meditation and sport

Olympic torch relay marked by protests

Dalai LamaWorld attention continues to be focused on human rights abuses in Tibet. The relay of the Olympic torch from Greece to China has been marked by protests in London and Paris. An estimated 10,000 protesters gathered in San Francisco, although the protests may have been subdued by the rerouting of the torch relay at the last minute, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Despite the ongoing protests, the Assembly of National Olympic Committees issues only a watered down statement, expressing confidence that China would strive to find through dialog and understanding a “fair and reasonable solution” to “the internal conflict”, The Hindu News Update Service reported. Although this was clearly a reference to Tibet, the word Tibet was omitted in the final draft of the statement.

According to the BBC, the head of the International Olympic Committee has said anti-China protests had created a “crisis” but that the Games in Beijing would “rebound”. Mr Rogge urged China to respect its “moral engagement” to improve human rights ahead of the Games.

The BBC also reported that world leaders are continuing their attention on the the human rights situation in Tibet, with members of the European Parliament calling on EU leaders to boycott the games if there was no resumption of dialog between China and the Dalai Lama. Both Democratic presidential hopefuls have called on President George W Bush to consider boycotting the Beijing opening ceremony if China does not improve its human rights record.

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Protests against Chinese rule continue in Tibet

Policeman beats monk in Tibet protestsLast week in Lhasa, Tibet, monks and nuns started peaceful marches to show support for Tibetan independence and demand the release of monks who had been detained as they celebrated the Dalai Lama’s receipt of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, CNN reports. Police responded by blocking some marches, firing tear gas into others, sealing off monasteries, and arresting monks and students who joined the protests.

The protesters had been largely peaceful until Friday, when monks attempted to march to the capital, rights groups said. When Chinese police blocked them, laypeople joined the protest and began lashing out at Chinese authorities.

Ethnic Tibetans then turned their anger to shops, market stalls and vehicles owned by Han Chinese, the predominant ethnic group in China. The Chinese government estimated that 10 people were killed in the clashes. According to The New York Times, however, Aides to the Dalai Lama said they had confirmed 80 killings of Ethnic Tibetans, including 26 victims killed just outside Drapchi prison. Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala said they had also received news that at least two Buddhist monks had set themselves afire in protest.

In response, the Chinese government has taken strong measures to quell the protests. The Washington Post reports that Chinese police conducted house-to-house searches in central Lhasa Monday and rounded up hundreds of Tibetans suspected of participating in anti-Chinese violence. The large-scale arrests and official promises of tough reprisals suggested the Chinese government has decided to move decisively to crush the protests despite calls for restraint from abroad.

The Dalai Lama responded by urging Tibetans to refrain from violence and accusing China of waging “cultural genocide” in Tibet. He called for an international inquiry into the suppression of protests there, his strongest defense to date of Tibetan Buddhists who have staged an uprising against Chinese rule.

The Los Angeles Times writes that the uprising presents the most serious challenge in years, if not decades, to China’s iron grip over its restive minority population. It comes at the most inconvenient time, with human rights activists already calling for a boycott of the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile the protests continue to spread to other parts of Tibet, and the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala, India.

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Unrest as Tibetan protests spread

Protesting TibetanA number of protests by Tibetans and Tibetan sympathizers have led to conflicts with authorities in Tibet and India.

A hundred Tibetan exiles on a six-month protest march to their homeland defied the Indian government’s orders to halt Tuesday, and could be headed for a conflict with the local police. The protestors have been marching from Dharamsala, the headquarters of the exiled Dalai Lama, to protest the continuing Chinese occupation of their homeland. They had planned to arrive at the Tibetan border in August, just before the Beijing Olympics begin.

The Indian authorities have forbidden the marchers from leaving Kangra District, in which Dharamsala lies, but the marchers have vowed to continue towards Tibet. The Indian government hosts 100,000 Tibetan exiles.

China announced Tuesday that it had quashed a protest by Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Dozens have been reported to have been arrested for marking the anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule.

“Yesterday afternoon some monks in Lhasa, abetted by a small handful of people, did some illegal things that challenged social stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

In a second day of protests, Chinese security forces fired tear gas at 600 monks taking part in a demonstration.

