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.
sports meditation. We can apply standard meditation techniques to
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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
Precognition. We know what another player is going to do
"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
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