“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
Opening day for Major League Baseball is this week. So the next time you’re rolling out your yoga mat and listening to a baseball game on the radio—wait, you don’t listen to baseball while you practice?
OK, so maybe I’m in a minority when it comes to baseball-loving yogis.
But as I’ve been thinking about the baseball and yoga this week, I’ve realized that much of what I love about yoga, I actually learned from baseball first. Sorry, Patanjali. Will Clark was my original guru.
To me, baseball is the ninth limb of yoga. Sure, it involves a bat, a ball and cleats, but the subtleties of the game are really what yoga is all about.
Here are nine yoga lessons I learned from playing baseball:
1. Be Present.
Picture me. I’m nine years old, standing in right field (nobody ever hits the ball to right field). It’s late in the game. I’m daydreaming. Suddenly, people are yelling and I sense their attention is coming in my direction. Suddenly the balls lands near me and bounces way beyond me. Whoops. We lost.
You’ve got to be present. Every moment spent standing on the field is a moment that the ball can be hit in your direction. Just like in life, it’s easy to let your mind wander, but you have to stay focused. You have to stay present.
2. Balance is Key.
“Quit stepping in the bucket,” my coach would tell me. Essentially, he was telling me that I was stepping away from home plate when I was swinging the bat, when I should have been stepping toward to pitcher.
What he was bringing to my awareness was that balance depends on the placement of the feet. Without a solid base, there can be no power or stability. It is the same in baseball, yoga and life.
3. Use a Drishtee.
In yoga, a drishtee is something that you look at (like a spot on the wall) to help you maintain your balance. Now I’ll admit, that when I was the pitcher (the guy who throws the ball toward the batter), no coach ever came out and said, “Son, I want the catcher’s glove to be your drishtee.” No. What they said was, “Focus on the catcher’s glove and throw to it.
You see, where your eyes are looking, that is where your attention and energy will go. If you look at the glove, the ball is more likely to travel to the glove.
This type of single-mindedness and balance that comes from a drishtee was learned long before.
4. Get Out of Your Head.
“Don’t think, just play,” my coaches used to tell me. They taught me to tune into my body and trust my instincts.
My coach felt that my contribution would best be made from the bench, so I learned a lot about sitting during baseball games. What a gift he gave me—time to sit and observe everything as it was in that moment. Little did I know how much meditation practice I was getting from such a young age.
Perhaps this lesson came from the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. In the film, Costner’s character is working in his cornfield when he hears a voice tell him, “If you build it, he will come.
When he hears the voice, he does what any baseball player or yogi would do when he hears the voice of the wisdom from within: he plows under his corn and builds a baseball field.
7. Slow Down.
Some complain that baseball is slow. It’s oksy if baseball is a little too “yin” for some people. It’s true; it’s incredibly slow.
Sometimes baseball crawls to a stand still. Have you ever seen a pitching coach walk out to the mound when he knows that his pitcher is in a tight spot? The pitching coach walks as slow as he possibly can. He walks slowly because he knows that he doesn’t really have a pep talk that is going to help the pitcher. What will help him more than anything is to simply slow down, take a deep breath, and relax.
8. Acknowledge and Appreciate Others.
The closing ritual at any little league game is for both teams line up and give a high five to the each player on the opposing team, while saying, “good game.” Palm to palm, each player congratulates every other player on the team.
Yoga does the closing ritual a little bit differently, but the sentiment is the same. Instead of placing your palm against someone else’s palm, you place your palms together while saying, “Namaste.”
You see, “good game” is a lot like “the light in me bows to the light in you.”
9. Tight, stretchy pants are cool.
As a bonus, I’ve thought of a few yogic baseball team names.
San Francisco Samadhi
New York Mats
Los Angeles Ajnes
San Diego Sun Salutations
Washington Warrior II’s
Can you think of any other yoga-related baseball team names that you’d add to this list? Please add them in the comments.
Josh Wise is, at this very moment, trying to remain present. He loves mangoes and baseball. Josh practices mindfulness-based psychotherapy, helping individuals and couples develop deeper levels of presence and love. He’s based in Ubud, Bali with his wife and two children. You can find his writing and guided meditations at mindfulcouples.com
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Assistant Editor: Lacy Ramunno
Ed: Brianna Bemel