In Delhi, police detained a group of over 30 women who gathered outside the Chinese embassy, chanting slogans such as “Free Tibet” and “No Olympics in China.”

The protests against the Chinese Olympics are independent of the Dalai Lama, who has said that China has a right to host the games.

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Pittman’s race against the clock (Sidney Morning Herald, Australia)

Len Johnson, Sidney Morning Herald, Australia: Jana Pittman has bypassed modern technology and is relying on new-age techniques in her bid to make the starting line in Athens.

For months Pittman has practised meditation, now it is a significant weapon in her fight to overcome a knee injury, and subsequent surgery, and compete in the Olympic 400-metre hurdles heats on August 21.

Pittman had to be convinced of the benefits of meditation, as did her coach, Phil King. The advocate, however, was credible to both – Debbie Flintoff-King is Phil’s wife, whom he coached to a gold medal in the 400m hurdles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Pittman’s burning ambition is to emulate her.

Flintoff-King is also using her experience as a herbalist to provide another avenue for the athlete. She said Pittman was taking herbs which worked on the liver, which would be under stress at the moment, and the lymphatic system.

After some persuasion, Flintoff-King convinced Pittman to go to a one-day meditation clinic conducted by Ian Gawler.

“She wasn’t that keen but she went. I said, ‘Even if you just go to lunchtime’, but she loved it and came back with all the tapes and books.”

Pittman is concentrating on imagery techniques, focusing her mind on the healing process and imagining it proceeding in an orderly flow.

“Had she not done it religiously, it wouldn’t work,” Flintoff-King explained on Wednesday. “But because she’s been doing it for a while, she has confidence in it.”

Flintoff-King had similar experiences herself as she adopted meditation in the lead-up to the Seoul Games. She said it was not something that produced an immediate result, nor was intended to – it was just there when you needed it.

“I did it for two years,” said Flintoff-King, “and I could probably count on one hand the number of times it really worked.

“One was when my sister passed away [just before Seoul].

“For Jana, she’s such an A-type personality, meaning hyperactive. She hasn’t got any flaws but if she had one it would be lack of focus in some areas.

“I think the meditation helps her think about what she’s doing and disregard things going on around her.

What she has been doing now is imagery, imagining the injury healing.”

Meditation is now part of Pittman’s daily routine, along with the icing, the strengthening exercises, the constant treatment.

Flintoff-King said Pittman aimed to complete 20 minutes’ meditation at a time.

“It’s up to Jana. Sometimes you can go in there and 10 minutes is enough. Other times, time has gone by and you wouldn’t even notice, I usually suggest to her to try about 20 minutes minimum.”

Flintoff-King said that because of Pittman’s outgoing personality, anything that made her slow down a little was extremely beneficial.

“All you’re trying to do is clear the head and increase the space between the thoughts,” Flintoff-King said. “That’s a way of looking at it.

“She can just think more clearly. When you’re stressed and worried or hurrying, you forget the minor things. For her, meditation enables her to take a big, deep breath and think clearer.”

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Monks on the wing and a prayer for big match (Evening Times, Glasgow, Scotland)

A team of Buddhist monks swapped their sandals for football boots to take part in the most predictable game of the season. Six Tibetan monks, who had never played football before, took on a host of former Old Firm stars in a charity tournament this weekend. But there was no point betting on a winner because both teams played for a draw.

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The Pursuit of Happiness (CBC News)

Eve Savory, CBC, Canada: Erin Gammel is a shoo-in for the Canadian Olympic swim team. Canadian record holder, champion backstroker – unless something wildly unexpected happens, she’s going to Athens.

But four years ago she was a sure bet for the Sydney Olympics, too.

“Everyone kept telling me you’re a shoo-in,” she says. “And we had the strategy and everything was perfect. And I thought this is it, I’m going to the Olympics.”

She was racing at the Olympic trials in Montreal. She hit the lane rope, lost her concentration and lost her place on the team.

“It was just extremely disappointing. I was depressed. I was just really sad. I was crying and I couldn’t control myself,” Gammel says.

