindblad, who was featured in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year as a woman “walking on air.” So, what exactly does she do and teach? Lindblad slacklines, but not in the way you might think: she performs yoga poses, including kneeling, laying down, backbending, planking, and even squatting while on webbing that’s only one inch wide. She can even balance her entire body on a single shoulder, while on the line. It seems impossible, but on today’s episode, Lindblad gives us a peek into her world and explains how she came to be known as the woman walking on air. She also discusses a bit about what it’s like to teach students who wish to accomplish the same. On today’s episode, you will learn:
Dustin Lindblad: Thank you very much. Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Richard Jacobs: So how did you first get interested in doing such a thing?
Dustin Lindblad: That’s a great question. I guess for decades I’ve been interested in movement and I practiced yoga for quite a while, many years. And I was also interested in acrobatics and I did offer yoga and I had many friends within that sector. And some of my friends also practice slacklining and I became introduced to it that way. And I found it to be a wonderful activity to help build up my strength and balance and endurance. And because I was naturally flexible from my yoga practice, that helped tremendously too. But I just found it to be a wonderful compliment to my practice. And I can also talk a little bit more about what slacklining is if you’d like.
Richard Jacobs: What’s your definition? For me, it’s a string between two trees and a walk on it. But what is it?
Dustin Lindblad: Sure. Basically, in essence, slacklining consists of stretching, usually one inch or two-inch wide piece of webbing between two anchor points. Oftentimes that is trees, but it can be X frames. It can be really any type of stable, upright, vertical structural piece. And then what happens is the webbing is suspended within the air and the tension can be adjusted to suit the user. And you can then be on top of the Slackline and pass through various movements upon the webbing. And usually, people identify slacklining with standing and walking. But my particular practice includes sitting, kneeling, laying down in addition of course to standing and walking. So it encompasses a wide gamut of movement activities on the Slackline, which is great. And I guess I’d like to talk a little bit about, it’s talked also to the point that you are saying that some people can view slacklining as a circus type of activity or have a kind of an extreme sport and I guess it can be, a lot of times people think of high lining or trick lining, which is also within the family of moving upon webbing.
But my particular practice, I guess my background is from yoga. I approached the line and pass through a series of SNS yoga courses. But however, I’d really like to point out the exercising on the Slackline it also occupies a prominent place just within the fitness world in general. And it’s available to all audiences at all levels. If you view it from a more athletic perspective, you could perhaps the SNS which are poses within yoga, you could call them by different types of terms. You could call them progressions or drills. And many of the movements I do can also be regarded as almost callisthenic in nature. I also do sit-ups on a Slackline, side planks, and squats for example. However, what I would like to do also is kind of back up a little bit because the way I was speaking about it might sound kind of advanced, but even beginners can start and when a beginner starts, you just had the line be very close to the ground and the anchor points close together. And then as you will advance through your practice, you can always make things more challenging or more intensify by increasing the height of the slackline from the ground or increasing the distance that happens between the anchors. And like I said, ways to just constantly elevate the practice which is a wonderful thing about it.
Richard Jacobs: What attracts you to do it in the first place? How’s you get the idea?
Dustin Lindblad: Well, I think as I mentioned before I had a couple of friends who were slacklining and I was just very fortunate with that because I hadn’t heard of it before. I wasn’t familiar and my friends were doing it and we were doing acrobatics. And then sometimes they would take breaks from the acrobatics and put up a slackline and jump on the slackline and start doing some moves and walking around. And those particular friends I had were also fortunately again from me interested in yoga. So, therefore, I became exposed to doing yoga on a slackline and which was great. And then it just was really appealing to me. It became a big part of my practice. And I guess another reason why to, that I guess I’m leaving out of it is that when I was doing acrobatics, I did have a pretty severe accident at one point. And which I won’t go into in this conversation, but in the aftermath, both of my wrists were broken simultaneously and I, therefore, was not able to do a lot of the arm balances, enhanced hand practice that was a big part of my exercise routine. And so slacklining had a really strong appeal for me because I could sit on the line, I could walk on the line and I could do activities that really kept me moving and challenge me with my balance. But I didn’t have to put weight on my hands or my wrists during the time that I was healing. So that also too, it’s just fate as bait may have it. That was in my story away how I came to slacklining and began to spend a tremendous amount of my time on the line where previously I might’ve actually done my hands.
