Photo by Tannen Maury/AFP via Getty Images
As Shawn Green stepped into to the batter’s box, scattered boos could be heard from throughout the Dodger Stadium crowd. After striking out, the sprinkling of boos turned into a downpour as Green slowly made his way back to the dugout. This was a scene that repeated itself numerous times in the early part of the 2002 baseball season.
Green was struggling mightily as his batting average dipped down into the 230s. The fans could not forgive a guy who only two seasons prior had signed a massive 6-year, $84 million contract. The boos were a very loud and rude reminder that Green was not earning his keep.
Green had to get back to the basics.
In 1997, Green was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays and was struggling to make his way into the everyday line-up. He grew especially frustrated when Blue Jays manager, Cito Gaston and hitting coach, Willie Upshaw forced him to go hit off a batting tee to improve his hitting form.
In his book, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph, Green acknowledges that when he first began taking swings, they were fueled by anger and frustration. However, a few days into the process, things changed. He said, “I began to enjoy it. After the first fifteen or so swings, my mind would quiet and the swings would start to feel more fluid. I began to enjoy the 20-30 minutes I spent at the tee every day.”
Five year later, and now one of the game’s stars, Green responded to his slump by going back to the batting cage. In the book, Green discussed taking batting practice on a day off and staying so long that a blister formed on his hand. A few days later the Dodgers were in Milwaukee for a game against the Brewers. In his first at-bat, Green roped a line-drive double. An inning later he hit a three-run homer. This was followed by two more home runs, and a single. He had five hits, including three home runs, with one more inning left to play.
The work in the batting cage had busted Green out of his slump in a big way. When Green entered the batting cage in Toronto in 1997, and then again during his slump in 2002, he was certainly working on the mechanics of his swing, but there was something else going on, which Green felt was far more important. He was working on the mechanics of his mind.
Green described in the book his practice of hitting off the tee. “My breathing became rhythmic: inhaling as I put the ball on the tee, holding my breath as I got in my stance, and exhaling as I took my swing. What was happening here?” The repetitive rhythm of hitting a baseball off a tee began to morph into a form of meditation for Green as he emptied his mind and just let the natural flow of swinging the bat to take over.
After hitting three home runs, a double, and a single, Green described his last at-bat in the ninth inning of the Brewers game. “As I settled into my stance, I realized I was still too locked in to burden myself with thinking. I’d simply look for my pitch and swing hard.” With the count one and one, a thigh high fastball approached. Home run.
Green circled the bases as the Brewers fans all stood and gave him a standing ovation, rare for a visiting player. They recognized that they had just witnessed one of the greatest hitting performances in the history of baseball. Green went six-for-six with four home runs and nineteen total bases, a major league record.
Although Green didn’t practice meditation in a traditional manner, there is no mistaking that his method of batting practice created a meditative result, which he was able to tap into during the game. In the past, meditation was often seen as something that only granola eating hippies would practice. That perception has radically changed and today athletes such as NBA MVP LeBron James, Cy Young award winner, Barry Zito, and NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson all have been noted as players who meditate.
Meditation is a fantastic way to quiet the mind through the clutter of life. You are transported from the baggage held from past failures and the concerns and fears about an unknown future to the one place where life slows down — the present moment. According to neuroscientist, Dr. Joseph Dispenza in his book, Becoming Supernatural, your brain waves can even line up with greater coherence during such meditative sessions.
It’s no wonder that we think more clearly and are able to perform much more consistently when we integrate meditation in our lives.
There is a vast array of types of meditative techniques from which to choose, including breath awareness, focus, mantra, walking, mindfulness, and guided meditations to name a few. Do your own research and play around with some variations to see what works best for you. Stop thinking, trying hard or willing things to happen and get into the flow of the moment for the pure joy of the experience.
The result will undoubtedly be a more relaxed and peaceful you, which also, paradoxically, can mean a more productive you.