7 Sports More Spiritual Than Yoga
There’s nothing wrong with yoga, I know people who credit their sobriety, their tummy, their relationship, to this ancient form of stretching. But to single out yoga as ‘the spiritual sport’ is like saying weightlifting is ‘the one that makes you stronger.’ Here are seven sports–for the seven chakras–that offer the same presence, compassion, and transcendence.
OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Swimming and free diving are the simplest (and cheapest) ways to experience the ocean, period. One reason these sports haven’t gained mass appeal–like the weekend warrior armadas of paddle-boarders you see these days–could be that there isn’t enough shit to buy and market. Jammers and swim parkas don’t have the same appeal as yoga pants.
Another reason could be that swimming is really boring to most people, in the same way meditation is boring. That monotonous, repetitive motion you’ll never get quite right, is a lot like a Zen practice. The sensory deprovation and weightlessness of a long ocean swim bring on a mental state similar to deep meditation. An old swimmer I know calls it ’talking to God.’
You might also want to try free diving. There’s no silence quite like it, no more beautiful way to enjoy the gift of a single breath, no light like surfacing. Supervision is required with this one, you need a diving buddy.
Anyone who’s seen the Karate Kid can tell you about the spiritual roots of martial arts.
There’s a darker side of eastern spirituality, however, one that has been lost in the sugar coating of these traditions for western consumption. You can find ego-transcendence in a bare knuckle brawl.
If you chose the path of violence you must be mindful of your intentions, or you’re just another bully. No rage or jealousy, and you can’t give a fuck if you win or loose. This is one way to simplify your life and existentially downsize. You’ll learn that the list of things you don’t need to be happy includes your front teeth and well formed earlobes.
(WALKING & RUNNING)
Walking, like swimming, is a way to feel the vastness of our world with no gear or spending required. Hike, stroll, Get deliberately lost in a city you thought you knew. Walk to the next city, try hitch hiking .
Running is, first and foremost, a competition with yourself and the you you were yesterday. Japanese novelist and marathon runner, Haruki Murakami writes about the runner’s spirit in What I Talk About When I Talk About Runnning and in a moving letter to the people of Boston in the wake of the marathon bombing.
The one thing all these sports have in common is presence. Climbing, like yoga, like swimming, puts you in a place where you can focus completely on your breath and movement. It’s more mental than physical. These small sensory moments– the chalk smell of your gear, the sound of a quickdraw–anchor you to the now.
Mountaineers take a breath with each step at altitude. Walking meditation works exactly the same way.
The only team sport on this list, rugby forges bonds and fraternity seldom seen elsewhere. It has brought compassion to broken communities like South Africa and Northern Ireland.
Rugby is body positive, with positions for players of all sizes, speeds, and abilities–not unlike those ‘this is what a real yoga body looks like’ posts.
The drink-ups after a match are a case of the road of excess that leads to wisdom.
In 1972 a plane carrying a rugby club from Uruguay crashed in the Andes. The survivors endured avalanches, starvation, and eventually cannibalism before they got themselves out of there. Alive attributes their survival to faith, toughness, and love forged on the rugby pitch.
Two people have walked on water: Jesus, and the surfers. I rest my case. Watch Point Break to learn about the spiritual side of this way of life (more than a sport.) It’d be bad karma for me to send any more barnies out into the lineup.
Try any of these (except free diving) on your own. Climb Everest without oxygen. Or fuck off Into the Wild, like Christopher McCandless. If you’re not a broke-ass, roll the dice on a solo crossing of the Atlantic or Pacific. You’ll be in the company of Irish monks who got to know God by setting themselves adrift in boats without oars (And, of course, Seth Cohen from the OC.)
*Speacial thanks to The Imperfectionist.