Monday, August 01, 2005

Transcendental Tennis

(The following is my article which was used as the basis for the Brazilian tennis magazine 'Revista Tenis' article entitled "Tenis Transcendental", which is posted following this post).

At this year's US Open in New York, Revista Tenis met Dr. Craig Berg, an American who has taught a program used by many professional tennis players in order to be able to play more "in the zone". Here is our interview with him:

RT: Tennis players spend innumerable hours improving the physical side of their game. How important is the mental side?

CB: The great Jimmy Connors said: "95% of tennis is mental." Another one of the greatest players of all time, Ivan Lendl, told me at the US Open Tennis Tournament in 2007: "What you are talking about is the future of tennis!" The following year at the Open, the great Martina Navratilova said to me: "It really works, doesn't it?! The young players coming up these days sure could use it, couldn't they?!"

They were referring to a technique that actually has nothing to do with tennis. It is not a new way to swing a racquet, not a new exercise to strengthen the body, not even a new way of psyching ourselves to keep a positive attitude under pressure; nothing to do with belief. In fact, it has nothing at all to do with the field of activity whatsoever. It is transcendental -- beyond -- anything in the field of activity, beyond thought. It is the Transcendental Meditation (TM) Program, brought out of the Himalayas by the great sage, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. And it has been used to enhance tennis performance by many other tennis greats.

Those who have learned the TM program include Arthur Ashe, Jack Kramer, and Don Budge. Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova both wrote forwards to a book that describes a training program that has at its core the Transcendental Meditation program. And a few tennis legends are totally private about their TM practice (why share their secret, silent weapon with their opponents?). That includes at least one current big name in tennis.
Arthur Ashe was one of the first tennis greats to learn the Transcendental Meditation program.

Why this excitement about an ancient meditation technique among some of the world's most dynamic individuals? In a word: "silence". In two words: "creative silence". That is the edge that the top players have. And that, in its essence, is what the TM technique provides. It allows a player to systematically enhance his focus, restedness, and relaxation on the court. In short, it is a technique to foster access to "the zone". (Navratilova says the above mentioned training program allowed her to be in the zone nearly every time she stepped onto the court.)

RT: OK, Craig. That's great for top tennis players, but what about those of us not in that elite group? What about casual tennis players? Is it so difficult to learn that we might not be able to learn it?

CB: Not at all. It is very simple, natural and easy to learn. I have taught the Transcendental Meditation program in the interior of Sao Paulo to "gente da roca" who could not read or write. They would sign their name with an "X". They learned the technique along with medical doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc. And they learned it easily.

RT: Well, then, seeing that it doesn't in any way interfere with one's current game, and it is easy to learn, how do we do it? Can you teach it to us right now, here on the internet?

CB: I'd love to do that! But, we are dealing with the most complex computer in the universe: the human brain. And the technique of TM optimizes full brain potential. So it is a very subtle technique that must be taught on an individual basis. You know, to get a good tennis stroke you had best have a teacher to guide you, and not just rely on a book. When we are dealing with the brain, it is all the more important to have a teacher there to help keep us on the right track. And there are highly qualified teachers throughout Brazil. The technique must be learned by a certified TM teacher through a standardized one week course. Yes, there are mental techniques you can read about, but they are fundamentally different than TM, and do not have the vast amount of research proving superior benefits, as is the case with the TM program.What I'd like to do in the rest of th is interview is show why it is worth the effort to go to a qualified TM teacher to be properly instructed.

RT: Right. Craig, what is the Transcendental Meditation technique?

CB: The Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique is an effortless, natural mental procedure which allows an individual to experience unbounded awareness when the mind transcends--goes beyond--thought while remaining wide awake. As the mind settles down to this least excited state, the body receives deep rest. This dissolves the tension and fatigue that drag at the reactions, concentration, courage, and continued successful performance of an athlete. The Transcendental Meditation practice-- 20 minutes twice a day-- revitalizes the body and mind, producing greater energy, mental strength and dynamic action.

The Transcendental Meditation technique is an effortless, natural mental technique.

Because the TM technique is so very effective in replenishing both physical and mental energies on a daily basis, there is no reason why tennis players should fade as quickly as they normally do, whether in a match, tournament, or gruelling season. TM practiced twice daily would allow a player to maintain the intensity needed to come out on top at the finish.

So, even if the Transcendental Meditation program did not improve the player's abilities, it would still enable them to maintain their current level of success throughout the season, insuring a great season. But all my experience, and that of the five million people practicing the TM technique worldwide, and the more than 600 scientific studies on TM--conducted at over 200 universities and research institutes in more than 30 countries--shows that TM would indeed improve their performance in many ways.