Erin Gammel cried for two years. Help was to come in a way she would never have dreamed, from Dharamsala in Northern India, 5,000 kilometres and cultural eons away…

Dharamsala is the home in exile to thousands of Tibetans who followed the Dalai Lama, after China occupied Tibet.

For 25 centuries Tibetan Buddhists have practised and refined their exploration. For generations they probed their inner space with the same commitment with which western science explored the external world and outer space. The two inhabited separate worlds.

But now, they are finding common ground in a remarkable collaboration.

In March 2000, a select group of scientists and scholars journeyed to Dharamsala. They came to share insights and solutions – to human distress and suffering.

Among them was Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin. He finds nothing contradictory about doing science with Buddhists.

“There is almost a scientific-like attitude that is exemplified by Buddhist practitioners in investigating their own mind,” he says. “Their mind is the landscape of their own experimentation, if you will.”

The westerners had been invited by the Dalai Lama himself to his private quarters.

For five days, monks and scientists dissected what they call “negative emotions” – sadness, anxiety jealousy craving, rage – and their potential to destroy.

One of the participants, Daniel Goleman, author of the book Destructive Emotions, says, “As we were leaving the U.S. to come here the headline was a six-year-old who had a fight with a classmate and the next day he came back with a gun and shot and killed her. It’s very sad.”

Why would the scientists seek answers in Tibetan Buddhism?

Because its rigorous meditative practices seem to have given the monks an extraordinary resilience, an ability to bounce back from the bad things that happen in life, and cultivate contentment.

Richard Davidson’s lab is one of the world’s most advanced for looking inside a living brain. He’s recently been awarded an unprecedented $15-million (Cdn) grant to study, among other things, what happens inside a meditating mind.

“Meditation is a set of practices that have been around for more than 2,500 years, whose principal goal is to cultivate these positive human qualities, to promote flourishing and resilience. And so we think that it deserves to be studied with the modern tools of science,” Davidson says.

A little over a year later, in May 2001, the Dalai Lama returned the visit to Davidson’s lab in Madison, Wis.

His prize subjects – and collaborators – are the Dalai Lama’s lamas, the monks.

“The monks, we believe, are the Olympic athletes of certain kinds of mental training,” Davidson says. “These are individuals who have spent years in practice. To recruit individuals who have undergone more than 10,000 hours of training of their mind is not an easy task and there aren’t that many of these individuals on the planet.”

The Dalai Lama has said were he not a monk, he would be an engineer.

He brings that sensibility – the curiosity and intellectual discipline – to the discussion on EEGs and functional MRIs.

But this isn’t really about machines.

And it isn’t about nirvana.

It’s about down-to-earth life: about the distress of ordinary people – and a saner world.

“The human and economic cost of psychiatric disorder in western industrialized countries is dramatic,” says Davidson. “And to the extent that cultivating happiness reduces that suffering, it is fundamentally important.”

The monk and the scientist are investigating – together – the Art of Happiness.

“Rather than thinking about qualities like happiness as a trait,” Davidson says, “we should think about them as a skill, not unlike a motor skill, like bicycle riding or skiing. These are skills that can be trained. I think it is just unambiguously the case that happiness is not a luxury for our culture but it is a necessity.”

But we believe we can buy happiness�if we just had the money. That’s what the ad industry tells us. And we think it’s true.

People’s theories about what will make them happy often are wrong. And so there’s a lot of work these days that shows, for example, that winning the lottery will transiently elevate your happiness but it will not persist.

There’s some evidence that our temperament is more or less set from birth. So and so is a gloomy Gus�someone else is a ray of sunshine – that sort of thing.

Even when wonderful or terrible things happen, most of us, eventually, will return to that emotional set-point.

But, Davidson believes, that set point can be moved.

“Our work has been fundamentally focused on what the brain mechanisms are that underlie these emotional qualities and how these brain mechanisms might change as a consequence of certain kinds of training,” Davidson says.

His work could not have been done 20 years ago. “In fact, 20 years ago, we had dreams of methods that allows you to interrogate the brain in this way, but we had no tools to do it.”

