Blue Suede Shoes

The thing that got my attention was the 110-pound barbell that she somehow hefted up on the ab crunch stand down at our fitness center. Since that was about four and a half feet in the air, and she was about 5 feet 4 inches tall, I was impressed.

She was sitting on a nearby bench making workout notes. All that weight that high up and taking notes indicated that she was serious, but the thing that got me was the shoes. She was wearing blue suede weightlifting shoes.

“I see by your shoes that you’re serious about all this.”

And thus began my cordial conversation with Susan Agrios, Silver Medalist in Olympic weightlifting at the World Master Games in Edmonton, Canada in July 2005. But her weightlifting was just a means to an end.

“I was a world-class badminton player and I started weightlifting just to support my badminton. But it turned out I was pretty good at weightlifting too and my coach sort of goaded me into doing both,” she said. “In fact, he wanted me to give up badminton in order to concentrate on weightlifting, but I wasn’t willing to do that.” She also was a team Gold Medalist in badminton in those same World Master Games.

So I just got really fascinated by the bizarre juxtaposition between the delicacy of badminton and the grunting-and-groaning power of weightlifting.

“Speed,” she said. “It’s all eye-hand coordination. Badminton is the fastest racquet sport and Olympic weight lifting, the clean and jerk and the snatch, is all about speed too.”

And I forgot how it came up, but she said that she had her own fitness company up in Edmonton where she also taught yoga nidra, kundalini yoga and meditation. Since I’m a big proponent of meditation as a way to access the peace of spiritual essence, that was the one that got me. I was talking to a master.

I told her about my interest in mastery, that I thought it would be great to explore mastery in a sport other than golf and asked if she’d agree to an interview. Over breakfast two days later, the conversation lasted two and a half hours and I came away with whole new insights into ways to press through the ego and into the ethereal world of spiritual essence.

Since I saw what she was doing as very analogous to golfers arriving on the first tee, I started by asking her to describe, not so much what her meditative techniques were—that would come later—but I was interested in the moment of truth. That moment as she approached the bar for a lift or as she got ready for that first serve.

And just as in golf, she described settling into the moment in her first international tournament in the World Master Games in Melbourne, Australia, “with no past, no future, just that moment. The arena is dead quiet. You walk out for your first lift and you have two minutes to get it in the air. You have to hold it overhead to prove you have control and then the judges’ lights let you know you can drop it. Then you have a minute and a half for the second and then the third. You have no time for your mind to be wandering around. You can only be focused on the bar while you hold a vision of the lift in your mind.” She won the Silver Medal.

And that’s when I started to explore her meditation practice. What was it and how did it bolster her ability to stay in the moment? That’s when we got into the yoga.

I always thought that yoga was a deep stretching practice designed for flexibility and range of motion. I was half right. All of the caricatures we’ve seen about yoga, the contorted poses, the thumbs and index fingers touching, are just the half of it. The half designed to create an opening for deep meditation.

Yoga nidra, a guided meditation offers an extreme state of relaxation and consciousness. An hour of this is as restful as four hours of sleep. Hmmm. That might be just the ticket for my late-night post drafts. Kundalini yoga emphasizes the breath in conjunction with the poses, meditation and a mantra as a way to align body, mind and spirit. “Your mind follows your breath,” she said.

“Meditation in and of itself,” she said, “is a science, a technology. The mantra is a way to match the vibrations of the body with the frequency of universal energies.” Aligning those two things is a healing modality that, in addition to mental focus, leads to many other scientifically proven health benefits.

Susan is serious enough about all of this that she’s traveled to India to study with the masters. She’s been to a place named Rishikesh. I knew what it was without ever knowing it’s name. It’s on the Ganges and it’s famous for the Beatles’ visit to the now-closed ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man whose methods introduced me to meditation forty years ago.

And so she has cobbled all of this together into a fitness practice that offers strength training, aerobic conditioning, yoga, nutrition and elite training into a tidy bundle that keeps her very busy in Edmonton and traveling the world for consulting.

I thought this would be interesting to us golfers because, as we know, thinking doesn’t seem to be the way to quiet the mind when we’re under pressure. Operating in the world with a calm, clear and present mind is the only way I know of to move beyond the machinations of the ego into a world that is easy and facile.

And I don’t know how it worked—I think by having two minds fully engrossed at the edges of consciousness—but I wrote to her later that our meeting left me in an elevated state of euphoria and joy for the rest of the day.

Not bad for the price of a breakfast.

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