Sunday, June 22, 2014

Zen Squash

I've read many books over the years about sport psychology and because of my experience competing in squash I always found in quite interesting. The Inner Game of Tennis and Zen Golf were the first books I read that talked about Self 1 and Self 2 and the idea that you are not your mind. These books lead to others and eventually I started reading some books specifically about the 'zone'. These books gave countless examples of athletes who experienced this and ways that once could enhance their odds of experiencing it. One of these books I read mentioned and recommended a book called 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind' by Shunryu Suzuki. I knew very little about Buddhism and zen and thought I would check it out. I ended up reading a few other books about zen while I was at it (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness and an Introduction to Zen Training. I'm not going to go into the details about buddhism, but I would like to talk about some of things I learned from these books and how they can apply to your squash game.

The main thing I learned in these books was how difficult it is to just be, to be totally in the present and at one with both your body and mind. I think the only times I can really ever do this is when I'm playing a good game of squash..which may explain why sport can be so enjoyable. These books mostly talked about zazen, which I interpreted it as sitting in a correct posture, focusing on your breathing, which will eventually allow you to just should allow thoughts to enter, but not force them out of your conscious mind, just let them drift away and eventually you can learn how to be in the present/now. It sounds much easier then it is.

So how does this relate back to squash? Well it's no secret that to play your best and most consistent squash you need to maintain your focus. Thoughts often drift to the past, about bad decisions or shot, a poor referee decision, or maybe the game that got away, or worse yet maybe something not even about your match. Thoughts also tend to drift towards what may or may not happen in the future. This agains takes your focus away from the ideal mindset for playing squash. The past and future are out of your control, what is in your control is the Now!

So how does zen or meditation help your squash game? Well I believe that it can have a huge impact, but it is also very challenging to sit everyday when we live such busy lifestyles. Being able to get into a relaxed and present mindset can be equally as challenging. Our brains make it difficult to not think about what has or may happen. Accumulated years of this way of thinking can be quite draining and is not helping your squash game. Having control of your mind and concentration is an essential skill in any sport including squash and more importantly can allow you to enjoy your life more by living in the Now! Which as Eckhart Tolle states 'the more you are focused on time - past and future - the more you mss the Now, the most precious thing there is.'

In your everyday life you can try and experience things that are happening now; especially everyday things you ordinarily do without thinking (like eating a bowl of cereal, driving or hitting a squad ball, you may be physically there, but your mind is not). This is where the famous quote fits in nicely, 'don't forget to stop and smell the roses,' so I suggest doing so as much as possible. The more you are able to do this, the more you will be able to just be!

To experience zen or the zone in a squash game I recommend focusing on your breathing, especially between points.  I also suggest having a preserve routine which includes a deep breath, and making sure you stick to it before each and every point. Part of your routine could include looking at the dots on the ball, a mark on your racquet, wiping your hand on the side wall, allowing you to refresh your thinking, clear your mind of the past or future and reset it here in the present. When a point is over it's over, don't start the next rally until you have gotten over it or you will suffer the consequences in the next point.

And lastly, on a bit of a side note, if you have the opportunity to do so, I recommend trying a float tank. I'm lucky that my friend here in Victoria recently opened the Victoria Floathouse ( which has 3 float tanks filled with salt water. There is no sound or light and you feel weightless in the salt water. I have found that this makes meditation much easier. I go once a week and I feel that it not only reduces stress and tension, but I enjoy the peacefulness in my mind. Floating allows me to just be in the now. If you're fortunate enough to live in a city where they have a float tank, I highly recommend enables you to be in the now, it quiets your mind/ego, it improves your quality of life and oh will improve your squash game!

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