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Levi Ben-Shmuel

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The Tao of the Fall Classic: What Baseball Can Teach Us About Living

Posted: 11/02/10 05:17 AM ET

The modern World Series started last week for the 75th time since 1903. While watching the American and National League playoffs, I was struck by how many Tai Chi principles were used by the elite athletes on the field. Tai Chi, the Chinese martial art renowned for its health and relaxation benefits, is based on the Tao, the philosophy encapsulated by the well-known Yin/Yang symbol.

Tai Chi works with the never-ending dance of opposite yet complimentary energies that make up the world as we know it. The brilliance of Tai Chi is its understanding of using these energies to create results in an incredibly efficient, harmonious way.

If you know what to look for, you will see major league baseball players using some of the same principles to create major-league results. Understanding these principles can help anyone, and I mean anyone (great physical abilities are not required), achieve powerful outcomes while exerting as little energy as possible.

Both the pitcher and batter start in the state that precedes Tai Chi called wu chi. This is the space before movement and action begin. It is still, quiet, and pregnant with unlimited possibilities. Notice how the players attempt to get into wu chi before a pitch is thrown. The stillness creates the opportunity to be in the flow with what happens in the next instant when movement begins.

Related to the wu chi state is the concept called sung. It is a hard term to translate. I think of it as relaxed concentration. It is the state of being totally present, yet being relaxed and concentrated at the same time. Notice how loose the best players are before the action begins. If a player is not in sung, his tightness can be exploited by the one who remains in it.

When you are faced with a big moment, how relaxed are you? What are you focused on? Are you trying to anticipate what happens next, or are you ready to flow with the reality of the next moment?

In essence once a pitch is thrown, the pitcher and batter are trying to catch the other off balance. It is a fascinating study in focus and being ready to take advantage of tension in the opponent. Let's see how it plays out in Tai Chi terms.

If the pitcher moves out of sung and executes his intention perfectly, the intensity of that intention can overwhelm the batter. New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera is a great example of this. When he is on, the power one feel before he even throws the ball puts the batter at a disadvantage. There is a feeling of inevitability that he will succeed. You can imagine the tension created in the mind and body of the batter when faced with this commanding and clear energy.

How successful are you in executing your intentions? Does your focus generate power that will lead you to your goal?

The batter uses the concept of emptiness and fullness to hit the ball successfully. This refers to a clear use of Yin and Yang energies. Being full means engaging 100 percent of one of these energies. Being empty means engaging none. Typically, just before a batter swings the bat, he empties the front leg and completely fills his back leg. You can see how rooted the player is on the back leg, before his swing. A tremendous energy potential is created in releasing the energy stored in the back leg through the body onto the front leg and arms.

The batter releases the energy through rotating the waist. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics, attributed to Chang San-feng, say, "The chin (intrinsic strength) should be 
rooted in the feet, 
generated from the legs, 
controlled by the waist, and 
manifested through the fingers." To integrate the body as one harmonious unit, Tai Chi says the waist must generate movement. Notice how a player like San Francisco Giant Juan Uribe uses tremendous waist rotation to generate enough power to knock a ball out of the park.

As you step up to the plate in your life, what are you rooted in? Where is your energy located? Are you ready to transfer it for maximum effect? Are you moving as an integrated unit, or are different parts fighting each other?

Whether or not you love watching baseball, you are a player in the game of your own life. You can approach your own challenges with great focus while staying relaxed. You can utilize your energy is an efficient way to achieve great things by being present to the current reality.

May you reach championship heights!

 
 
 

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