Richard Jacobs: I was going to joke and say you and your friends consisted of a bunch of slackers.
Dustin Lindblad: Oh, this is great, I’m so glad you brought that up. Yes. That is a term that’s used a lot. But I would say that what slackline is one of the most intense activities that I believe that one can do and it’s very, very challenging. But it also at the same time requires I don’t want to say relaxation, but you have to be able to relax the body. And I guess slacking, it’s almost like a pun in a certain sense. Slacking in a certain sense can be a release of tension. And I’d like to use it in a positive way as opposed to some of the negative connotations that are always bounced around. With slacklining, one of the most important things is to focus on awareness of the breaths and keeping your breath smooth and monitoring responses to your stress. And so oftentimes there’s a real tendency to make a large response to an imbalance. So if you are able to use your breath and take your breath again, relaxing the body, you’re able to slow your movements down. And oftentimes you can stay on the line more successfully than if you overreact, move quickly cause there are quick movements can often pop you right off the line. So I guess kind of trying to bring it back to you, I’m sure if you want to, I’d like to kind of make a new interpretation the word slacker as just a relaxation of like relaxation of the body or taking a breath and pausing before, but using it in a much more of a positive connotation.
Richard Jacobs: Well if you are not relaxed and if you fight with the line, whatever you call that. But I would bet if you fight the line and the emotion and all that, it makes it impossible to do.
Dustin Lindblad: Well it does because it’s like therefore one of the key teachings of the line is that instead of making large physical movements, as I was saying before if you learn to take a breath first then oftentimes you’ll realize in the course while you’re taking that breath that the large corrective movement isn’t needed to find that balance and the breath becomes enough. So on the line, the breath becomes, the most important tool you have is there’s an immediate connection from the brain to the body and it helps you really control those movements and regain that balance. Does that make sense?
Richard Jacobs: I gotcha. Is it helps you not oversteer in many situations, emotional situations, physical situations, et cetera?
Dustin Lindblad: Exactly. It really is true as I just say, it’s a powerful realization because when you feel that imbalance, you take a breath and you make a small movement and then the sooner you can bring the breath back in, the balance is found. And that’s a skill that I use constantly, upon the line. And over the several years by practice, I’ve definitely noticed it manifesting within other aspects of my life also. I guess I would say pausing and using the breath is one of the key components of developing a language for slacklining and then creating that little physical literacy and movement within the body. And I can talk a little bit more about that if you’d like that.
Richard Jacobs: No, no, I’m thinking as you’re talking, I think, I mean you could say you have to start from a place of balance and you have to stay close to that place of balance the whole time. Otherwise, you can’t stay up there. You can’t even get on there. It does have a lot of lessons for a lot of other things in life.
Dustin Lindblad: Well, it really does because I mean, what are the key things that I just love to do is try to stand very, very still. To stand very still on a slackline it’s incredibly challenging because what will happen is you’ll realize of course, that the Slackline is a closed system. So basically the only thing that’s moving on that line is you and the line will respond to you. And if you move, it’s going to move you move quickly, it’s going to move quickly and possibly toss you right up. So the goal is to really be present on the line and to maintain your stillness as much as possible and help you focus inward. And that way you don’t overreact to imbalances because of course as we just were discussing, every movement you make in one direction, you’re then going to have to correct any other direction to regain that balance. And kind of circling back, the goal for me at least is to really use the breath as this source of movement for the balance. And yeah, it’s great and it really begins to build like, I was just trying to get it before, the physical literacy within the body and a way of moving and of course everything we’re just talking about it can work as metaphors for other, other places and times within our lives too which is great.
Richard Jacobs: So what would you say the benefits of slacklining are above and beyond doing yoga on the ground normally?
