Tension, Relaxation, and the 2015 NFC Championship Game

This past weekend I witnessed, what I'll consider to be, the most heartbreaking event in sports history - The 2015 NFC Champion Game.  Final / OT : Seattle Seahawks 28, Green Bay Packers 22.   Ugh, fml for having to type that. I’m not a sports super fan. Mostly, I find the spectacle of professional sports to be kind of silly. But when you’re born and raised in Wisconsin, you can’t help but bleed a little Green & Gold...and that shit cut pretty deep.  So I don’t use the term “heartbreaking” lightly.  This pit in my stomach closely resembles the axe lowering on an inevitably doomed relationship.  In retrospect, I’ve definitely had break-ups that were less painful than the final 5 minutes of that game.

The energy in Milwaukee was palpably sluggish on Monday, Wisconsinites still hungover with disbelief. How could events possibly have transpired as they did?  Divine intervention? I truly doubt any higher power gives a shit. The 12th man? Seattle fans smugly huddled around area water coolers will say so, but meh.  I put the game out of mind today and went about my business of helping people move better. I figured why ruminate when gentle reflection will do.  And this evening my answer came to me by way of a basic movement (MovNat) principle I talk about every day: tension & relaxation.

A little background: all movement is a blend of tension and relaxation. Tension keeps us supported, rigid and grounded. Relaxation enables fluidity, adaptation, and flow. Beautiful movement results from the optimal proportion of these two opposing elements (in relation to the task at hand). Humans have gotten very adept at holding on to tension, our lives filled with chronic stress.  Scan your body right now and you might find some tension hanging out in your jaw, neck, shoulders, hands, hips, or feet for no significant reason. We really need to get better at relaxing…I’ll get to working on a video for that soon.

Think of any high pressure situation, what happens? We stiffen.  Leisure or inactivity, like chilling on a beach, getting a massage, swinging in a hammock? The body melts, though we’re rarely very productive here.  But there are those times where we’re in “the zone”, the psychological concept of flow state. We’re at ease, but laser focused. Everything falls into place. This is our balance between tension and relaxation.

Apparently not everyone on the team heard him...

And in my mind, that was the difference in this game.  It all came down to who held a more adaptive perception of the here and now.  Seattle was able to strip away the tension that wasn’t serving their cause.  Green Bay was clinging to their lead with a death grip. The Pack was trying to stay grounded in the past 3 quarters, while simultaneously trying to will the clock to keep ticking away.  Both teams were tired and beat up, conditioning had nothing to do with the outcome.  Seattle simply let go. They stopped fighting what happened in the past.  They stopped worrying about what might be in the future.  Seattle relaxed into the present moment and found flow.  You could visibly see this change manifest in the quality of their movement.  Meanwhile the Packers were bumbling, clumsy, and fearful.  Which doesn’t change the fact that they’re the greatest franchise ever. Thank you for another great season. Go Pack Go.

And I write this post for bit of personal catharsis; an attempt to make sense of things and reduce my own tension.  For being just a game, that's a tough loss to swallow.   Shake it off, fans. Sports are a fleeting affair.  Nassim Talib would point out that antifragile individuals will be able to pull a lesson from this debacle and grow stronger.  The lesson is that in life there is always going to be uncertainty. The occurrence of extremely unlikely events, Black Swans, (boom. another Talib reference) cannot be predicted but for better or worse you need to be able to roll with whatever happens. Life. You need to be tense enough to stay grounded, relaxed enough to take it as it comes.

I have this analogy that I use in coaching movement (particularly balance), but it rings true in a larger context...

In an intense storm, buildings will be torn to pieces while the palm trees will flex with the wind and remain firmly rooted to the ground.

 Amidst a hurricane, strive to be a palm tree.