by Clete Hux –
What do Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi and Wayne Gretzky have in common? It’s well known that they are popular professional athletes widely recognized as champions in their chosen sport. Most know that they are also successful businessmen. What’s less known is that they have all been exposed to New Age practices and teachings either by their coaches or popular New Age gurus.
While many are used to, and even now expect New Age encroachment into the areas of medicine, business, education, politics, and entertainment; we may have trouble believing it could become widespread in sports. This should not be so difficult to believe however, when one considers the statistics from recent polls by Barna Research, Gallup, and Life Magazine regarding the beliefs of Americans…
- 20% Identify themselves as New Age practitioners.
- 53% Believe in ESP.
- 24% Have practiced Transcendental Meditation.
- 34% Believe in a New Age form of God.
- 36% Read their horoscopes regularly and 26% believe that astrology is scientifically accurate.
- 48% Believe that astrology is probably or definitely valid.
- Belief in reincarnation grew from 25% in 1992 to an astonishing 30% in 1996.
Americans are readily buying into the connection of East and West – mystical philosophy (pantheism or “All is divine”) combined with an outlook of pragmatism, (will it work for me?) – And it’s obvious in our preoccupation with self-improvement through fad-diets, alternative medicines, motivational gurus, etc. It is only natural that our growing obsession with sports would lead to such techniques being applied in that arena as well.
Providing insight into the connection of New Age practices and techniques with sports is Dr. Charles Garfield, a corporate lecturer and consultant. In his book peak Performance he writes, “Over the past several years, in my capacity as a lecturer and consultant on peak performance for many of our nation’s most prestigious corporations, I have been struck by the power of sports as a metaphorical providing ground for executives. The same techniques used by athletes to achieve peak performance in sports are being applied in the highly competitive world of business…many American businessmen have discovered that athletics can serve as a laboratory for putting to the test and perfecting in a deeply personalized way, such skills as goal setting and visualization.”1
According to Garfield, when he was doing a lecture in Milan in 1979, he was challenged by Soviet sports psychologists and physiologists, causing him to reassess his philosophy of athletic training. He says, “The extensive investment in athletic research in the communist countries began early in the 1950’s as part of the Soviet space program. Alexander Romen’s basic research which eventually led to programs for teaching optimal sports performance, explored the possibility of employing ancient yogic techniques to teach cosmonauts to control psychophysical processes while in space. This field of inquiry came to be known as “self-regulation” or “psychic self-regulation.”2
Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, set a goal before his players saying, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” According to Garfield this is typical of western athletics’ conscious mindset of “get tough” and just beat the competition.
Garfield, on the other hand, espouses and emphasizes the techniques of the eastern mindset saying, “This attitude of blind, rigid determinations is not the key that will allow you to develop your greatest strengths and maximize your human potential in sport. In fact, it will limit you from developing your human potential. Romen and his associates discovered this through their early experiments with the martial arts. They learned about the reserves of human energy – called Ki in Japan, Pana in India, and Chi in China” …” The Russians learned how to gain access to these high levels of human energy not through a get-tough posture of tight jawed determination, but through the practice of rather subtle methods of breath control, mental concentration, and mind-body unification, which they learned by mastering ancient meditation techniques.”3
What were these “ancient meditation techniques”? They were employing the ancient techniques of yogi, or yogi like practices, and this should be greatly concerning if such techniques are finding their way into our society through sports. John Ankerberg and John Weldon provide insight into this in their Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, stating, “One reason that yoga clearly belongs in the category of religion is because the classic yoga texts reveal that proper yoga practice incorporates many goals of occultism. Allegedly, it will not only result in a ‘sound mind’ and a ‘healthy body’ but also in spiritual (occult) enlightenment…Yoga philosophy teaches the mind and body are ultimately ‘one’…Yoga postures and breathing, then, are designed to awaken psychic energy and bring about dramatic changes in consciousness.” They add, “Whatever school of yoga is used (hatha, raja, bhakti, etc.) whether it is Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Sufi, Tantric, or some other religious tradition, the goal is typically the same: occult enlightenment achieved by internal manipulation of occult energies (prana, chi) leading to altered states of consciousness in order to produce one’s inherent union with God or ultimate reality.”4
The Psychic Side of Sports by New Agers Michael Murphy and Rhea White is a book that, by its very title, indicates the New Age has come to sports. In her 1978 book, Visualization; Directing the Movies of Your Mind, Adelaide Bry, stated that it was not surprising that Michael Murphy had come to regard the world of sports as a laboratory for the vast frontier of the New Age.5
A clear example of this is the use of guided imagery by Mike Spino (director of Murphy’s Eastern Sports Center), in coaching distance runners to reach a state of deep relaxation by first seeing a white light like a halo over their heads and then drawing light into their bodies. “If you feel tension in a particular area of your body,” he tells them, “draw the light from the halo over your head to the spot of tension or injury.”6
While many who are involved with athletics would probably agree that some form visualization is of benefit, it would probably be hard to form a consensus on what techniques would be acceptable or beneficial. For example, few would question that it is of benefit if, by visualization, it is meant that one should focus or concentrate on accomplishing ones goal or the task ahead. The debate does not center so much on this western concept of concentrating or focusing with the conscious mind; the problems center on the eastern approaches, now espoused and accepted by many, that basically have an altered state of consciousness as their goal.