Now that we have the tools we can see that as our emotions ebb and flow, so do brain chemistry and blood flow. Fear, depression, love � they all get different parts of our brain working.

Happiness and enthusiasm, and joy – they show up as increased activity on the left side near the front of the cortex. Anxiety, sadness – on the right.

Davidson has found this pattern in infants as young as 10 months, in toddlers, teens and adults.

Davidson tested more than 150 ordinary people to see what parts of their brains were most active.

Some were a little more active on the left. Some were a little more active on the right.

A few were quite far to the right. They would probably be called depressed. Others were quite far to the left, the sort of people who feel “life is great.”

So there was a range. Then Davidson tested a monk.

He was so far to the left he was right off the curve. That was one happy monk.

“And this is rather dramatic evidence that there’s something really different about his brain compared with the brains of these other 150 people. This is tantalizing evidence that these practices may indeed be promoting beneficial changes in the brain.”

Here, the Olympic athletes of meditation meet the Cadillac of brain scanners.

Khachab Rinpoche, a monk from Asia, came to Madison to meditate in perhaps the strangest place in his life: the functional MRI.

It let’s scientists watch what happens inside his brain when he switches between different types of meditation.

They want to know how his brain may differ from ordinary people, and whether that change is related to the inner contentment the monks report.

So they test how subjects react to unpleasant sounds and images flashed into the goggles they wear in the MRI.

Normally when we’re threatened one part of the brain is tremendously active, but in the monks, “the responsivity of this area is specifically decreased during this meditation in response to these very intense auditory simuli that convey strong emotions,” Davidson says.

It’s very preliminary work, but the implication may be that the lamas are able to move right through distressing events that overwhelm the rest of us – in other words, one of the keys to their happiness.

It may tell us something about our potential. “Our brains are adaptable, our brains are not fixed. The wiring in our brains is not fixed. Who we are today is not necessarily who we have to end up being,” Davidson says.

Tibetan Buddhism is said to be one of the most demanding mental endeavours on the planet. It takes 10,000 hours of meditation and years in retreat to become adept. Few of us can imagine such a commitment.

But that doesn’t mean the benefits of meditation are out of our reach.

Zindal Segal is a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. He uses meditation to treat mood disorders.

It’s based on Buddhist teachings and its called mindfulness.

Michael Herman, senior partner with the law firm of Goodman and Goodman, meditates in his office.

“Very few of us can sit for 10,000 hours to be able to do this but the interesting thing is that we don’t need to. These capacities are available to all of us,” Segal says. ” We’re talking about paying attention, we’re talking about returning wherever our minds are to this present moment. These are things that we all have. We don’t have to earn them, we just have to find a way of clearing away the clutter to see that they are already there.”

Meditation is now out of the closet. The word is, it eases stress, drops blood pressure, helps put that bad day at the office in perspective.

Meditation is being mainlined by the mainstream, from corporate offices to factory floors.

These days it’s not unusual to find hospitals like St. Joseph’s in Toronto offering meditation programs. Some 360 people pass through the eight-week course every year.

Like most, this program has taken the simplest form of Buddhist teaching and adapted it for busy lives.

“Meditation is a skill, and like any skill it needs to be practised. So we use the breath as the place where we start to practise but eventually what we want to be able to do is to be able to use the awareness of the breath in our daily lives,” Segal says.

“When we have the ability to do that we can then use the breath when we’re standing in line at a bank, or if we’re having an argument with a spouse, as a way of grounding ourselves in the middle of something that is disturbing.”

Something disturbing, like the mind movie Erin Gammel couldn’t escape: the day when she failed to make the Olympic team.

“I just remember my hand getting caught in a lane rope and thinking to myself, it’s over,” Gammel says.

She lost her focus, her place on the team, and her heart to swim.

“It affected my entire life. I cried at the drop of a hat. I wasn’t improving and it didn’t look like anything was really improving. And I felt everything I did I seemed to fail at,” she says. “That was part of the depression and the sadness because I felt like I was failing at the time. Nothing was going well.”

Until she hooked up with the National Swim Team’s sports psychologist, Hap Davis. Davis had been fascinated by scientist Richard Davidson’s work.