RT: Does the TM program teach us how to concentrate better on the court?

CB: No. That is the great misunderstanding about meditation. Unfortunately, there are many people who think that meditation techniques must teach how to concentrate. Wrong! The Transcendental Meditation technique, as taught by Maharishi, is a rediscovery of the natural, effortless nature of proper meditation. No concentration is used in TM. Through personal instruction the mind is shown how to flow effortlessly to its own unbounded source. But a result of reaching this area of vast energy and intelligence deep within the mind is greater ability to spontaneously concentrate outside of meditation on whatever it is we need to focus on. The reason TM has been repeatedly shown by scientific investigation to be so much more effective than other forms of meditation lies in this fact that TM does not use concentration; nor does it involve contemplating any thought.

RT: Many tennis players already have “mental skills” coaches. Presumably some—perhaps all—of these individuals are using techniques other than TM. How does the Transcendental Meditation program compare with the other programs out there?

CB: First of all, there's no conflict between the TM program and other programs a player may use. One way in which TM may differ from some other programs is that TM does not involve trying to do anything special during a game. Players meditate and then no longer have to think about it after the meditation session. It's like a shower; we don't have to remind ourselves that we feel good after it. Also, the Transcendental Meditation program is the world's most scientifically researched program for self-development, by far. And I would advise anyone who wants to make an educated judgment about the TM program to at least take a look at some of the more than 600 published studies on TM. A good summary of the research can be found at The website will also tell how to contact any of the many TM teachers throughout Brazil.

RT: Where does TM come from?

CB: Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation program comes from an ancient tradition of knowledge, the Vedic tradition. It is not in its experimental stage, like many relatively new programs. Maharishi brought this age-old wisdom from the Himalayas to the rest of the world in 1954, about the same time Pancho Gonzales was starting his run of seven consecutive years as the world's No. 1 tennis player. Throughout these past fifty-six years the Transcendental Meditation program has made meditation a household word.

RT: What are some benefits of TM that are noticed off the tennis court?

CB: Off the court problems can often have big effects on it. Many tennis players say that TM is a big help in harmonizing their family life, among other benefits.

RT: You've discussed mental, psychological and social benefits some players attribute to TM. What about actual physical improvements?

CB: Let me mention a statement from a top athlete in another sport: baseball. One of the great players of all time, Willie Stargell, pointed out that, before he learned the Transcendental Meditation program, he often would wake up in the morning with nothing to look forward to but a tired body to drag him through the day. After TM that all changed; TM gave him a big boost in his energy level, he said. He could revitalize his mind and body daily through the simple mental technique.

When more energy is available to our body, health becomes stronger. The U.S. government has already spent more than $25 million for scientific research on the health benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Studies done at Stanford and other universities show that TM produces a much greater reduction in trait anxiety (an indicator of stress) than all other techniques studied. This superior effect of the TM program is related to TM's naturalness. And this naturalness means that anyone can learn it easily, irrespective of their educational level or whether they believe it will work or not; people of all faiths practice TM. The Transcendental Meditation program enlivens the body's innate mechanism for eliminating stress. And stress is at the basis of so many diseases.

RT: You've mentioned some of the tennis pros who have learned the Transcendental Meditation program. What about amateur athletes?

CB: I've taught TM to many high school athletes with great results, both on the field and in the classroom as well. Teachers find that students are more attentive in class with TM. Research shows that their grade point average rises. The point is that TM increases intelligence. The sports teams at my alma mater, Maharishi University of Management, and the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield, Iowa all use TM. Since 1986 this small high school has won an incredible 16 Iowa state tennis championships. For the first time in the 70-year history of Iowa high school tennis, Maharishi School won the celebrated Triple Crown by winning first-place in State Class 1-A titles in singles, doubles and team competitions two years in a row, 1999 and 2000. The Iowa Tennis Association (ITA) chose their coach, Lawrence Eyre, Coach of the Year for 2000. And in 2009, Eyre was chosen US national coach of the year by the USPTA. That's the United States Professional Tennis Association -- the oldest and largest tennis association of tennis-teaching pros in the United States. (It has been in existence for 82 years, and has included members such as tennis legend Jack Kramer).

USPTA Awards Lawrence Eyre-- U.S.A. National High School Coach of the Year --2009

According to coach Eyre: "Seventy-five percent of a tennis match is between points and whoever recovers better and can return to a steady state is going to do better." TM helps his players recover quicker from unforced errors and then move on to the next point without getting upset or distracted. It keeps a player from being overly "pumped". Eyre goes on to say: "With the TM program my players learn to live in the zone in order to play in the zone. They get 'peak experiences' which are the basis of peak performance."