The aim of visualization based on an eastern philosophy is to create in one’s mind what will ultimately happen in the physical realm. In other words, if you can visualize or think it, you can have it or be it. In speaking of creative visualization New Ager, Shakti Gawain explains it well, “there is no separation between us and God; we are divine expressions or the creative principle on this level of existence” …”Manifestation through creative visualization is the process of realizing and making visible on the physical plane our divine potential.”7
Marvin Fremerman a motivational sports psychologist, whose tapes are marketed by Nightingale – Conant (which also markets other items espousing New Age techniques and concepts), has worked with college and professional athletes including entire football teams, He says, “When using visualization I recommend getting into calm, meditative state through the use of guided imagery combined with special music with meaningful lyrics that play upon the right chamber of the brain.”8
According to Adelaide Bry back in 1978, Mike Spino predicted that visualization techniques would be a very important aspect of athletic training in the future, and it appears that his prediction was correct. When one looks across the spectrum of popular sports and sports figures today and notes the developing trend toward techniques such as those espoused by Fremerman, it is obvious that increasing numbers of professional and amateur athletes in the west will be employing eastern methods of visualization in an attempt to enhance personal performance.
To see how pervasive this has become we need to look only as far as those who follow the human potential principles of New Age gurus such as Tony Robbins. His New Age seminars have not only attracted many in the business community, but a number of well-known professional athletes such as tennis player, Andre Agassi; hockey player, Wayne Gretzky; and golfer, Greg Norman.
Robbin’s book, Awaken the Giant Within, is endorsed not only by Stephen R. Covey (A New Ager/Mormon – see November 1998 Vantage Point) but by NBA coach of the decade, Pat Riley who, on the back cover, touts Robbins as being the “ultimate coach” in human potential.”9
Phil Jackson, former coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, openly proclaims the benefits of New Age thought and practices and his views may be given undue credibility because of the success during the 1990’s of his Michael Jordan led Bulls. According to Unity Magazine (a publication of the Unity School of Christianity), Jackson saw himself as a religious extremist and outcast with a Mennonite ancestry and Pentecostal upbringing. His search included brushes with the New Age churches of Christian Science and Unity, speaking of this time he said, “I was working towards meditation while still wanting to remain a Christian.”10 His search led to the New Age Unity Church.
Jackson also refers to himself as a Zen Christian. In an article for Sports Illustrated, Richard Hoffer, reports that Jackson may invoke Sioux lore and Zen mysticism in his coaching, “This is not your father’s basketball coach, when his team is on a losing streak, he (Jackson) lights incense in the secret cubbyhole of the team room and tells the players he’s ‘going to exorcise the evil spirits that possess them’.” All said and done, one would probably agree with Hoffer that Jackson “makes the New Age seem old fashioned.”11
Though not a vocal adherent to New Age practices, one of golf’s most influential figures, Tiger Woods, has a family background steeped in New Age influences. Like Michael Jordan, whose basketball successes provided his coach a more prominent platform, Woods’ popularity gives his father and coach, Earl Woods a wide audience for his views.
Speaking of his son, the elder Woods has said, “He will transcend this game…and bring to the world…a humanitarianism…which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in …by virtue of his existence…and his presence.”12 While these are certainly the words of a proud father, they are much more. Earl Woods, an EST (Erhard Seminar Training) follower, boasts that his son “will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.”13 Following is his exchange with a Sports Illustrated interviewer:
Q: “Sports history, Mr. Wood? Do you mean more than Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, more than Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe?
A: “More than any of them because he’s more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.”
Q: “Anyone, Mr. Woods? Your son will have more impact than Nelson Mandela, more than Ghandi, more than Buddha?
A: “Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that is international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between East and West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He will have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just a getting a taste of his power.”14
Speaking of Tiger’s mother, Tida (a devout Buddhist) Earl Woods adds, “Tida was meant to bring in the influence of Orient, to introduce Tiger to Buddhism and inner peace, so he would have the best of two different worlds.”
