Saturday, April 3, 2010

You've Gotta Have Heart

Tomorrow is the Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season. For the past eight summers, I have had the privilege of teaching yoga for conditioning as part of a baseball camp for young men ages 12 to 17. 

One of the main philosophies that I try to impart to them is the concept of doing things because they are hard in order to grow and learn. In one session, we explored feelings of being discouraged, an experience that is almost inevitable when we embark on doing something that is important in our lives. The tendency for some (most) people might be to give up at the first sign of discouragement. In baseball however, like the song from Damn Yankees says, “you’ve gotta have heart.” Your heart – the ability to keep going in the face of adversity, difficulty, and discouragement – must be strong and resilient.

One yoga posture - Warrior I (virabhadrasana) - is particularly useful in physically embodying this concept of having heart, versus giving in to discouragement. In Warrior I, we are standing facing forward with the front leg bent at about 90 degrees, and the back leg straight and strong, like a pillar of granite. The chest is lifting forward slightly, and the arms are outstretched overhead, as if reaching toward the sky. In this posture, we are allowing the heart to open even in the face of this difficult-to-maintain position.

This posture has always brought to my mind the picture of a warrior before the battle: strong, balanced, and solid, lifting arms heavenward as if in a gesture of offering. He or she seems to be saying to the Divine, “I don’t know what will happen in this battle, but I will remain openhearted and strong.” As we continue to hold this posture for a minute or so, many emotions begin to arise and pass through our awareness: there may be fear of not being able to stay in the position much longer; anger for having to do this in the first place; elation as the body opens and stretches, becoming more and more energized in the process

A warrior on the field of battle goes through many emotions as well. I have heard war correspondents, when asked why they would volunteer to cover a war zone, say that they never felt more alive than in the midst of battle. They speak of it as a defining moment in their lives, against which all other experiences pale by comparison. In other words, they feel alive and vital in a way that they have never known before or since. Warrior posture has this effect, as well, but of course on a vastly smaller scale and with much less risk.

Another effect of Warrior I is that it opens the space between the solar plexus a heart chakras. Our achievement-oriented, doing-centered society operates mainly out of the solar plexus chakra, which is said to be the seat of will and action in yoga science. The extending upward of the torso allows energy from the solar plexus (which is fully engaged during the Warrior posture) to rise upward and join with the softer energy of love and compassion located in the heart. We are still able to do and achieve and attain all that we can, but now there is a softness with the inclusion of the heart energy. If discouragement arises as we hold this posture, it is allowed to be known and gets “treated” by the heart energy so that it does not take the form of hard-edged judgment.

While they are holding this posture, I am reminding these literal "Boys of Summer" that their hearts will be called upon countless times in baseball. When a game goes into extra innings, for example, and the lead is swapped several times, the terrible twins of gain and loss are felt acutely.

Some time around the 2nd Century, B.C.E., a teacher named Patanjali was speaking to his students, who were probably very close in age to the young men in the baseball camp. One of the students took notes, and these notes have come down to us through the ages as the Yoga Sutras. Sri Patanjali said that intropsective practices, such as yoga asanas, "make one immune to the onslaught of opposites." 

So when things get tough out there, and you're down 4 to 3 with two outs and one man on in the bottom of the 9th inning, and you're at the plate with a full count, remember the Warrior. Open your arms to the sky, and your heart to the universe, and swing away. The field is all yours.

You've gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win
That's when the grin should start.
You've gotta have hope
Mustn't sit around and mope
Nothin's half as bad as it may appear
Wait'll next year and hope.
When your luck is battin' zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there's nothin' to it but to do it.
You've gotta have heart
Miles 'n miles n' miles of heart
Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you've gotta have heart


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