Football and the Bhagavad Gita

Via on Feb 4, 2011


He surveyed his elders
and companions in both armies,
all his kinsmen
assembled together.”……….

But a man of inner strength
whose senses experience objects
without attraction and hatred,
in self-control, finds serenity
. – The Bhagavad Gita


This is a page from my website journal pages of 2004. I have revised it slightly for this post.

I was training the Tennessee Titans and had been with the team since their arrival in Nashville. I had never watched a football game until I worked with them. I got the idea to pursue a job as their trainer because I had heard that Baron Baptiste had once worked with some football players. I became the first woman trainer for the Titans. They were one of, if not the first team in the NFL, to have a yoga coach. I never missed a game.

An interviewer recently asked me how the “spirituality” of yoga translated to the Tennessee Titan’s yoga program.I guess he thought I would say it helped to center them and maybe it does, but here’s my response:

When a football player goes onto the field he is often facing friends or former teammates.
Although the perception is that this is a violent sport, and it is, the object of the game is not to do injury but to score. When the focus of the player is this and not an outlet for aggression, the player can go past those colleagues with a purity of spirit that Krishna, Arujuna’s teacher and charioteer, asks of Arjuna in this epic poem; Bhagavad Gita.

Krishna asks Arjuna to go to battle against cousins who have illegitimately taken the throne from his family. He tells him it is his duty to do so without attachment to outcome.
This is Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna who suffers with the conflict of going to war against his kinsmen.

…from attachment desire arises,
from desire anger is born.

To live in the moment on the football field with coaches pushing, fans screaming, sportscasters accounting, music blasting, billboards flashing advertising and stats and video screens reflecting the field, the player’s focus is his deadliest weapon. (Kevin Carter who played Defensive End told me that he could see the field move in slow motion after he’d been doing yoga. He felt he had endless space within seconds to see the play.)

Be intent on action,
not on the fruits of action;
avoid attraction to the fruits
and attachment to inaction!

Perform actions, firm in discipline,
relinquishing attachment;
be impartial to failure and success–
this equanimity is called discipline……

From anger comes confusion;
from confusion memory lapses;
from broken memory understanding is lost;
from loss of understanding, he is ruined.

But a man of inner strength
whose senses experience objects
without attraction and hatred,
in self-control, finds serenity…….

If his mind submits to the play
of the senses,
they drive away insight,
as the wind drives a ship on water.

So, Great Warrior, when withdrawal
of the senses
from sense objects is complete,
discernment is firm.

The football player has distractions before he even goes to battle. He is often a free agent managed by a sports agent. He is a commodity. The agent’s focus is money.  The player comes into a team with a price tag on him that anyone can read. He may come from a team that traded him or fired him. He carries baggage. He may be famous or infamous. He may be dealing with the stress of being in the public eye or the burden of managing newfound wealth.

A fellow called Pacman Jones came to us one year. He had some baggage. He swaggered on to the field for yoga class bragging about his contract and the cars he would buy with his money and so on. He wasn’t too interested in anything else at the moment so I approached him and asked if he had any interest here besides the money. I know he was playing me but he said something about deserving the money and wanting his money. I told him if he was just there for the money his teammates wouldn’t be able to trust him. I told him if he was there just for the money he wouldn’t last a year.

Through the practice of yoga we come to understand our body’s habits and holdings. Then we may begin to understand ourselves and how we fit in this world, in the big picture and in more intimate pictures. Some might describe it as the bodily expression of a spiritual pursuit. It teaches us to pay attention. It sharpens our awareness. We are full in our body and alert in or brain. We find our rhythm. It teaches us that no detail is too small. We become sensitive to the fact that all people are our kin. It teaches us that there is a way to live in this world and do our chosen professions with integrity and without intentionally harming anyone else.

A football field is a battlefield. It’s beautiful to watch a band of brothers navigate the field with grace, precision and speed in an effort to make a touchdown without using unnecessary aggression. It’s exciting when there’s balance and rhythm. We rejoice in seeing the fruits of discipline and willing hearts. We support the call to duty. We relate to protection of the pack. We experience the warrior in all of us.

