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Sports Meditation

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  1. What is sports meditation?
  2. Techniques of sports meditation.

What is sports meditation? It is the use of sports for the purpose of meditation. This is another type of "movement meditation," along with walking meditation, hatha yoga, dance meditation, etc.

Techniques of sports meditation. We can apply standard meditation techniques to sports.

  1. We can practice concentration. Sports generally demand a focused, here-and-now attention; otherwise, we miss the ball, or we suffer an injury. (Perhaps one reason why some people choose a dangerous sport is because they are tested so uncompromisingly in their ability to perform and to concentrate.) Athletes learn to direct their awareness, to the exclusion of extraneous noises and sights, and their own distracting thoughts of fear, frustration, and uncertainty. Instead of concentrating with a forced effort, we allow ourselves to become naturally fascinated by the subject, and we are drawn into some aspect of it. As we become absorbed into the activity, we attain a type of inner stillness despite the external motion.
  2. We can practice mindfulness meditation. We are more proficient in our sport when we increase our awareness of the other competitors, and our body's actions, and the relevant external details (such as an icy patch on the ski slope). In mindfulness, we are open to all sensory input, thoughts, or bodily sensations; i.e., our attention is non-directed -- so it might be suitable only for non-competitive situations (e.g., jogging, or the solo practice sessions for a competitive sport) where we do not have to focus our attention upon any particular aspect of our activity; instead, we permit the body and the non-verbal parts of the mind to explore and learn in their own way without undue imposition of the analytical function of mind which is less capable of either comprehension or instruction in the complex movements of the body.
    • We can be mindful our bodily sensations. These sensations include our breathing, our feet's contact with the ground, the contraction of muscles, our grip on the sports equipment, or another impression. As in non-sports mindfulness, we do not make judgments (e.g., "incorrect foot placement"), and we do not try to improve our body's positioning or the outcomes (e.g., distance or speed); instead, we simply notice our movements and our body's feedback (e.g., pain, effortlessness, strain, etc.). To experiment further with this kinesthetic awareness, we can perform some aspects of the sport with our eyes closed; instead, we rely on "feel" and on the senses other than vision.
    • We can be mindful of the external environment. We are attentive to the ball, the floor or grass beneath us, the sounds of the sport and our surroundings, the movements of other players, the odors, and other elements from outside of us. We notice the results of our actions (e.g., the flight of the baseball after we hit it), but we don't need to analyze those results, or judge them "successful" or "unsuccessful"; certainly, analysis and judgment are important at some points in athletic training -- but they are not a part of "mindfulness," which is simple observation.
    • We can be mindful of the rhythms. We notice the rhythms of our feet, our breathing, our heartbeat -- or the rhythms of external events such as the sound of the bouncing ball, or the visual rhythm of white lines on a jogger's street. Some runners say that a steady rhythm alone is enough to create a meditative state, because the repetitiveness is boring to the brain's analytical left hemisphere; when that hemisphere becomes bored, we naturally become more aware of the intuitive right hemisphere. On a larger scale, we might notice rhythms in the game itself -- the oscillations between two players, or between two teams in terms of dominance and setbacks, or between the extremes of excellence and clumsiness, or any other duality.
  3. We can experiment with intuition as a mode of action. The analytical function of the mind learns techniques, and it analyzes our movements (and the opposing team's general techniques), and it tries to control the body willfully. This mode is vital when we first learn a sport, but it becomes less important as we master the basic skills and make them automatic. Then, we can rely more upon intuition. Each moment in every game is unique and infinitely complex (with regard to the possible action of each player); only intuition can give us the overview of all of those unique dynamics -- including the movements of other players, our own capabilities at this moment, etc. The best players are intuitive; for example, they know that the opposing team's defense will open a hole for them at a specific instant. In contrast, if we rely on analysis, we are limited in many ways:
    • Analysis depends upon technical knowledge. This technical knowledge is merely a generalization of the methods of the sport; by itself, it does not account for the singular factors in this moment.
    • Analysis depends upon sensory data. We do not have "eyes in the back of our head" -- but intuition can detect motion and intention of players who are beyond even the peripheral range of our senses.
    • Analysis depends upon the processing of information. However, the analytical function is too slow in a fast-paced game. For example, the mathematical prowess required for calculating the trajectory of a three-point shot would require a powerful computer -- but intuition can immediately place the shot.
    • Analysis depends upon logic. However, sports is a phenomenon of human bodies and instincts which are non-logical. Logic might have some value for coaches who are planning strategies before a game, but it might be less useful for the athletes during the heat of action.
  4. We can explore the nature of the physical body.
    • Its autonomy. To an extent, this is "our body" which conforms to our wishes and ideals. But to some degree, the body is in a world of its own -- a world of sensations, pleasures, stresses, surges of power (and pain), animal instincts, etc. We can investigate this fascinating non-verbal world -- its capabilities, its timing, its strengths, its facility to coordinate the movements of the different muscles, and its natural style of movement (so we are likely to have less fatigue and fewer injuries).
    • Its means of learning. The body learns from experience -- from simply doing the activity, even if the analytical function does not know why one putt went into the hole and another one didn't go in.
    • Its style of understanding. We can "let the body play" -- using its own wisdom and "muscle memory."
    • Its joy. The body has an eagerness to learn, to experiment, and to be spontaneous and creative. There is an absence of frustration, external standards -- and there is a lack of concern for points, victories, other people's opinions, and the possible humiliation from making mistakes. (The resulting absence of stress and self-criticism allows us to be more attentive to the game itself.)
  5. We can examine our psychological states. Although a sports arena is vastly different from a Zen meditation hall, we might still observe the rising and falling of various states: worry, fear, anger, doubt, confidence, motivation, desire, our sense of identity, our attitude toward our personal limitations, etc. And we can view the ways in which those states affect our performance.
  6. We can observe any unusual states which occur. Some athletes experience states which they call "playing in the zone" or "playing out of my mind." characteristics can include:
    • Effortlessness. A difficult or "impossible" feat is accomplished without struggle, without thought, and without doubt (as though the completion of the pass was inevitable). The body itself might seem to be flying, or floating, or wrapped in a protective ball of energy which prevents adversaries from touching it.
    • An alteration of perception.
      • Time speeds up, or slows down, or seems to stop.
      • Our sense of vision is enhanced. We see details more clearly. Objects (such as a basketball hoop) might seem to be larger -- so large that we couldn't miss. Players seem to become smaller or bigger or shaped differently.
    • The ability to see energy fields surrounding other players or the entire opposing team. With this perception, we can direct our attack toward a weak area in the opposing energy field. We might experience the energies of the competing teams not in conflict with one another but in harmony, as a part of a synchronized whole.
    • Precognition. We know what another player is going to do next.
    • "Mind over matter." For example, we seem to be able to influence the flight of a ball.
    • Unity. We might feel a unity with our teammates, as though the team is a single organism. This "oneness" can expand to include our opponents, our equipment, the surroundings, and our own mind and body and soul.
    • Transcendence. We might feel that the game has a life and energy of its own; we yield our individual concerns, to allow the game to be played through us. Even the fans experience something bigger than themselves, in their participation with the group's common values and emotions. These phenomena help us to go beyond our limited view of ourselves into a broader sense of existence.

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