On sports: “It should be an experience of pleasure, happiness and healthy recreation to all concerned, not an unnatural struggle involving distortion and loss of consciousness through the ‘determination’ to gain an end even at the cost of personal exhaustion and damage.”
From: “The Trouble With Physical Exercises”
By F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the “Alexander Technique”.
I don’t get sports. Maybe because my father never showed any interest in it I never did either. I bet it helps to have a parent who shows some interest. I might watch a football game or a basketball game for five or ten minutes and, after getting the gist of it, I don’t feel like I need to watch anymore and certainly not another two or three hours of it. What could be more uninteresting and boring than all this back and forth and back and forth chasing a ball or running with it or smacking a hockey puck around or endlessly swinging at balls and whacking them to kingdom come.
I have to admit there must be something to it or else so many people wouldn’t be so passionate and interested in sports. I think I lack a competitive spirit, or maybe have too much, and don’t want to incite it or excite it too often. I can’t really tell, but there is a real freedom in not being interested in sports. I can discard the hefty sports section of any newspaper and devote myself to reading about other trouble spots and more deadly struggles happening around the world.
There was a time, and in a few places, where sports were truly deadly. Ancient Rome comes to mind and their arenas where blood sports and deadly contests between men and between men and beasts were all the rage. There has been some speculation that some Native American ball games saw the sacrifice of the loosing teams. Those were the days when sport was a very serious matter and where blood flowed and heads rolled. We have largely tamed those more violent tendencies but the struggle, strain, exertion, and fierce competition in sports has remained. Let’s face it. Human nature has an aggressive, competitive, pugilistic side and it needs expression. Better to play football or basketball than go to war and without sports we might just be going to war all the more.
So I have to admit there is and should be a place for sports in our society even though I don’t feel much need to watch or engage in them myself. Something in human nature needs to be vented and sports are an expression of that. But there are other ways to use our bodies (and what I am much more interested in) and there are systems as ancient as sport for doing that. Practices like yoga, Taoism, Do-In, Sufism, and more modern forms like the Alexander Technique, or Feldenkrais, Rolfing, Bioenergetics all aim at freeing up the body and the mind. They aim to relieve chronic tension, align bodily structures, get energy flowing and unblocking those areas that are stuck, knotted, tense. These practices taken together, or apart, are what we could call ‘Ways of Liberation’.
Liberation from what? There is a famous Buddhist parable about a wounded man who has been shot with a deadly arrow. But, before he will allow the doctor to remove the arrow, he wants to know all about the man who shot it, and where he came from, and what he made his bow and arrows out of, and what his religion might be and all sorts of irrelevant details. Making it quite odd considering he has been shot with an arrow. Perhaps we are all wounded in a way, shot through with an arrow of tension, strain, and physical distortion. We are twisted, warped, and riddled with tensions that torque us out of alignment. We are indeed wounded, and yet occupied with irrelevancies and details that have little to do with finding relief. Our minds are distracted, entertained, and otherwise occupied while our bodies are pierced through with constrictions and caught in a deadly vice. Sounds serious and it is.
And as we age those strains, constrictions, and distortions begin to take their toll. We break down in a thousand different ways, all those “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” as Shakespeare put it. Hearts sputter, joints deteriorate and need replacing, immune system gives up and opens us up to all sorts of diseases, organs and systems cease functioning or are hobbled. What remains is often a shadow of our former selves; we are broken, hobbled, disabled and totally in the hands of doctors and the medical profession. Now comes the time for pills, lots of them, and perhaps surgery. And I can’t help but think that all those sports we played as teenagers and young adults not only didn’t help but maybe even contributed to what we have too often become by age 50 or 60, wounded men and women.
Yet I do believe we can nip the whole process in the bud. We can learn to recognize and develop the awareness that we are indeed wounded; we are tense, strained, knotted, and warped. Begin the process of relaxation and release. Yes, we can be competitive and engage in struggle and strife all the days of our life or we can surrender to another equally natural capacity, one that often gets buried away, the capacity for Rest, Relaxation, and Release. Sports allow us to express our competitive, energetic, and aroused nature, but if that is the only way we know to express our deeply physical nature, or all we find interesting, then we might just be missing the better half of our being, the part that is peaceful, easy, and relaxed. It is the part of our existence that might have a lot more to do with health, healing, and well being.