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Last Call for Practice...
Is anyone keeping score?

A remarkable psychology is contained in a PBS portrait of Carnegieís steel corporation. Without anything as concrete as a raise, laborers were motivated into high level production in hopes of receiving a weekly trophy. The trophy was a symbol of success, of honor, and of superior production. The trophy was a simple, straw broom that was hung high in the winning teamís work area... for one week. Amidst stifling heat and adverse working conditions, an aspiration for acknowledgement was enough to continually move production into high gear. Work became sport, and a broom became a momentís symbol of excellence.

Iím always amazed by the power of a moving ball to incite chase and activity. As a young teen I dreaded any organized activity that revolved around the accumulation of points. Thoughts of soft ball, bowling, tennis and volley ball made my knees weak and my anxiety rise. That spirit of mass focus towards game victory eluded me. I would endure the hours of seemingly arbitrary effort, and teammates would endure the dead weight of my attitude. Couldnít I just go home, behave and paint? Who cared where that stupid ball went anyway? Why should anyone dive onto their chest to save the ball from touching hard ground? The attitude of competition seemed unreasonably harsh and undesirably aggressive.

To this day Iíd rather place a crystal ball on my altar rather than scurry to win a point. I have, however, yielded judgment to some insights of extraordinary performance. Sports heroes have often bridged the chasm between an aggressive process of scoring and an esoteric quest for shattering limitations. Thereís a little Jonathan Livingston Seagull in every heart that beats to the drumming of a fan filled stadium.

From Brianís Song to Rocky, we often find that gosh darned score as a metaphor for higher experience, a symbolic epiphany, and a chance at touching the grail. (Is it hockey that actually has a ďcupĒ? Case and point.) More charged than lottery tickets, the hopes of young minds sore while dribbling on urban cement. ĎI just need a chance. Anythingís possible!í

We can eloquently theorize the process of creative visualization or tout the benefits of positive thinking. We can ponder the realities of time, space, and multi-dimensional experience. Can we, in all of our sophisticated ideals, manifest a body/ mind reality of transcendence? Sure we can. Itís exactly what our yoga lifestyles profess to offer. The truth is that we find this magic of elevated awareness through practice. Ironically, thatís also the quintessential requirement of any sport. Active, focused, regular and committed participation through practice.

As yogis we commit to connect the inner consciousness with a collective, universal consciousness. For athletes ďGoldenĒ describes a similar quality of connection. The moments in which we observe Michael Jordan fly in seeming defiance of gravity, or the suspensions in time when Tiger Woods releases a swing are such connections. There is a discernible access to something beyond the physical being in these pulses of refined execution. Touching an ecstatic vibration can hardly be embodied continuously. Yet we are capable of feeling that vibration as a special punctuation within the familiar mundane rhythm of life. Perhaps, the magnetism of sports excellence is so popular because we can vicariously taste that universal grandeur as the charge ignites?

Of course, people love to count! People love to compete. People love to offer their focus to the witness of someone elseís practice. Playing a game isnít necessarily yoga, but yoga can certainly include athleticism. Just as karma yoga integrates conscious mind in a practice of chop wood, carry water, conscious mind may be integrated into most demands on the field, the court, and the gymnasium. Mind/ body mastery is often the sign of yoga in practice. Scholastic wrestlers seek to maximise strength and minimize weight, often through intense personal sacrifice and discomfort. Gymnasts stretch the boundaries of skeletal restrictions with persistant and dedicated rituals of repetition and creative risk. Pitchers are known for eliminating distractions by tempering responses, intentions and form. ďThe ZoneĒ can be considered a working meditation.

Now Iíll play the devilís advocate, sometimes known as sportscaster...

How many asana practices have enjoyed the rewards of comparative mind? How many of our altars have witnessed the glory of performance and showmanship? How often have we created physical pain because we wanted to emulate a dramatic asana before we were ready? To what extent do we sit in fantasy upon our meditation cushions?

Itís quite possible that the universal connection we seek in yoga practice is as elusive as that moment of gravity-defying flight. Itís also possible that much of what we deem to be a devoted practice of humility is enjoyable sport. Itís not really a problem, but it is an important awareness. We often find moments of God when we are relaxed enough to play. If weíre really playing, we are surrendering to possibilities beyond our control.

Anyone interested in a nice game of crystal ball?

by Toni Zuper
Alternative Healing
Center City, Philadelphia

published in Yoga Living -- March 2007 issue