About Hilary Lindsay

Hilary Lindsay created the first comprehensive yoga program in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, choreographed videos for athletes, introduced yoga and meditation to the Nashville public school system and continues to work one on one with private clients including the Nashville Predators. She has been covered by popular magazines and television shows and has worked for a variety of publications as a yoga expert. She authored a chapter in Yoga In America, a book published at the forefront of the discussion among yoga teachers about contemporary yoga in America. Additional writing can be found at www.bitchinyoga.wordpress.com as well as the Journal pages of her yoga site. Hilary teaches classes and workshops in consciousness through movement. Her medium is yoga. Her method is exploring the language of the body in light of the eight limbs. Find her at activeyoga.com.

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19 Responses to “Football and the Bhagavad Gita”

  1. Wonderful, Hilary. You have truly outdone yourself. And how fascinating to hear your stories of Yoga inside the NFL. Who would've thunk! This goes straight to my favorites of the year list.

    I keep thinking about all the surprising things about this blog–the connection to the Gita in the first place, the fact that the mental side of Yoga is as important as the physical to the players, the reminder that the seminal text of Yoga took place in the midst of a real battle, not just a pretend one, etc., etc..

    Thank you.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)

    • Hilary Lindsay says:

      Thanks Bob. Good to remember that yoga is a tool for daily living. You know, sometimes even "love is a battlefield"!

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by megan griswold and Bob Weisenberg, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Football and the Bhagavad Gita http://bit.ly/fbGoQf [...]

  3. christinetn1 says:

    Hilary, this is perfect for Super Bowl weekend. I especially liked the Gita quotes and of course the Titans.
    Keep them coming!

  4. [...] http://www.elephantjournal.com An interviewer recently asked me how the spirituality of yoga translated to the Tennessee Titan’s yoga program. I guess he thought I would say it helped to center them… [...]

  5. Nicely done, Hilary. Sports can be a spiritual training ground for those who are open to it — spectators as well as players.

  6. CarolHorton says:

    Wow, HIlary, I knew you were cool, but – first yoga teacher for the NFL?? Holy cow, lady, can I get your autograph??

    Beautiful post and perfect for Super Bowl weekend!

    • Hilary Lindsay says:

      Awww, just one of those funny things….. I just got a wild hair and went for it. It sure did give me some great stories!

  7. Hilary Lindsay says:

    Thanks for reading, Phil. I saw it first in the movie Bull Durham when Susan Sarandon's tip for a clear head and getting your mind right for pitching the baseball was to "breathe through your eyes like a lava lizard"!!!! Hey maybe there was something behind that joke.

  8. [...] Yoga of Spectator Sports. Sanctifying Super Sunday. Inspired by Hilary Lindsay’s blog, “Football and the Bhagavad Gita,” I dug out an old essay of mine to warm up for the Packers and [...]

  9. Sharon says:

    A woman ahead of her time pioneering yoga into mainstream culture over a decade ago. The original Rebel Yogi molding the physical, emotional and spiritual practice of yoga into something more powerful, more kinetic, more rock and roll, more joyous, more liberating and more applicable to every day life including an NFL game. Hilary is a lioness that gave the tiny voice of yoga from decades past a roar so loud, it paved the road to yoga's great rise to power as a popular trend in our current culture. She wears the crown.

    • Hilary Lindsay says:

      Who is this Hilary! Your description of her gives me chills. I would say it humbles me but I feel so little connection to that lioness these days that I have to thank you for reminding me that it's still O.K. to roar. And I do thank you.

  10. Keep roaring, Hilary! LOL, I now see football through enlightened eyes! You're inspiring. The Titans would be wise to get you back in there before another team snaps you up!

  11. [...] 272 views, 126179Comments 15http%3A%2F%2Fwww.elephantjournal.com%2F2011%2F02%2Ffootball-and-the-bhagavad-gita-2… [...]

  12. [...] They were one of, if not the first team in the NFL, to have a yoga coach. I never missed a game. Football and the Bhagavad Gita, by Hilary Lindsay, Elephant [...]

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