Sports: The Best Teacher

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

The concept is as old as the hills. But, it’s also something that is new. As Jerry Lynch, a sports psychologist, and Chungliang Al Huang, a ta’i-chi master and expert calligrapher, explain in their ‘back-to-the-future’ standard for sporting excellence, Working Out, Working Within, which is, in essence, a premise on how ancient Eastern philosophy can improve your game.

They synthesise: “Working can be a spiritual act… Sport can be a spiritual act, an arena for the battles within, where your obedience to athletics and fitness cannot be separated from the search for life’s verities.”

You know that, don’t you — that martial arts has always amalgamated philosophy with corporeal elements? But, for Lynch and Huang, this kind of exercise is not as important as to what’s going on in your mind when you go through the motions of each exercise.

Three Techniques

In reality, therefore, their programme encompasses three simple, but profound, techniques — [all] based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, or The Way, a parallel of prana, in Indian philosophy — breathwatching, a mode of relaxation, or meditation, where you lay maximum emphasis on your breathing; visual recording, or relaxed visualisation; and, affirmation reciting.

Such a methodology, Lynch and Huang emphasise, is in no way extraordinary, or too formidable a technical rigmarole, but a self-explanatory journey — a timeless philosophy that was propounded by Lao Tzu, nearly 2,500 years ago. “Tao,” write Lynch and Huang “is like water, the path of least resistance. [It] means the way of natural truth [that] encourages you to notice how nature works, and then act accordingly.” The duo claims that all of us could become better sportspersons, or athletes, only when we unite mind and heart through a host of virtues such as spontaneity, non-interference, and stillness in motion, or being. It’s all precisely cognate, they again relate, to a sort of calm, or tranquillity, in the eye of a storm. Of a ‘muster’ that, in all likelihood, bestows us with a better acceptance of Self, and the world around us.

Lynch and Huang do not prescribe, or claim, that their idea is a panacea to winning gold medals at national/international levels, or scoring runs at will. They recognise that Tao sports won’t make you the next Roger Federer, or Virat Kohli. All it does, they aver, is clear the way for you to find what’s exactly blocking your path — like skewed technical ability, or lack of it, fear of success, failure, and even paucity of time.

Lynch and Huang also do not claim that their parenthesis is brand new. They admit that they have taken ideas that have been around for thousands of years, and put them together in a conceivable postulate, or form. They also reckon that athletes most often practice one of the methods — not necessarily their own triad as a whole. Here goes their essential recipe for sporting success:

  • When you go to a gym/practice session, meditate for 10-15 minutes: to empty your mind
  • Visualise the work-out you wish to do as clearly, and lucidly, as you can
  • Follow-up with affirmation recitation, or reinforcement. Examples: “I’m victorious, because I feel this way.” “Win or lose, I play… prepare like a champion,” etc., [Or, “Winning is only the outcome: doing what you love to do is the real thing”].

The trick, define Lynch and Huang, is to erase the negative feelings out of your mind. They emphasise: when you do your work-out/practice session, you ought to visualise what is exactly happening internally. You should also feel the rush of blood into your muscles — and, ultimately relax yourself when you go through those precise, prescribed motions. When you do that, they add, you will be able to do better and also get a wonderful balance account of breakthroughs from your work-out.

Training = Meditation

Training, according to the duo, is meditation. And, practice? It is one that takes your mind off the outcome. It’s simple arithmetic, really. When you think too much about results, “it leads to anxiety and tension.” Or, unwanted stress, and extreme tactility in movement. Tao, aver Lynch and Huang, is the track of infinitesimal hindrance — a way of nature, and natural truth. It makes gifts even out of failures, because if you’ll only notice what went wrong, failure could be used to your advantage — by donning the role of a teacher, for your own good. Yes, failure helps you to tighten up. When you use failure as an avenue of opportunity, only then will you be no longer afraid of it.

Yes, you’d possibly embrace, or dismiss, the duo’s programme to cultivating your inner athlete by way of two extreme responses to it. More palpably, on the basis of its spiritual compass. But, no. Tao’s sense of spirituality, assert Lynch and Huang, is not only about the spirit, but the essential of the essentials, we all have when we feel good.

Think of a bench press, the next time round, as composed vigour, or a practice drive, if you are a batter — as being one with the cosmos. Of a method in harmony with nature, and a relaxed response to perfection — an excursion that is firm, but not rigid. Because, Tao sports is tailor-made to bringing a delicate balance between mellowness and intensity — of a roadmap to being persistent, patient, and committed. Of a vision to deal with failure, and self-doubt.

Sport: The Metaphor

Sport becomes a metaphor for everything you do in life. Of all the amazing things that happen when you return a winner. Of a spiritual ensemble, as Lynch and Huang explain: “[A] winner is one who, paradoxically, ‘lets go’ the need to win and, in the process, becomes victorious.” Their bottom line? Elevate your internal athlete, and with no need to win, victory is yours.

It’s a lofty ideal, yes — a process that trains the mind to focus on the instant. In Lynch and Huang’s motif: “The true reward of every sports, or exercise, programme is experienced now, in the moment-to-moment excellence that you choose to exhibit.” It’s also, in other words, a game plan ‘engineered’ to achieve a workable goal. Of a web of thought, and design, that could be moulded, or synthesised, for the higher purposes of your own cricketing/sporting excellence.

In other words, it’s akin to reading, or listening, with an open mind and an open heart. Like the rain of Dharma, which the Buddha espoused — one that will penetrate the soil of our consciousness.

In the words of scholar Thich Nhat Hanh: “The gentle spring rain permeates the soil of my soul. A seed that has lain deeply in the Earth for many years just smiles.”

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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