Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness in Sport: The Embodiment of Awakening (Part Two)

It’s Sport Saturday. This entry continues an essay on using sport to awaken. Click here to read part one.

Non-gravity sports such as road running, road biking, and
swimming offer a ready opportunity to full body awareness. Instead of a
gravity-induced absorption, the immersion in the present moment includes the
entire body. 

Take running, for instance, where we can experience a
moment-to-moment connection with our total body experience, even when this
experience includes pain and discomfort. The challenge is to stay with the
experience at the level of sensation. That is, experiencing it as a pattern of
gross and pointed sensations instead of labeling it “pain.” 


However, our minds
have a tendency to move us out of the moment of experiencing sensation and perception
and to start evaluating and judging the experience. Ultimately, we start to
tell stories about the experience. “Oh, damn it, there is that pain again” …
“this is going to ruin my run” … or “I can’t take this anymore.” 


When the mind
is engaged in those sorts of evaluative and judgmental thoughts and spins its
stories of suffering and woe, it is not attending the present moment. It is
pulled into thinking about the future (or even reflecting on the past –
“remember what happened the last time??”). 


When we can be mindful of the
present, the artificial distinctions between mind and body disappear and yield
to an awareness of being. Gravity sports such as snowboarding and skiing,
mountain biking, trail running, kayaking, and rock climbing require more exquisite
attention to the environment than non-gravity sports. 

For instance, when I am
running on the rocky trails behind my house, inattention or becoming engrossed
in my internal dialogue is met almost invariably with tripping on one of the
rocky protrusions that make up the trail. In this activity, as with
snowboarding in the trees, awareness includes my body awareness and a
connection with the terrain. While I might have the opportunity to get lost in
an extensive conversation while riding my road bike, any such diversion on the
trails is met with a reminder (sometimes not so subtle) that exquisite
attention is demanded and required. Numerous bruises, sprains, and broken bones
are the living testament to the perils of my approaching sport without


One particularly instructive incident happened during the winter
of 1999 into 2000, which was a stellar snow season. Jay Peak reported getting
600 inches of snow (that is 50 feet!). On New Year’s Day, I was out enjoying
the fresh powder on my snowboard. I did a run through Kitz Woods negotiating
the turns around the trees with alacrity, fluidity, and velocity. 

Towards the
end of that run, things flatten out, and I relaxed from my vigorous turns of a
moment ago. For whatever reason, I started having an imaginary conversation
with my mother in my mind. With the reduced pressure of the environment, my
storytelling mind encroached. 

It is exceedingly difficult to injure a knee
snowboarding, given the way the feet are anchored onto the board. Somehow, in
my distracted state, I managed to insinuate my ride between some saplings, and
in doing so, created a forward torque that gave me a grade 2 medial collateral
ligament sprain. I missed the next six weeks of the best winter riding in
recent history.


  • Christopher Mohr

    The thing Mindfulness adherents tend to forget is that mindfulness is value neutral – as much as it might be beneficial for someone wanting to do “positive” things (like work toward awakening), it is also beneficial for those wanting to do “negative” things (like making gang-bangers and Soldiers into calmer, more efficient killers). Those are the breaks when “anyone can practice” mindfulness. Best not to forget that this isn’t some kind of liberal hippie-dippy happy utopian la la land, nor will it ever be. Because that’s a delusion.

  • Eric

    Right on, Christopher! I am generally supportive of efforts to educate the public on the benefits of mindfulness. That said, however, when specific ‘spiritual’ techniques or practices are isolated from the broader context of their respective tradition and ethics, there’s a real danger of misapplication, rationalization and elicitation or furtherance of suffering.

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