February 5, 2011

Football and the Bhagavad Gita

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.

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