He had a hunch that reliving the trauma was suppressing that part of Erin’s brain on the left that Davidson had found was so active in happy people.

He devised a rescue plan – a breathing meditation that she was to do before and after repeatedly viewing the video.

“If a person can ground themselves and feel centred with meditative breathing they can get to the point where they can look at it and view it with a critical mind, with a mind that is capable of being open to the experience and looking objectively at what took place,” Davis says.

“You know what it felt like during the race. It felt like I stopped absolutely dead. But in the video I look and it looks like just a little glitch. Nothing.”

It’s more than two years since they’ve needed to study the tape – because it worked. Erin’s joy of swimming returned; she’s winning race after race.

“She’s more resilient emotionally. She’s more stable emotionally. She’s more consistent in terms of performance,” Davis says.

“Meditation isn’t necessarily about happiness but it makes you happier. I guess that is how you would say it. And I feel more confident. That I know how to work with this stuff and work with bad things that happen in my life,” Gammel says.

Once again there’s one more race to win – the trials to make the team that goes to Athens.

“This is my year. That’s what I keep telling everyone. This is my year to make the Olympic team because making it through all those times there it’s just going to happen, I know it is. lt’s just going to happen,” she says.

“Meditation has been around for 2500 years so it’s not like a new practice,” Davis says. “But science is catching up to an old tradition and the evidence seems to be emerging that meditation can change the pattern of brain chemistry or blood flow in the brain.”

And now there’s proof meditation can change the brains of ordinary people and make them healthier.

Promega is a biotech company in Madison, Wis., where the researchers from the Brain Imaging Lab recruited typical stressed out workers – office staff, managers, even a skeptical research scientist, Mike Slater.

“Things were chaotic and crazy. We had a newborn. We had three deaths in the family. So it was a pretty topsy-turvy time,” Slater says.

All the subjects had activity in their brain measured�and half – including Mike Slater – were given an eight- week course in meditation.

Then everyone – meditators and controls – got a flu shot, and their brains were measured a second time.

The meditators’ brain activity had shifted to that happy left side. Mike Slater was almost too successful.

“I was pretty happy all the time and I was worried that maybe I was masking some stuff that might really be irritating me so I stopped it and my wife noticed an increase in my irritability, so, you know, I have both sides of the experiment now. It calmed me down and I stopped doing it and my irritability increased,” he says.

That wasn’t all. Their immune systems had strengthened.

“Those individuals in the meditation group that showed the biggest change in brain activity also showed the biggest change in immune function, suggesting that these were closely linked,” Davidson says.

Davidson and his team had shown meditation could shift not just mood – but also brain activity and immunity in ordinary people.

And they’d answered a potential flaw in the monk study.

“Someone may say, well, maybe these individuals are that way to start out with. Maybe that’s why they’re attracted to be monks,” Davidson says. “And we actually can’t answer that on the basis of those data, but with the Promega study, we can say definitely that it had to do with the intervention we provided.”

There are reasons to believe the insane pace and many aggravations of daily life can be dangerous to the health of our minds and our bodies.

We can’t push the delay button on a busy world and we can’t bail out.

But perhaps meditation is a way to encourage a sense of well-being – a deep breath in the centre of the whirlwind.

“As the Dalai Lama himself said in his book The Art of Happiness, we have the capacity to change ourselves because of the very nature, of the very structure and function of our brain,” Davidson says. “And that is a very hopeful message because I think it instills in people the belief that there are things that they can do to make themselves better.”

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Running feeds seminarian’s body, mind, spirit (The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pennsylvania)

Bobby Ross Jr., The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pennsylvania): In what he calls his “Mother Teresa Run,” Roger Joslin looks for the divine in the faces of everyone he meets. When “Running With Alms,” the Austin seminarian takes along a few dollars to help those in need.

In Joslin’s view, a spiritual experience – even an encounter with God – is as likely to occur along a wooded trail as in a church, synagogue or mosque.

The 52-year-old master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest relates his experiences in the book “Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”

Published last year by St. Martin’s Press in New York, the book combines Joslin’s insights from 30 years of running with the spiritual journey that guided him toward the priesthood.

