The current fervor surrounding the FIFA World Cup is testament to the power of sports in bringing people together. As different nations come together to enjoy these games, another question arises: what is the value of sports to an individual? Most people love watching sports, but what are the benefits of participating in sports yourself? While the physical and psychological benefits of sports have been addressed through decades of research, not many have explored the spiritual benefits of sports. However, there is indeed a deep connection between sports and spirituality.
According to sports psychologist, Dr. Mark Nesti, in order to understand the relationship between sports and spirituality, it’s important for us to first look past all the commercial hype that surrounds large sporting events, such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl. Instead, he says, we need to focus on the lives of athletes who make enormous sacrifices for a miniscule chance of victory. These athletes aren’t solely motivated by the gold medal; rather, their motivations have more to do with the meaning of participation and personal growth, says Nesti. He adds that many philosophers and psychologists have noted that when we’re playing, we’re in love with what we’re doing, and this means that sports are more important to individuals than merely learning the skills associated with it.
Below, we share an excerpt from one of Sadhguru’s talks, where he sheds light on the relationship between sports and spirituality:
“Being a sport means you are willing to play. Willing to play means you are involved or alive to the situation in which you exist, and that is the essence of life. If there is anything that is truly close to a spiritual process, in the normal course of life, that is sports. Swami Vivekananda went to the extent of saying, “In kicking a ball or playing a game, you are much closer to the Divine than you will ever be in prayer.” You can pray without involvement, but you cannot play sports without involvement, and involvement is the essence of life.
But when people involve themselves in what they do, they often get entangled. Anything that you associate with, you tend to get identified with. The moment you get identified with something that is not you, you have invested in a system of hallucination that will look and feel real. Once you have invested in a hallucinatory process, your mind will be one continuous mental disorder, as a hallucinatory process can be kept up only with unceasing activity of the mind, and hence, one ends up turning a miracle into madness. The mind is a fabulous miracle; you could hold the universe in it, but generally it ends up as a source of all human misery and the basis of madness and suffering.
When people get entangled, they feel ugly within themselves and they will make sure everybody else has a taste of this ugliness. So the fundamental of any sport or game takes care of this; that is, if you want to play a game, you must have the fire of wanting to win but also the balance to see that if you lose, it is okay with you. You never play a game to lose, you always play a game to win, but if you lose, it is all right with you. If you maintain this fundamental with every aspect of life, you are a sport. And that is all the world expects from you, that you are a sport. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever kind of situation you are in, you are still a sport.
The sacredness of a sporting event is that individuals rise beyond their limitations, achieving a state of abandon that is usually known only at the peak of spirituality. Thus, we have always included sports in our yoga programs. All of our programs have an element of play — as to play is to live, and to live is to play.”
Now that you have greater insight into the spiritual aspects of sports, how will this change the way you participate in sports? Tell us in the comments below!