Shane Watson turns to meditation to conquer cricket's mind games

Meditation man: Shane Watson Photo:
Meditation man: Shane Watson Photo:

You can imagine what the hard-living cricketers of the past might have thought if it was suggested to them they should try transcendental meditation.

Dougie Walters, Ian Botham and the like only shut their eyes when their heads hit the pillow, and plenty of times after a beer or 10 had been drained.

New-age mumbo jumbo, they might have rubbished it as, if they knew what it was at all.

Shane Watson, raised in working-class Ipswich, used to think the same way. More than a decade into his international career, though, he is endeavouring to make it his secret weapon.

Every morning now, whether it's in a quiet part of his home in Sydney or in a hotel room on tour, Watson will practise yoga for 15 to 20 minutes, then meditate, repeating a personal mantra while his eyes are shut.

The cynics, and there are plenty of them when it comes to Watson, will say he should be repeating to himself his desire to score another Test hundred, so scarce have they been throughout his career.

What this new regimen is about for him, though, is an escape from that.

Since working last year with Sydney meditation teacher Tim Brown, Watson has become a devotee of the ancient Ayurvedic medicine, which governs his diet and lifestyle, tying in with the daily yoga and meditation.

"In my break in the off-season I just knew that I needed to find another way to be able to either de-stress or just handle situations a bit better," he said. "There are times when I haven't had a way to just let it all out.

"I started reading the Deepak Chopra book 'Perfect Health', which opened my eyes up to Ayurvedic medicine and I ended up getting a meditation teacher to teach me how to meditate. With that came yoga, which has been something that I'm not sure I would have been open to when I was younger. But that's made a huge difference."

The benefits, he says, have been twofold, helping him recover better than he otherwise might have from bowling in the Test series against India this summer and away from the ground settling his mind.

The meditation has been central to him traversing the most emotionally challenging cricket summer on record, Watson argues.

Plenty of people in the know will tell you he was doing it a lot tougher than he was letting on in the days and weeks after Phillip Hughes' death. After all, he was one of the NSW players on the field, only metres away from the bat, when Hughes was struck below the helmet and collapsed at the SCG on November 25, never to get up again.

The meditation didn't erase the despair at what he saw, and the grief over who had been lost, but it helped him process those awful events.

"When not great situations pop up, like the super sad situation with Phil Hughes, with the grief and sadness that was happening in and around that, I also knew I had an outlet to try to handle it a little bit better," he said.

"I know it did help during that time because it was one of the saddest times in my life to be on the field when it happened and then go through the process with his poor family as well.

"I just put myself in Phil's shoes and Phil's family's shoes and thought 'that could have easily been me out there batting' and my little boy would never see me again and my family and my wife. It's a game you never thought that could ever happen. Coming through playing as a kid, no one thought that was a possibility of happening. You knew you could get hurt and seriously hurt if you got unlucky and the ball hit you in the wrong spot, but never to that degree.

"With my meditation especially, that was the thing that helped me handle it better than I would normally, because it just meant that I could try and flush out all the things that were flying through my mind at the time and let my mind be still for a little bit."

Transcendental meditation took off in the 70s after the Beatles, George Lucas and other celebrities subscribed to it. Whether it takes off in the Australian dressing room is unclear but Watson now swears by it.

"It's opened up something that I was never opened to in the past. And I don't think I would have been open to it when I was younger because you just think you're indestructible," he said.

"It's not something that people talk about that much. It's a bit more hidden within society, but I know from talking to a lot of people that, especially in situations that you didn't plan, it's a way to be able to know you can actually come out of it and handle it and absorb it much better than others."

This story Shane Watson turns to meditation to conquer cricket's mind games first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.