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Air force finding zen on battle sidelines

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September 13, 2017

Yoga has become popular with RAAF pilots in the Middle East after long, gruelling days in the air.

Fighter pilots are usually associated with dogfighting not downward facing dog.

But at Australia's main air operating base in the Middle East the crews flying sorties over Iraq and Syria targeting Islamic State (Daesh) are embracing yoga and Pilates to ward off stiffness.

It's a long day and gruelling work - up to 10 hours of flying time as well as several hours of pre and post flight briefings.

The Super Hornet crews - a pilot and weapons systems officer - are strapped in tightly to ejection seats, while wearing at least 20 kilograms of gear.

Over desert coloured flight suits they wear "G suits", torso harnesses, survival vests kitted out with first aid kits, pistols, radios, camel backs, flares as well as a heavy helmet with display unit.

Imagine wearing a corset while strapped to a plastic chair all day.

"If the task is busy and there's a lot going on, time goes by very quickly," RAAF Wing Commander Jason, whose last name can not be published for operational reasons, told AAP.

"But if your doing non-traditional surveillance it can be more uncomfortable because your thinking more about the discomfort factor.

"Most guys take a good month or two when they get home to lose any aches and pains."

Yoga has become popular with crew members.

"It's good to stretch out and limber up," one air crew member, who also can't be named, told AAP.

"I try to get to a yoga session when I can to do some stretching and recovery work."

A RAAF legal officer on base is also a qualified yoga teacher and runs classes three times a week.

"Military guys in particular are brave... and they know what's good for the body generally and they embrace things like this because they're not scared of what other people think," she told AAP.

"There's not many places at war to get the yin - it's all yang - fried food, running, working out, carrying weapons whatever. It's nice to give people a yin place."

The air crew are also using Pilates techniques such as massaging trigger points with foam logs, rolling gadgets and balls.

The Super Hornets are cruising at speeds upwards of 800 kilometres per hour, and at times G-forces during manoeuvres can take a heavy toll on the body.

RAAF physical training instructor Corporal Alex Bunyan said fast jet pilots are essentially high-performance athletes because they need to be physically conditioned to handle the extreme environment otherwise they can pass out.

Much of his training is focused on "pre-habilitation" to prevent injuries as well as mentally stimulating muscles to help them brace against g-forces.

Bunyn has also taught them to do special neck stretches while they are sitting in their ejection seats waiting to take off.

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