Dustin Lindblad: Sure. Well, it’s basically what I was kind of just getting at, you know, with that ability to pause and that ability to take that breath and that ability to not overreact. Again because on a slackline you’re going to pop right off. So I have over time, I’ve been slacklining for almost four years now and I am really confident that my overall sense of balance and it has dramatically increased since before I began. Slacklining. My yoga practice was amazing. You asked about the difference between yoga and slacklining. My yoga practice was wonderful and I really enjoyed it, but slacklining, it really took it to a whole other level because my yoga mat, which was a, just a regular yoga mat, all of a sudden it became one inch wide, which is like the width of the webbing. And so everything becomes, as I was saying exponentially more challenging and you have to start to move much more slowly. So transcended kind of the biggest advantages is, as I was kind of getting back to is I, I really feel my overall sense of balance within moving through, just my life, the sense of balance has dramatically increased. And I started to notice it actually, maybe the second year, the practice just will be like a tangible example. I live in New York City and on the subway cars, jolts on a subway car, people jumping in front of me while I’m walking and then breaks in the pavement. And I began to notice, wow, I’m reacting a little bit differently. I’m really, have a stronger sense of awareness of where I am in space and how to avoid the possible collisions or something like that. And it’s really wonderful. I just, as I said, began to realize that I was much better equipped to navigate to these situations. My core had become much more solid and I became more secure within my footing. I mean, these are kind of just like little tangible things I’m throwing out, but I really began to notice that. And again, also I come back to the breath and just, I’m hoping my approach toward working through situations that are challenging. I had that not too long, but maybe that extra split second, which to pause and think about it, which sometimes can really mean the difference in the outcome of the situation. And I think the slacklining helped me with all of that.
Richard Jacobs: So do you teach other people specifically to do slacklining and what’s their experience?
Dustin Lindblad: I do. It’s different for each student because each student, of course, comes with their own background and their own types of ability, movement and aptitude and their interests. And I guess again, I kind of like to circle back to my background is in yoga. So a lot of times the students will want to specifically learn yoga poses or yoga asanas, but there are also students who are from more of an athletic background who want to learn things, which are a bit more callisthenic. And as I was mentioning before, I do sit-ups like you things which are kneeling pointers. I do squats, side planks. So I kind of tailor it to what the student would like to learn and their goals. Because slackline is very versatile and it’s not really as esoteric and fantastical like I said that, because some people do, they always come in there, Oh, you, you know, are you in a circus? And it’s like, no, this can really just be a very normal activity for people. And I think that’s one thing that I would, with this podcast I’d love to tell people is it’s very accessible. If you just spend some time and you have the desire to do it, it’s a great activity. And again, spent the time you can, it’s really accessible.
Richard Jacobs: Do you wear shoes when you do it or you go barefoot? I mean, is there a better way to do it versus others?
Dustin Lindblad: I wouldn’t say that there’s one way that’s better than the other, because again, people are always different. A lot of people do prefer to be barefoot. And I completely understand that because when your foot is really feeling the line and all the nuances. I myself use martial arts shoes. They’re very thin little shoes that I get in Chinatown. And it’s actually without a necessity. Again, I live in New York City and I slackline in here and often times there might be little things on the ground glass and bottle caps and stuff. So I use the little shoes, but they’re very, very flexible and I would encourage either one of those barefoot or martial arts shoes, I think that sticks shoes would be very, very challenging because you just can’t move your foot enough and as you start to progress and do more advanced moves, especially when you’re squatting or you’re actually starting to do 180 and 360 turns on the slackline. For me, it’s very important to really be able to feel the nuances of different parts of my feet on the line, whether it’s the heel, whether it’s the ball of my foot. And also too, I’ve recently been experimenting with really going up on my toes a lot. And again, I find that you really need to have a flexible shoe or barefoot.
Richard Jacobs: Have you ever seen the video of, I forget his name, but it was like the 1970s he slackline to cross the twin towers?
Dustin Lindblad: Yeah. That’s high lining, which is another part of the sport. But it is very different from what I do. But yeah, a lot of people definitely began to think about the Petit within the conversation of slacklining.
Richard Jacobs: Do you ever use that wand he had or cross member?
Dustin Lindblad: No, I don’t use anything at all. I just use my hands and my arms. And actually a lot of times when I’m challenging myself, I try to remove my arms from the practice. And what I mean by that is that class my hands in front of me or I’ll class my hands behind me or over my head then I can’t use my arms for balance. And it makes it more challenging because of course when your arms are straight out and your leg and you look like a bit like a starfish, that would be of course one of the easiest poses to balance while standing. But when you bring your limbs more compact, it becomes a lot more challenging. And I tend to like to do that. So that’s something I like to do.
Richard Jacobs: And what’s next for your practice? I mean, have you thought about setting up maybe like a webbing of several different slacklines that cross at different angles and you could walk around the webbing or what else would you like to do with it?
