Zennis: Where Sport Meets Meditation
by Ma Chetan Gyata
hen I first arrived at the Osho Commune in Pune in January 1995, I was naturally drawn to the tennis courts. I easily fit into the Zennis team, having played and competed a lot as a teenager. We call the Pune style of tennis: Zennis. This reflects the quality of meditation we bring into our play, whether we are playing for points or just exchanging balls. Listening to Osho speak on Vipassana meditation has inspired me to see Zennis in relation to three levels of witnessing: watching the body, mind and emotions.
WATCHING THE BODY
In tennis every part of the body moves in a unified way to create a connection with the racquet and ball. There is a lot to watch but it is easiest to focus on only one object of awareness at a time. Gradually the body learns the movements and can play without any direction from the mind.
In Zennis we emphasize playing from the centre of the body, the hara. To get the feeling for this, we draw from the martial arts and practise the Zennis movements at a tai chi pace and level of awareness. Repetition bypasses the mind and gives the body a chance to learn the movement patterns. These slow flowing movements look and feel very beautiful; often participants wish we could slow down the ball to tai chi pace!
Lets look at a very simple exchange between two players who are hitting the ball back and forth in what we call a rally. Each time the ball is hit is actually part of a cycle of receiving, sending and centering. Receiving is a preparation phase in which the body/mind must anticipate where the ball is going to land (and other variables such as its speed, height and spin) and move into position to make the return. Ideally preparation is completed just before or at the time the ball bounces.
In the sending phase, the key moment is the impact point, when the racquet meets the ball. The idea is to contact the ball in the centre of the racquet, at an optimal distance from the body. After practising tai chi tennis, most people discover that they have greater balance and can send the ball with less effort than before. When power is generated by the coordinated movements of the whole body as opposed to excessive movement of the arm, difficulties such as tennis elbow (inflammation and soreness in the elbow) are avoided.
The centering phase is the moment of emptiness after the ball has been sent and before the next is received. Physically the body is balanced and positioned on the centre of the court, ready for the ball to come to the right or the left. For a split-second body, mind and emotions are at rest. It is something like the space between the words Osho speaks in discourse, or the gap between each in and out breath one has to be totally present to catch this moment.Then the mind stops its chatter and the body can take over, expressing its natural wisdom and flowing with the movement patterns discovered through tai chi tennis.
WATCHING THE MIND
Most tennis players have experienced the strong influence the mind has on the play. One day everything goes right and the next nothing seems to work, even though physically there has been no change. One example is losing an important point with a double-fault (missing two serves). The body knows how to serve but the nervous mind creates tension that constrains the body.
In the tennis world players are encouraged to develop mental toughness. In Zennis we are more interested in peace of mind through watchfulness, and in finding the place of silence where sport meets meditation. Watching the gap between balls in the centering phase and breathing with the rhythm of the play are powerful tools for settling the mind.
I find it easiest to watch my mind when I compete in a challenging situation. When I miss an easy ball I usually catch myself somewhere other than the court. Sometimes I play with big men with big serves. If I can wait totally alert, alive and empty, I can return the ball. My body knows exactly what to do, I just need to be fully present in it.
Most people need to find a connection with their partner before any meditative flow can develop. The mind creates all kinds of doubts and frustrations, and often these are projected onto the partner. Hes hitting too hard or She cant handle my power are typical mental scenarios. Taking responsibility in this instance requires sharing, and I often ask partners to share their experience of the exchange after a few minutes of play. Admitting what is really going on creates space for relaxation and change.
WATCHING THE EMOTIONS
In Zennis we discover our life patterns reappearing on the court. When I first started playing Zennis I was asked to do something my trained body/mind could not comprehend: hit the ball without consciously aiming it in a particular direction. This task required an unlearning, a let-go into the time before I could control the ball. No way did I want to do this! My mind thought it was a stupid idea and I became frustrated and angry, purposely slamming balls into the net. I noticed my anger transform to joy as I gave myself the freedom to miss. Suddenly fear came and then tears. I was freaked out that my partners would be angry with me for not sending the ball back so they could return it. How long would they put up with this behaviour?
Later in Kundalini meditation I remembered a time as a child when my expression of frustration and anger was punished. I learned to suppress these emotions in life, and this was reinforced when I competed in tennis as a teenager. I valued the ability to remain cool and heavily judged myself when my emotions showed on the court.
Now I am more conscious in expressing myself, although usually in socially acceptable ways like stamping my feet or serving hard when energy needs to be released. I notice that some days I have an emotional response to almost every point, be it good or bad. After some kind of expression, I move back into the silence, into the readiness to return or serve. And always I breathe, fully and consciously exhaling as I send each ball. This makes an enormous difference in feeling connected and present in my body.
It is such a joy to come back to a childhood passion with a completely different outlook. In teaching and developing Zennis, my creativity can flow. When I play I enjoy moving my body and energy, while watching my body, mind and emotions. Osho says meditation has really happened when we can remain aware throughout all our daily activities. Zennis is an opportunity to make this vision a reality in a playful way.