According to the writer she also “…takes the boy’s astrological chart to a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles and to another in Bangkok and is told by monks at both places that the child has wondrous powers. Mrs. Woods, like her husband, has an interesting view concerning her son stating, “Tiger has Thai, African, Chinese, American Indian and European blood. He can hold everyone together. He is the Universal Child.”15
To his credit, Tiger Woods does not seem to have such exalted views of himself stating, “I like Buddhism because it is a whole way of being and living…I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces. I don’t believe that humans beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws.”16 Honorable as it may seem, Tiger’s statement is quite revealing of the New age Movement’s practice of taking “bits and pieces” of American culture and religion blending them together with eastern mystical philosophy and effectively blurring the distinctions.
Athletes and coaches at all levels look for ways to be successful. Those who excel are put on pedestals. They serve as role models whether they realize it or not; their influence is far-reaching, particularly with youth. We fool ourselves if we think the beliefs, they promote couldn’t possibly gain widespread acceptance.
Consider the Maharishi High School in Fairfield, Iowa. Ed Hipp, who coaches the school’s golf team, dropped out at North Carolina State, took off to Europe and studied Transcendental Meditation TM. For several years now, he has been teaching his golfers aromatherapy and a hopped-up form of TM called Yogic flying.
Hipp’s players have been taught a metaphysical connection with nature. “To keep that connection, Hipp and his Pioneers meditate twice a day, in the morning and early evening, on sheet covered mattresses spread out in the Maharishi Patanjali Golden Dome of Pure Knowledge.”17 The team captain is described thusly, “He folds his legs in a Yogic knot, rests his hands lightly in front of him and silently chants his mantra. For five minutes he idles motionlessly, eyes shut in serene contemplation. Suddenly he begins to shake, rattle and roll. Arising to the occasion, he bounces on his bun like a human Super Ball. He hops startlingly high and surprisingly far, propelled, he maintains, only by his belief in the teachings of Maharishi, the Seer of Flying,”18
Sports are woven into the tapestry of our culture. To see their popularity, one only has to look at the television ratings for the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, the “big college football rivalry, or consider the immense popularity of soccer in which fans have literally killed or been killed for their team. To such fervor, add the zeal that one might have for their “religion”, and we begin to get a glimpse of where sports methodology might be headed.
America, in many ways, has become a “melting pot” for religious pluralism. Unfortunately, multiculturalism and religious pluralism tends to provide fertile ground for the New Age Movement, especially among those with a “politically correct” mentality; a mindset that basically determines any way to God or ultimate reality is legitimate, so long as it doesn’t claim to be the only way. A mindset that assumes if there is a God, He doesn’t really care how He’s approached. Christianity is reduced to being simply one way among many ways.
While it may be “politically correct” to depersonalize God, making He and creation synonymous, or to say that all roads lead to God, is contrary to the revelation of the one true God (John 1:1, 14). The truth is that the personal God of the Bible (John 17:1-3), the God who created the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 40:12, 22, 36) has clearly revealed Himself (Romans. 1:18ff.).
The world may drop its guard in many areas of discernment, but Christians are called to distinguish truth from error (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1-2; Ephesians 5:11-13). Parents, especially Christian parents, encouraging their budding athletes, would do well to investigate the religious backgrounds and practices of the athletes their youngsters wish to emulate. Just because a practice or a person who practices it is successful or popular, does not mean that God approves of it.
The ideal role model would believe that Christianity stands unique and apart from all other religions by its distinctive doctrines; that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to the true and living God (John 14:6; Joshua 3:10; Psalm 117:2). Such a role model would believe that Christianity stands unique and apart from all other religions by its distinctive doctrines; that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to the true and living God (John 14:6; Joshua 3:10; Psalm 117:2). Such a role model would understand that as beneficial as athletics might be, a personal relationship with God is much more important than any sports record, statistic, event, or accomplishment (1 Corinthians 9:23-26).
East coming West in sports is just another example of the breadth of the New Age Movement. As such, it is another wake-up call for the church.
- Peak Performance, Charles Garfield
- Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, John Ankerberg and John Weldon
- Visualization: directing the Movies of Your Mind, Adelaide Bry
- Creative Visualization, Shakti Gawain
- “Visualization Gives Athletes Mental Edge”, Healthy Lifestyles, National Federation News, November 1994
- Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins
- Unity, February 1997
- Sports Illustrated, May 1996
- Sports Illustrated, December 23, 1996