SPORTS TRAINING AND YOGA PRACTICE
Yoga and sport are often seen in opposition, by nature of the quiet approach in yoga in contrast to the competitiveness of sport. In yoga we talk about practice, whereas in sport emphasis is placed upon training. What is most important however, is the attitude towards the development and the attainment of the individual's aim.
As a former athlete and runner for France, I was taught to win. When I took up yoga thirty years ago, that drive to push the body to its limits was still in me. It was only after several years into yoga that I understood the difference between training and practice: training is for the future; practice is for the now.
1. Different attitudes in yoga and in sport
Over the years, I have too often observed amongst the sports enthusiasts and end-gaining yoga students alike, a certain degree of aggression and eagerness that unavoidably led them to punishing the body and molesting the soul. The result is a tightness of the joints, a shortening of the muscles and an overall disharmony between the inner self and the outer body.
In any given sport there is a strong element of competition. I have also observed a similar attitude amongst certain yoga students. There is nothing wrong about competition, provided that it is healthy and ethical. But the minute it creates stress and inner aggression, then it loses its noble value.
It is the attitude of mind that makes the difference.
One has to learn to detach from oneself in order to re-integrate oneself with the whole SELF. Winning becomes an achievement instead of a defeat over the opponent. Furthermore if one measures oneself to oneself, winning does not mean beating oneself into submission, but entering a little space of heaven.
Instead of using one's body to tame and master a posture and bring the body into submission, one should allow the space between the limbs to create natural movement and body form; in this way an organic action and not a rigid representation of a certain shape can be achieved. Such a space concept does not mean emptiness, but a living element from which the innermost structure of the SF.LF can be expressed.
2. The relationship between self and SELF
In the Western approach to bodily health each action creates a reaction in the body (and mind; 'The Eastern approach is to act without causing a reaction in the body or mind.
At Bisham Abbey National Snorts Centre near Marlow. Olympic teams are coached. I practice weight training, and teach Yoga at the Centre. Many of the people who I train with in the gymnasium exhaust themselves by making continuous strenuous effort without a break. As a yoga practitioner I balance my weight training with long period of quiet yoga practice. The result is that I come away feeling strong, light and calm.
On one occasion I was invited by the Sports Council to give a workshop for the Olympic gymnasts. Interestingly, they were much more able than I to get into certain postures, but their eagerness to achieve and master the postures was their shortcoming; they used repetitive force instead of progressive release. They experienced frustration where I would have experienced a fruitful obstacle and a surrender of the ego. I showed them how to observe, think, release and then to move in coordination with the breath. Something they had not considered in their training.
Most physical exercises are designed to strengthen the body; yoga builds strength in a non-aggressive and non-end-gaining manner. Yoga releases energy through a tensionless process, so that there is no wastage and misuse of precious inner power. It is that inner force that inspires a body to perform a yoga pose and not the extraverted will. Yoga teaches coordination of the movements of all the limbs from which emerges a sense of integrity and integration with the self and the breath. Out of that way of practising (and not training), grace and stamina develop with a resulting and unmistakable feeling of lightness and renewed energy.
3. Integrating yoga practice and sports training
The gymnasts, the weight trainer and the uninitiated yoga student should understand that a properly prepared and unabused body will always enjoy different moves and positions, and that it will continue to do so for years to come. One needs to maintain a constant balance between stretching and relaxing, between strengthening and yielding, and between the quietness of the inner SELF and the performance of outer body.
It is important to understand that failure to achieve or to finalise a certain move does not mean that one is a failure; the concept of "failing" should be seen as a reward and a further opportunity to learn. As an Eastern Zen master states:
(Hogen-San; The Other Shore )
Therefore failure can become a stepping-stone into a brighter future.
Through the right attitude to yoga practice or sports training, one can understand how much the human body is made of different structures, muscle formations and subtle energies. Yet each individual has a precious core that links his/her physical, mental and emotional self to the spiritual reality of the greater SELF.
This very precious core is called the soul. It is where attitudes form and where the power lies to integrate all parts of the self. However, the stronger and the more successful one becomes, the more easily that core can shrink. One has to learn to identify with such a phenomenon, in order to safeguard the soul. That could ultimately mean abandoning the protection of any structured and rigid system. By conforming only to the subtle voice of the SELF, and following the laws of that true SELF through clear mindedness, the individual's practice training will unveil the parson’s true wealth, because within the silence of any personal practice, there is the ever-expanding echo of creation and creativity, and in any training there is the striving and persistence that encourages matter to compete for space in the universal search for eternity.