by Elise Marie Collins
Sure lots of pro athletes do yoga asanas, but how many meditate or consider themselves “mindful”…and are on a hot winning streak?
Enter the team with the best start to a season in any American professional sport ever! 2015 NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors. With a team manifesto that sounds more like a mission statement for a local yoga studio, the Golden State Warriors are 23-0 and are poised to continue their record breaking season.
In mid-November interim coach Luke Walton revealed an ordered list of “core values,” after the San Francisco Bay Area’s Warriors broke the record for the best season start in NBA history.
Golden State’s #1 core value is joy, #2 is mindfulness, then #3 is compassion for team members and the game of basketball, and finally in the #4 spot is competition. Head coach Steve Kerr initiated the following of the not your typical sports team values during his amazing first year with the Golden State Warriors. Coach Kerr, who is presently on medical leave and recovering from complications from back surgery, led the franchise to its first championship in 30 years.
“To play in the NBA you have to be one of the world’s most elite athletes. The physical size and strength, raw talent, mental acuity of the players and teams is amazing,” says San Francisco based yoga teacher and former college basketball player, Garrick Peters.“The players and coaches for the Warriors seem to be riding a rare wave, clicking on all levels, and having the time of their lives.”
Fans of the team, known as the “Dubs,” love watching the Zen-like flow and jubilant camaraderie of the players. But what’s behind all this mindfulness?
While individual team members may or may not meditate – MVP point guard Stephen Curry frequently goes to a float spa where he likes to spend an hour in a meditation hack of silence and warm salty waters – the Warriors’ mindful basketball IQ has its origins in the 1990s Chicago Bulls, a team that Warriors head coach Steve Kerr played for (1993-1998). Coached by meditator, yogi and hoops master Phil Jackson, the Bulls won multiple championships presumably by staying in the zone.
In the early 90s when the team was in a slump, Jackson consulted Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are) as he searched for a meditation teacher who could be real with his players. Kabatt-Zinn recommended George Mumford, a former college basketball star who played with NBA Hall of Famer Dr.J (Julius Irving) in college.
Mumford turned to meditation after he fell into drug addiction when his own NBA dreams were crushed by serious injuries. Schooled by Kabat-Zinn in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mumford taught relaxation and stress reduction techniques to the Bulls, including Kerr, throughout the 1990s. As declared by Michael Jordan, Mumford has been a “secret weapon” and trusted advisor to Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and countless other NBA players.
“George helped me understand the art of mindfulness, to be neither distracted or focused, rigid or flexible, passive or aggressive. I learned just to be,” said Kobe Bryant about Mumford. Coach Kerr has coined the term Mumfied to describe how Mumford’s teachings could affect a player. And so the mindful influence continues as the Warriors continue to show that amazing things can happen when you stay in the present moment.
Read more about George Mumford and his mindfulness in this Boston Globe profile.
Elise Marie Collins is the author of Chakra Tonics, Essential Elixirs for Mind, Body and Spirit and An A-Z Guide to Healing Foods. She teaches yoga and works as a yoga health coach in San Francisco. www.elisemariecollins.com
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