Racquetball, Yoga, & the Sutras

Kylie and I have taken up playing racquetball on Sundays.

Now, you have to understand something about me and sports: we don’t mix. Yoga as a physical activity works for me because I can be introspective. In college, I played pick up soccer with international students, and in the middle of the game, I would often turn to someone and say, “Wow! That’s a beautiful sunset!”

I have trouble keeping my mind in the game.

So when I’m in a tiny little concrete room with a fast-moving tiny teal ball, I also have trouble keeping my mind in the room. This has consequences. Consequences that include tiny bruises, or a game partner who is bored because he knows that you’re not trying.

Kylie loves racquetball. I have never really played before–the three times I have been in racquetball courts have all been with him. But I have had my fair share of tennis practice, so holding a racquet is not unfamiliar to me. Being in close quarters with the ball IS unfamiliar. (One of the most physically threatening moments in my life was the first time I entered a racquetball court, when we played doubles: three big men, tiny space, tiny fast ball, and me. I left before the game could really begin.)

Since Kylie loves racquetball, I want to become better at it. This past Sunday, my mind began to wander, and I realized it was tied to how terrible I would play if I didn’t stay in the game. So I began to breathe. I summoned all my yoga courage and knowledge to keep my attention on the breath and on the ball.

On the breath and on the ball.

The yoga sutras, really, are all about mind control–not controlling someone else’s mind, but your own mind. Sutra 1.30-31 says:

There are nine types of interruptions to developing mental clarity: illness, mental stagnation, doubts, lack of foresight, fatigue, overindulgence, illusions about one’s true state of mind, lack of perseverance  and regression. They are obstacles because they create mental disturbances and encourage distractions. All these interruptions produce one or more of the following symptoms: mental discomfort, negative thinking, the inability to be at ease in different body postures, and difficulty in controlling one’s breath.

Now. Racquetball is not a mental interruption, but the inability to keep my mind on the ball reveals the interruptions in my mind — just like a difficult yoga pose would. Also, my fear of the tiny little ball dissipates when my entire attention is focused on hitting the silly little thing.

When my mind wanders in racquetball, I think of how bad I am, how I should have hit that volley, that I’m so tired, I have so many papers to grade, etc. etc. whine whine whine.

Focusing on the breath and the ball worked. The amount of times I hit the ball increased. Kylie was impressed. I still lost every game, but I put up a fight. And I was there, in the room, fully present in the game, fully enjoying recreation on my Sabbath.

I adore the way the breath ties me to the moment. Adore it.


Yoga poses to use as warm-up / cool-down stretches for racquetball: 

  • Forward Fold
  • Lunges, the Warrior series
  • Twists, lots of twists
  • Shoulder/arm stretches (one arm across body, Eagle arms, clasp hands behind back, etc.)
  • Ujjayi  / Ocean Breath


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