Dustin Lindblad: Oh, that’s an interesting idea. I can be open to doing things like that. I’m also always open to too many things. I’m really interested in really bringing more and more of my yoga practice to the line. Because I have also practiced Dharma yoga and Ashtanga yoga, I guess their inversions and different types of twists and so anyway I’m continuing to just push my, like I said, my yoga practice and some things, with the inversions I am really enjoying, I like to do shoulder stands while balance my entire body just on one shoulder on the line, which is really exciting. And I would like to begin to explore diff transitions of moving in and out of that pose and also creating a flow which can last up to the same even maybe 30 minutes with the on the line, which builds a lot of quite a bit of endurance. And so that’s a goal.
Richard Jacobs: Are there different kinds of Slacklines and different materials or thicknesses that you recommend for beginners and more advanced people?
Dustin Lindblad: To tell you the truth, my experience is mostly with the yoga slacker’s line, which I find to be a really wonderful line. You can find it on Amazon. Also on the yoga slackers website and I think that webbing is great for beginner to start to work on. And it’s also they sell a small kit which has tree protection and two anchors and it’s just really ready to go for the beginner. And there are instructions inside how to put it up. Or you can find a video online and it’s also really easy to travel with. So that’s what I would recommend.
Richard Jacobs: All right, very good. What’s the best way for people to find out more about you and if they’re local to you in New York, you know, take lessons or come hang out and see what you do.
Dustin Lindblad: I’m actually in the process of setting up my website, which should be up at the beginning of the year, so that would be a really great way to contact me and that’s actually would be the best way to contact me at this point.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Then you say your name is Dustin Lindblad. How do you spell it? Just so people get it?
Dustin Lindblad: It’s Dustin, D. U. S. T. I. N. and the last name is Lindblad, L. I. N. D. B. L. a. D.
Richard Jacobs: Okay, great. So that’s what your website will be?
Dustin Lindblad: Yeah, it’s dustinlinblad.com and wholly, it might even be up within the next month. We’ll see. I actually had another thing that I was thinking about that if we have another minute or two, I kind of like to go back to because you’re saying as with the question of one of the best benefits about slacklining. I think it also comes from my background in yoga. Anyone who’s ever taken a yoga class knows that when you do each pose, you do it on each side of the body. First, you do it on one side and then on the other. And I’ve taken that to my practice of slacklining. So whatever type of pose I’m working on the Slackline, whether it’s a new type of back then, whether it’s a twist, whether it’s kneeling, whatever it is, sit, start. I will practice it on one side and then on the other. And I really, with my goal of building pedal string, which is like having the string on both sides of both feet basically. And because a lot of times when you talk to someone about who is in sports, say gymnastics or soccer, there’s a prioritization upon a dominant side and one side being the stronger side to do a certain move or to do a certain type of activity. And so one of the most beautiful things that I’ve found in slacklining is the ability to just explore and practice these movements on both sides of the body. And with my goal of being able to find the balance symmetrically for both sides, which I think is just a really healthy approach and outlook toward fitness.
Richard Jacobs: And I think with balance comes strength and stability. It makes more sense to me.
Dustin Lindblad: Yeah, it’s true. That’s really, really true. I mean the slackline is a wonderful way to build balance, strength and endurance and flexibility. And it’s funny because I’ve had people ask me, the longer that you do certain activity on slackline say you’re standing or you are walking. The question is, or the comment is that they believed that there might be less strength becomes required, as more technique becomes achieved, the higher your technique, then the less strength and you’ll just keep relying more and more on the technique. And I think that can be true and it’s correct, but only if the variables don’t change. Because one of the really beautiful things about slacklining is that as soon as one moves becomes very accessible, all you have to do to intensify the challenge is to increase the height of the line off the ground. And I mean, you basically just make it a little bit higher or make your line a little bit longer and automatically this instantaneously results in different attention. And it creates a very new exercise with very new demands on the body, which then pushes you back into what we were talking about before, building that strength again in addition to the balance. So it’s a great loop.
Richard Jacobs: Okay, well, very good. Well, Dustin, I appreciate you coming on the podcast. It’s been a good call.
Dustin Lindblad: Great. Yeah. Thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed speaking with you. This has been great.
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