Today, the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks have meditation rooms. The Toronto Blue Jays have a “Mind Gym” program. But when Alan Jaeger was growing up, he was taught that baseball was physical, not mental.
Jaeger, now 55, excelled at sports from an early age. He grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley playing basketball, tennis, and baseball, and by college was pitching for Cal State Northridge. Then everything began to unravel.
“I felt shaky on the mound,” Jaeger recalled of the personal situation that left him unable to do the thing that came most easily to him. “I had to walk away from the team because I wasn’t able to function with clarity, and at the time I didn’t have any tools for dealing with that. I was blindsided.”
Not knowing where to turn, Jaeger sought answers in his studies and switched his major to psychology. One day during class, his professor told the classic Zen story about a student who, seeking answers, joins the master for tea. The master begins to pour the tea into the student’s cup, and as the student pontificates, the master keeps pouring until the cup is overflowing, much like the student’s mind. “Talk about getting hit in between the eyes with a lightning rod,” Jaeger said. “The story grabbed my attention, and I made the immediate connection with athletics. When an athlete is completely empty, there’s no thought. We’re trusting this spontaneous action to happen.”
What followed was three or four years of what Jaeger calls “constant engagement” through writing, reading, research, and meditation. In 1994 he published a book called Getting Focused, Staying Focused: A Far Eastern Approach to Sports and Life, which launched his career as a trainer who focused as much on mindfulness as on mechanics.
Jaeger’s methods resonated with players and coaches alike, and over the years he has worked with winners of the Cy Young Award (the top honor for Major League Baseball pitchers) as well as with College World Series winning teams. These days, Jaeger starts his morning with an hour of meditation and stretching before consulting with a coach or guiding a team in meditation via Facetime. He also attends a weekly nonduality group in West Los Angeles.
Another spring has arrived and with it the familiar rites of baseball. As he has done for thirty years now, Jaeger will continue to teach and to train, encouraging others to look within.
“Meditation is the act of practice,” said Jaeger. “You’re learning to be in a space where you’re able to just be. Be through an at-bat, be through a game, be through the day. It’s really about life. You can only throw a fastball so hard.”
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