Football and the Bhagavad Gita

reprinted by request in 2012 for Holly


 

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 was first printed in 2004. 

I created a yoga program for the Tennessee Titans and had been with the team since their arrival in Nashville.  I got the idea to train the team because I had heard that Baron Baptist had once worked with some football players. I became the first female trainer for the Titans, maybe in the NFL. The Titans were one of,maybe the first team in the NFL, to have a yoga coach. I never missed a game.

 

photographed by Rob Lindsay for Hilary Lindsay's Rebel Yogis Calendar 2001

photographed by Rob Lindsay for Hilary Lindsay’s Rebel Yogis Calendar 2001

~Eddie George, Titan’s Running Back


An interviewer recently asked me how the “spirituality” of yoga translated to the Titan’s yoga program. I guess he expected 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.

The Bhagavad Gita, a 700 verse poem written over two thousand years ago, tells the story of cousins going to war over a disputed empire.  Krishna, Prince Arjuna’s teacher and charioteer insists that Arjuna go to battle against cousins who have illegitimately taken the throne from his family. He counsels him to do so without malice, without attachment to outcome, but to go forth in the spirit of performing his duty with equanimity.

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 swaggered on to the field for yoga class bragging about his contract and the cars he would buy with his money and so on.  I 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 he wouldn’t last a year with that attitude. And then he was gone.

Through the practice of yoga we come to understand our body’s habits and holdings as we learn to pay attention. It sharpens our senses. We come into our bodies and minds. We find our rhythm.It is the bodily expression of a spiritual pursuit.  It teaches us that no detail is too small. We become sensitive to the fact that all people are our kin as we find the grace to love our own humanity. It teaches us to work with integrity; 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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4 Comments

Filed under new age enlightenment, social action, Uncategorized, yoga, yoga practice, yoga teaching, yoga wisdom

4 responses to “Football and the Bhagavad Gita

  1. Pat

    One time I met the kicker for the Tittans — back in the early days when they first came to Nashville. I told him I now understood why cities with teams get into the sport so much because I never watched football but I loved watching them. This gives me an entirely different perspective on what’s happening on the field makes me appreciate the game more than I have. And I love your reflection of the Bhagavad Gita in what happens on the field. Thanks.

  2. Great analogy. I’m a fan of the Gita and a (lesser) fan of football. We consider being outcome driven to be a virtue. And as you know it’s hard to get the lesson across that we shouldn’t fixate on outcomes but rather we should pay attention to the task before us in this very moment. I tell yoga students that when a receiver is thinking about the goal and turns up field before he’s actually caught the pass, he’s not going to catch the ball and will not make the goal. This is only a beginning approach to Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna. But like Krishna, we have to meet the student where s/he is. And you’ve expanded my thinking around the football analogy. Thanks.

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