Joslin maintains that through chants, visualization and attention to the most obvious aspects of the present moment – the weather, pain or breathing – the simple run can become the basis for a profound spiritual practice.

“When running, search for the divine in the ordinary,” he writes. “Each run is not a pilgrimage to Chartres, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, but it is a pilgrimage nonetheless.

If the intention is to converse with God, you are a pilgrim. It is the very ordinariness of the run that enables it to become a central part of your spiritual life. When God appears in the midst of the mundane, we are making progress toward him.”

In a recent interview, Joslin described how he prepares for a workout, trying to get himself into a state in which he is keenly aware of everything around him.

“Before I go for a run, if I’m driving, I’ll turn off the radio on the way, so I can begin to prepare,” he said. “When I’m putting on my T-shirt and my shorts, I’m going to do it very methodically, very consciously, in the same way that a priest might put on his vestments in preparation for celebration of Mass.”

In California, a group from the Rev. Jimmy Bartz’s church gathers each Thursday at the Santa Monica beach to run and pray based on the guidance in Joslin’s book.

Bartz, associate rector at All Saints’ Beverly Hills, an Episcopal church, said Joslin isn’t the first to combine meditative spiritual practice with physical exercise.

“I think there are a lot of people that have thought about it, but it just hasn’t been quite expressed the way Roger does pretty clearly in his book,” said Bartz, a longtime friend of Joslin’s.

Joslin’s book advocates “running meditation” as a way to quiet one’s mind and engage the body.

Hunt Priest, a friend and fellow seminarian, said Joslin’s book “just really blurred, in a necessary way, the line between the sacred and the everyday.”

“It helps you understand that you can be praying or meditating all the time,” said Priest, 39. “It doesn’t have to be one hour on Sunday.”

Joslin’s spiritual path to the seminary was more a marathon than a sprint.

He entered the seminary two years ago after 20 years in the architectural woodwork business. He’s not alone in pursuing the priesthood later in life; many of his fellow seminarians are in their early 40s.

“I am sure that I will be a far better priest now than I would have been had I entered the ministry at an earlier age,” he said. “I may not be wiser, but I am more compassionate. I have a better sense of how difficult life can be.”

Perhaps fittingly, running helps Joslin deal with that difficulty. But that wasn’t always the case.

As a high school football player in Alvarado, south of Fort Worth, he – viewed running simply as punishment. In his 20s, he ran just to keep in shape.

Then in his late 30s, the father of two dealt with a painful divorce. Running became an escape – but that escape gave way to a transformation.

As Joslin paid more attention to his immediate physical environment, he started seeing God, he said. A running journal that he kept from 1993 to 2001 formed the foundation for his book.

“God exists in the present, and to the extent to which you can find yourself fully engaged in the present, I think you can call that an experience with the divine,” he said. “It’s not always spectacular and mystical, although it can be on occasion.”

Joslin said his “original encounters with the divine” occurred in natural settings such as Big Bend National Park and the Pecos Wilderness.

“But I probably wouldn’t want to be a priest if I couldn’t experience God’s presence through the sacraments in the sanctuary,” he said. “I can’t say that one’s easier than the other. God exists all around. It’s a matter of being intentive and being receptive in either setting.”

Roger Joslin, 52, a master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, holds a
copy of his book, “Running the – Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”

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Starting all over again (CricInfoIndia)

Rahul Bhatia, Interview with Indian cricket star, Ajay Ratra, CricInfoIndia: When Ajay Ratra first burst on the scene in 2001-02, he was thought to be the solution to India’s hunt for a long-term wicketkeeper, but since then he has been upstaged by Parthiv Patel. In an exclusive chat interview with Wisden Cricinfo before the Duleep Trophy this season, Ratra talks about the work he has put into his game since being out of the national team.

o you think you have improved as a wicketkeeper over the last two years?
Not dramatically, but yes, there has been an improvement. I’ve been working on tips from Kiran More. He’s been teaching me a few things that have been useful. He advised me to meditate and concentrate while keeping, because if you lose it for a moment, you’re guaranteed to put the ball down.