Mr. Eyre featured in the May 7, 2001 issue of Sports Illustrated

Other schools have been incorporating TM into their training also. The game of squash, a cousin to tennis, so to speak, is in contention for becoming an Olympic sport. The Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut) women’s squash team is ranked #3 in the United States and is home to some to the top players from around the world. Trinity head coach Wendy Bartlett wanted the team to feel that the court was a place where they could be relaxed and stay in control. Trinity assistant coach Dr. Randy Lee wanted to do something to help his players cope with the mounting stress and pressures that come with success—while giving them something to improve overall performance.

So, in October 2009, Coach Bartlett and Coach Lee decided to introduce the Transcendental Meditation technique as part of the team’s training program. Seven months later, Coach Bartlett says the team has changed, describing the players as calmer and more focused than in the past. “We’ve had just as many challenges this year as we’ve had any other year, but this year we’ve been able to handle them a lot better,” she says.

Nour Bahgat from Egypt was the #1 Women’s U.S. collegiate player in 2009. She says that the Transcendental Meditation technique helps her get into ‘the zone’. “Being in the zone is very important for an athlete because that’s the point where you can perform at your best level,” she says.

Emily Lindon, a graduate student at Trinity College, conducted a research study for her senior thesis on the impact of the TM program on the squash team. In particular, she investigated the area of “perceived self-efficacy,” which is a person’s belief in his or her ability to accomplish a certain task. “Research has shown that if people think higher of their abilities, they tend to perform at a higher level,” Ms. Lindon says. The study showed a significant increase in self-efficacy among the meditating athletes after meditating for just five months.

“With TM, we now have a new technique to improve performance,” says Coach Lee, who adds that the technique would be valuable for any sport. “I can’t think of a sport I would exclude; it seems to me TM can only bring positive outcomes.”

RT: I'm sure many people hear the term "meditation" and immediately disregard anything associated with it as New Age hocus-pocus or something similar. I'm sure you've heard that sort of thing before. How do you respond to such statements?

CB: "Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon, or to the first comer," wrote philosopher George Santayana. Yes, we should be cautious of what may be nothing but "hocus-pocus" out there. But we should use our intellects to separate the useful from the trash. Otherwise we may be narrow-minded and miss our chance to progress. Didn’t they think Marconi’s ideas were hocus-pocus? He had to actually take the skeptics out to sea on a ship to prove that his mysterious "radio waves" could really communicate back to shore without the use of wires.

Any significant, serious-minded person must look at the facts. They must acquaint themselves with the 600 scientific studies (published in more than 100 scientific and scholarly journals, including such peer-reviewed journals as Science, American Journal of Physiology, Scientific American, International Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, and many others) showing that Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation program has profound effects on the body, mind and behavior. And they must look at the track record of the five million people who’ve learned the technique, the many hundreds of companies who’ve implemented it, and so on. My hope is that more top tennis players will realize that many others have already seen the importance of the mental component in tennis and are doing something about it. If they look into TM properly, I’m fairly certain it will be clear that it i s the most tested and most effective program available. And if they find something proven to be better, then they should go for that. But I very seriously doubt there is anything better out there.

RT: What is TM's relationship with yoga?

CB: Yoga involves physical postures and TM is a mental technique. I practice yoga every day, and enjoy it very much; but its effects are superficial compared to TM.

RT: Can you be more specific about the benefits you feel tennis players could obtain from adopting the Transcendental Meditation program?

CB: Sure:

1. Players will be "In the Zone" more often and for longer periods. "In the zone" is sort of a catch-all phrase that encompasses many different experiences, but they are best characterized, I think, by the notion 'peak experiences'. TM gives the direct experience of the zone—transcendental consciousness, which is an unbounded state of restful alertness of the mind. Through transcending thought during meditation the mind begins to enjoy more and more of that inner creative silence even when engaged in very dynamic activity. Roger Federer said: "I get in the zone by forgetting I am in a point." He spontaneously transcends thought.

2. Meditating, they will be more rested—TM gives deep rest which neutralizes the stress-- physical, mental and psychological--of daily competition. It has been amazing for me to see that nearly every one of my more than 1,000 TM students, when I ask them on the fourth (final) day of the TM course, "How many feel more rested now?", virtually every hand goes up! As I mentioned, this would result in more stamina over the course of a season; quicker rebound from exhausting five-setters. More relaxed, energetic clear-minded players win tennis matches.

3. Better teamwork and team harmony-- Doubles teams sometimes have difficulty in keeping communication channels clear between them. “We are family” spontaneously becomes a reality when team members, sometimes from diverse backgrounds, transcend thought. They experience their common source.

