Swami Vivekananda once said, kicking a ball will take you closer to the Divine than prayer. Because you can pray without involvement, but you cannot kick the ball without involvement, and involvement is the essence of life. 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. In the normal course of life, if there is anything that is truly close to a spiritual process, it is sports.
As children, we played a game simply because we enjoyed it. And it is only when you enjoy playing that you can perform at your best. However, gradually, play can become work. Take the Olympics, for example. For many sportspeople, as they become more involved in the competition, they forget the play. Representing India means fulfilling a billion people's expectations, and that is not easy. When players start playing to satisfy other people's expectations, their minds get stressed and their physical activity also becomes limited.
In the human mind, there is perception, memory and imagination. There is memory of the game, there is imagination of how you will win the medal, and there is the reality of the game happening at the moment. Most people are not able to keep these things separate. You can fancy with memory and imagination, but it is only reality that you can handle. When you are in the midst of the game, it is not about India, one billion people or the gold medal. The reality is, you have to play the game the way it needs to be played. You don’t win a medal because you want to win. Everyone who comes to the Olympics is dreaming of the gold medal. It is only because you do something right, that it works.
For someone playing at the level of the Olympics, whatever capabilities you have must function at their peak. The yogic sciences offer established methods with which one can keep the mind in clarity and create a pleasant basis for oneself. When one is truly happy and carefree, he or she can engage in incredible physical action. Action can simply flow out of a person as the game demands. This way, they can respond with agility to whatever the situation throws at them. This does not take twelve hours a day. With 20 to 30 minutes a day, you can do miraculous things for yourself. Yoga is essentially a technology to keep your body, mind and energy in absolute harmony. It is a whole system of elevating human life in whatever sphere one chooses – physical, mental, spiritual or material. Whichever way one chooses, the possibility is wide open. The instruments are there. How we use it is left to us.
The sacredness of 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. The Isha Yoga programmes all have an element of play—as to play is to live, and to live is to play.
Absolute involvement in what you are doing is an essential part of being in sport or in a game. Why the Olympic Games make the whole world stand up and take notice is just because of the level of involvement that the players show. This tremendous sense of involvement in whatever you are doing – the focus that it takes – and the human ability to stretch beyond their limits to fulfill something they wish to do at that moment, are essential ingredients for a successful life.
The fundamental of any sport or game 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 I lose, it is okay with me.” 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’s 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.