Sensory Awareness and
Basketball’s Three Point Shot
During the pandemic I discovered a gym with a basketball court where I could get some exercise shooting baskets. After a few weeks I gradually began exploring taking three point shots ( shots taken from over 23 feet 9 inches from the basket ). I was inspired by the famous three point shooting of Steph Curry of my home team the Golden State Warriors. Even though nearly 24 feet is quite a long distance I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover how much my many years’ experience as a student of Sensory Awareness has helped me (now in my late seventies) in making these shots.
For me this speaks to how Sensory Awareness can not only help improve physical performance, but how it can also help disprove commonly held negative beliefs about aging. Here is a brief description of my experience in which highlights certain basic themes in the exploration and practice of Sensory Awareness:
GETTING READY/ WARMING UP: In many ways Sensory Awareness is all about warming up to life. In this regard it focuses on tuning into our physical nature, somewhat similar to what musicians do when tuning up their instruments. It’s a warming up process that not only involves physical movement, but also encourages a quieting of the background noise of the busy mind, which allows us to settle down enough so that we’re more able to sense what’s happening in the moment. This warming up process is what most athletes and performers do to become more ready to do what they do.
In my warming up process I try to tune into the wisdom of my own organism and how it leads me to explore various ways to freeing up what feels tight or stuck. Perhaps some stretching is needed or some shaking or running around or just sensing the support of the floor. Often what’s tense or restricted is not only some part of my physical self, but may also be my over busy mind or a certain mood or attitude in which somehow I may be stuck in. In my experience such stuck things hinder my movability and overall responsiveness.
WAKING UP: Warming up eventually involves waking up. While warming up some places may feel that they’re not fully awake yet. Being curious of what’s not awake helps bring more aliveness there. Often it’s my sense of balance may feel like it needs to wake up and deepen. If so, I might explore a few different ways of stretching and freeing up my spine and hips, neck and upper chest. I might hop from one foot to the other to wake up my feet and ankles. Just trusting in my sensing to make me more aware of what needs to wake up. I might try purposely going out of balance forwards or backwards and then explore moving until I feel I’m back in balance.
It always helps to notice the quality of my presence. Am I really present here in this place, really oriented to the things that are actually here and now or am I stuck in some fantasy somewhere else? When I sense that I'm stuck somehow I can then shake it off or slap myself or run or skip around until I feel more wholly present and awake. Sensing what gets in the way of fuller presence and aliveness is quite important in our practice.
BALANCE: Balance is an essential part of our nervous system and optimal functioning. It also seems to be a key element in shooting a basketball from a far distance. As Steph Curry explained it on a recent podcast. “Like I can feel when I'm in balance. And when I feel like I'm in balance, I feel like I'm never going to miss. You try to keep it really simple. Muscle memory and mechanics take over. All I'm thinking about right before I shoot is can I get into the proper balance and then [go] from there." Clearly what he’s talking about is deeply based on what he’s sensing.
When I’m feeling more grounded and I sense a more balanced connection with the floor and the weight of the ball and the basket I feel more at ease and at home with the space around me. This helps me become more freely and fully upright, feeling more fully embodied and integrated. When in balance I notice that when shooting the ball my mind seems much quieter and yet more focused. I feel more centered and everything seem lighter and much more simple.
MOVEMENT AND PLAY: When we’re at play we become more fully present, flexible and open, We are in a state of creative flow, what neuroscientists call plasticity, a state where greater change, growth and resilience is possible. Many sports fans have noticed that a big part of Steph Curry’s seems to be how often he seems playful and how much this gives him extra energy and resilience.
When exploring moving it’s wonderful to sense the pleasure and flow of movement. Things seem to become much easier when I have more fun being more playfully engaged with the ball and the space around me. Catching, bouncing, throwing, shooting, all can be an experience of fun, rather than just being exercise.
More and more my focus and curiosity are drawn to the interplay between everything I’m sensing in myself and around myself, the physicality of the ball, the space around me and the presence of the basket. Sensing this interplay frees up more energy as I practice shooting the ball and then gradually play around with shooting from different distances in different ways.
In honoring the spirit of play it is OK to miss and mess up. In fact it is essential in learning what’s needed. Just keep playing and experimenting without self criticism and instead be curious about what’s going on. It’s the essence of Sensory Awareness. Just stay open and fresh, experiment with curiosity and learn, It’s OK not to get it right or not be perfect. It’s no big deal. Just stay loose and open.
CONNECTION AND INTIMACY: In making a shot in basketball, particularly from far away, the key, like so many other things in life, is the felt energetic relationship with the other. How fully do I really sense the other - in this case the basket? What is my intention with this other? Am I really ready to connect? How can I mobilize my energy, my whole self to follow through with my intention and really connect with the other in the way I want? This is an energetic, primal process and something inside of us knows how to do it.
When a deeply sensed relationship with the other happens ( in this case the basket ) a special energy seems to open up so that everything comes together in a more flowing, whole hearted, unified way. It seems to take on a life and action of its own.
Sometimes the ball actually goes in. But if not, there’s the opportunity to feel out what got in the way, and/or what perhaps was really needed. Usually there was too much thinking and fantasizing and not enough sensing. This too is an important kind of sensing.
BEING CURIOUS: There are so many kinds of activities that can become valuable experiments in sensing when we’re curious and open. It doesn’t have to be like basketball. It can be in anything we do. We can explore our walking or running, our connection with something, our breathing and so much more. Shooting baskets has been very rewarding for me because I’ve been very curious about the process and it has an element of play. The world and this life are ours to explore. There are countless experiments in which each of us in our own way can explore and from which our vitality and fuller potential can become enriched.
I hope that you may have found this article to somehow relate to your experience in Sensory Awareness. If so I’d love to hear about it.