Whenever I come out of the weight training hall of our gym, my attention invariably gets caught by this plaque that reads: “You will be nearer to God through football than through the study of the Geetha”.
Coming from Swami Vivekananda, this seems a rather sweeping statement. Looking at the IPL cheerleaders, the money and the stakes involved, modern day sports seem to be anything but spiritual .Being a part of the BITS hockey squad and having studied Srimad Bhagwad Geetha to some extent as an elective, I thought it would be an interesting comparison to make …
One of the first connections between spirituality and sports that comes to my mind is the fact that the refreshing feeling which the players experience at the end of limbering down* after a heavy work out and that which one experiences after meditation are very similar. I feel it is probably because meditation is aimed at getting rid of the so called negative energy .So, the rejuvenating feeling one experiences after meditation is because of coming to a lower energy state and that exactly is the outcome of a physical workout too.
Srimad Bhagwad Geetha (and many other spiritual books) lays down the path to attain the supreme. They expect certain virtues from the person who is desirous of attaining the supreme. Here, I discuss a few of the more important virtues which are an essential ingredient of a good sports person too.
In the spiritualistic path suggested by Srimad Bhagwad Geetha, utmost importance has been given to the process of gaining control over one’s mind. Geetha says that controlling the mind is more challenging than controlling the flow of air. To keep yourself focused amidst an intense game of hockey or football provides one with the similar (rather more difficult) challenges. To keep oneself focused with intense cheering and jeering all around, and a thousand men gesticulating at you is definitely more difficult than compared to the case when you meditate in a calm and serene environment.
It goes without saying that self restraint is one of the essential prerequisite for any spiritual experience. Again, the playground provides an ideal and a challenging place to put to practice and develop this necessity of spiritual path. Keeping your cool when your body is getting exhausted with every passing second is by no means a matter of joke. It comes only after ardent attempts to discipline yourself. Self discipline is essence of any spiritual practice.
Another very important quality expected in path of spirituality is selflessness .Its because until and unless you stop craving for self gratification, any progress in breaking the shackles of this materialistic world is impossible. Only I know how many times during a hockey match I wish to just take the ball and put it into the goal, all by myself (although now I have realized that its beyond my capacity).In a team game,it is pretty obvious that until and unless each and every player plays for the greater good of the team, the team can’t even hope to win .This aspect is given utmost importance during training in all team sports. Here again we see that selflessness can be best nurtured through sports.
For athletes, sports have provided a platform for tempering the rawness of the ego by plugging the often testosterone-driven identity into a higher-order structure of self-sacrifice, discipline, and teamwork, before opening them up to the principles of accomplishment and excellence.
These days, Coaches across the globe are including yogic postures and pranayam etc in their recipes for fitness. This is a heartening fact because the connection between the body and the mind is being explored and more importantly put to use. I hope it shall considerably reduce the stress of strenuous exercises on athletes.
It’s true that by just playing a sport without the spiritual training of mind, one can’t hope to achieve the supreme. But, It is equally true, that merely reading Geetha (or any other spiritual text) shall not take one an iota closer to the supreme. Sports provide an ideal simulator to inculcate and practice the qualities expected out of a Sadhak. An approach that incorporates both of these is bound to enhance the joy and expedite the journey towards the supreme .This is what perhaps Swami Vivekanada had mind when he said “You will understand Geetha better with your biceps a little stronger-Swami Vivekananda ’ which is what the plaque adjacent to the aforementioned one reads.
*Given one does it properly i.e slow stretching exercises followed by shavasana
1)A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ‘Bhagavad Gita : As It Is’,1986,pp 243-272
2) http://www.ru.org/sports/spirituality-the-hidden-side-of-sports.html last accessed on 13/04/2010