4. With TM we can expect better lifestyle choices—The many temptations pro (and sometimes amateur) tennis players face are dealt with more maturely as they enjoy the refinement of their personality through the Transcendental Meditation program. Self-confidence, self-reliance, stability and inner control, naturally develop.

5. Decreased drug and alcohol usage-- Naturally, the use of prescribed and non-prescribed drugs falls off when players are feeling great through TM. Performance enhancing drugs likewise lose their attractiveness since players are naturally performing better and are more sensitive to the detrimental effects of unnatural drugs, once they start TM. Scientific publications such as Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly point to the Transcendental Meditation program as perhaps the best modality for preventing and treating alcohol and drug abuse. TM makes a person feel good naturally, obviating the desire for drugs or alcohol.

6. Many studies show TM meditators have faster reactions. On average, they are about 20 to 30 milliseconds faster than non-meditators. This means players who meditate can react more quickly to, say, a 190 km serve.

7. As I mentioned before, TM would offer players a clearer mind-- the troubles from home aren’t carried onto the field and players can concentrate better on the task at hand. Intelligence, memory and learning ability improve with TM. Current training programs in place will be even more effective. Mental errors can be expected to occur less often.

8. The Transcendental Meditation program results in greater creativity—The difficult naturally becomes easier. In other words, you could expect to see more unbelievable shots like Federer routinely hits.

9. Faster running—Studies show an improvement of more than one-tenth of a second over 50 meters for TM meditators over a six-week period. All this comes from less fatigue and less stressed nervous systems.

10. "Slower to boil, quicker to cool off". The Transcendental Meditation program gives greater stability to the nervous system, so the pressures on the field are less distracting. At the US Open I watched Thomaz Bellucci's match against the American Tim Smyczek. Bellucci has powerful strokes and won the match, but not without a good deal of effort. He seemed at times to get frustrated with himself. Too many of his first serves were netted. I could see how his mental state was influencing his ball toss --it was often too low, a result of nerves, and the serve would end up in the net.

I spoke briefly with Bellucci after his win. His home in Tiete, SP is near Tatui', the town I lived in for one year (1966) as a high school exchange student. (I have since visited Tatui' several times, and keep in touch with friends there regularly). I gave Bellucci the website where he can learn more about staying relaxed, rested and focussed with the TM technique.

11. "Staying within themselves." This is a common expression used to describe a state of naturalness where there is no strain. TM gives the direct experience of one’s own inner silent self, thereby fostering this ability that is so coveted in tennis. Roger Federer rarely seems to operate outside of himself.

12. Tennis players have a fairly high incidence of injuries. Expect fewer injuries among meditators. Fatigue is a main factor in injuries. The Transcendental Meditation program gives players the most effective technique for removing fatigue on a daily basis. If an injury does occur, the profound rest TM gives to the body provides it the ideal conditions for rapid and full recovery.

13. Greater happiness—Success comes from happiness. TM enhances happiness, morale.

14. Better family life is a natural result of the TM program. The former owner of the American baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, told me that the Phillies offered the Transcendental Meditation program to the wives of the players as well as all the players. This went a long way to further the family harmony without which a Pandora's box of problems may plague a player's performance.

15. Better health—Transcendental meditators have, on average, 50% fewer hospital and doctor visits. That's simply because they are generally healthier. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We've seen how illness can debilitate players, both physically and emotionally. Will you take up this proven program for stacking the odds in your favor? The American Journal of Cardiologypublished a study showing that practice of the TM program extended people’s life span by 23%, and reduced heart disease by even more.

16. More effective coaching: coaches find that when they and/or their player are practicing the TM technique, the coach is able to impart his/her knowledge more easily. Coaches tell me that often the information can be communicated virtually effortlessly.

17. Reversal of Aging--Tennis pros are becoming "over the hill" by earlier and earlier ages. If you knew that there was a way to turn back the biological clock on an "ageing" player you were coaching, you'd do it, right? Read the research; there is! Read the research at the TM website.

18. Better luck...that's what Transcendental Meditators often report. TM harmonizes an individual with his environment. In tune, things tend to go his way. It's like a surfer who catches the wave just right: his progress is unrestricted.

RT: It sounds like we need to learn to transcend. Is there anything else you would like to say?

CB: The Transcendental Meditation program will improve any tennis warrior's game and I hope to see you all playing in the zone.

RT: Thank you very much, Craig.

Craig M. Berg MBA, DMVA was trained personally by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1973 as a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program. He has taught the program (in portuguese) for 1,5 years in various cities in Sao Paulo state, as well as Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Berg is currently engaged in research in human consciousness at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.