How have you been practising?
I keep with one stump, and collect deliveries going down leg. Then I put a batsman between the bowler and me, so I’m blinded by him, which is a bit like match practice. I also practice diving and rolling. And since we don’t have fast bowlers in Faridabad, I decrease the distance between the bowler and the wicket, which helps me cope with the bounce. For swinging deliveries, I ask bowlers to use plastic or tennis balls on cement wickets.

Moving on to your batting, in England and the West Indies, you were LBW and caught behind quite often. Have you done something about that?
I spoke to John [Wright] about that. He explained that my head was falling over, which is why I was playing across the line of the ball. So I concentrated on keeping my head still, and it has worked out for me. I usually speak with my seniors, and the ones who’ve watched me play. Ajay Jadeja advises me, and Syed Kirmani tells me how to build an innings at No. 7, when we don’t have too many overs left to play.

What did you do when you were told that you weren’t in the national team after the England tour?
Actually, no one tells you that you’ve been dropped. It’s only when the team list is made that you realise you’re not included. Obviously, it’s disappointing, but it’s part and parcel of the game. If I keep agonising about why I was dropped even after I had scored a century, I won’t be able to concentrate during practice. I’m 22, and I’m starting all over again. People die at 25. So I’m not putting undue pressure on myself. I’m just working hard, and try my best in the matches that come my way. Otherwise, I prefer not to think about things I cannot control.

What parts of your game did you focus on after being left out?
Well, I spoke to the team about my batting, and I practiced a lot more. I practised tackling the bouncer by facing a synthetic ball and playing on concrete wickets. And during the last camp, Sourav and Sachin [Tendulkar] remarked in the nets that my batting had improved, and even John remarked that I’d done a lot of work. And I’ve had a good season, batting at number seven in the Deodhar Trophy, when you get 10-15 overs to play.

What do you do to stay fit when you aren’t playing for the national team?
Each player is given a fitness plan by the physical trainers, which advises us what to work on. On non-match days the weight training is more intensive, but it’s up to us to decide how fit we want to be. And whenever a camp is organised, there are a few tests we undergo, and the results are fed into a computer. If a weakness is noticed, we’re told about it.

And the mental aspect of your game?
Meditation is essential for keepers. I joined an institution for meditation which I visit whenever I’m in Faridabad. It has helped me deal with and control my thoughts in adverse conditions. I did it by myself earlier, but the institute has taught me the nuances of meditation. It emphasised the importance of not letting my thoughts waver. Whether you’re batting, or keeping to just one delivery, you can’t let your mind waver.

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Buddhist monk helps rugby club

BBC: A rugby club is calling on the skills of a Buddhist monk to help improve their game.

Caerphilly Rugby Club have enlisted the help of Gelong Thubten to help the players better their performance on the field.

It is hoped that the ancient art of meditation will help the Welsh premiership squad to improve their final scores for the rest of the season.

So far this year, the club has lost six of its 10 games, but they hope that they will hit a winning streak after a few sessions with Thubten.

Mike Johns, the honorary secretary of the club, who helped arrange the course said it was about “focusing the minds of all those involved”.

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“He can teach their mind to focus it on what is needed on a day-to-day basis.

“I have spoken to a couple of players individually just to get a bit of feedback on how they feel.

“The ones I have spoken to are taking it with an open mind and are perhaps a little bit excited about what they can learn and what they can take on board.”

Thubten, who became a monk in 1993, was invited to the club after the management heard about his techniques.

“I am going to teach them meditation techniques to allow them to focus and relax,” he said.

“Meditation is simply learning to train the mind, learning to focus the mind, learning to relax the mind.”

But he says he has tailored his relaxation techniques to ensure the rugby players are not too relaxed as they are about to kick-off a match.

“I am going to be teaching them to be aware of the present moment while they are moving,” he said.

“I haven’t worked with sports people before and I am very excited about it.”

And how does he think a traditional burly rugby player is going to react to his meditation training?

“I have worked with some pretty hostile people before but I am sure that the rugby players are going to be fine.”

Thubten starts his training sessions with the club next week with relaxation techniques and ways of improving positive thinking.

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