Flipping cars in high-speed chases, tumbling down stairs, and flinging himself from tall buildings are all in a day's work for Jay Caputo. Yet unlike most professional stuntmen, Caputo doesn't have an injury insurance policy. His yoga practice, he says, is all the insurance he needs.
"My job is sometimes to stand in harm's way and take a beating," Caputo says.
"But yoga has kept me from hurting myself because I'm so much more open—my body can be pushed further before I become injured."
Caputo, 36, has been a Hollywood stuntman for 13 years and an Iyengar practitioner for six. He's doubled for actors Mike Myers, Jason Alexander, Chris Kattan, and Jon Stewart in a wide range of movies and TV shows, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman and Robin, Contact, Planet of the Apes, Fear Factor, Dog Eat Dog, and ER.
When he's not on location, Caputo practices with Iyengar teacher Paul Cabanis at studios in Los Angeles, including the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Institute. Cabanis, who has taught several stunt people over the years, says Caputo has been his most dedicated student. "He's enthusiastic and fearless—a lot of the things people fear he has already faced at his job."
Still, Caputo finds that yoga—especially Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)—can be just as challenging as anything he does on a movie set. "In practice, you're fully engaged in every moment," he says. The stunts he performs, in contrast, last less than 20 seconds. "There's more fear and anxiety in getting the jobs than in doing the stunts," he jokes.
Well, not quite. In a stunt a few years ago he was doused with chemicals and set on fire; with 15-foot flames licking at his face, he dived off a 20-foot crane into a lake. "I had to lean forward to keep my head out of the fire," he says. Caputo's 22-foot descent to the bottom of the lake, propelled by 20 pounds of diving weights, ruptured one of his eardrums. Unable to move, he waited agonizing seconds until divers could bring him oxygen and escort him to the surface. But thanks to his yoga practice, he was able to stay calm. "Yoga has taught me that fear is a state of mind," he says. "If I'm focused on the fear, I'm not focused on what I should be doing."
With all these benefits from yoga, this stunt man says he'll do it forever. "Yoga is a part of my life now and will always be," Caputo says. "Someday, stunts will be just a fun thing to talk about between yoga sessions."