Interview with Christen Press, World Cup Champion on Vedic Meditation, Having Big Goals, High Standards, and the Power to Choose Your Response
Christen Press is an American soccer forward and World Cup champion. She captains the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League and represents the United States women's national soccer team. In 2015, she represented the United States at the FIFA Women's World Cup. She's an icon on and off the field with an outspoken love of meditation and
Q: You are clearly playing at the highest level with even more pressure to be defined by wins and losses. How did you get past that pressure in college and enable yourself to enjoy the game in a way that’s authentic to you?
A: It was a long journey back to being able to enjoy soccer from when I graduated. In January 2012, a few things happened simultaneously. The women’s league folded, so I couldn’t find employment playing soccer in this country, and I moved to Sweden. I left my family and friends being able to watch all my games, and was just playing in a completely different world where I didn’t know anyone and no one cared what I was doing. That was really freeing for me. I was so present because I didn’t have the opportunity to look forward or backward because everything was happening so quickly. It brought me to a present and conscious kind of living that allowed me to rediscover my love for soccer. At the same time, right before I left for Sweden, I learned Vedic meditation. I absolutely think that changed my perspective on soccer and my life.
Q: Can you walk us through Vedic meditation for those who aren’t familiar? How do you get set up for meditation; is there a routine you go through in order to get ready to meditate?
A: Vedic meditation is one of the oldest and most widely practiced types of meditation. It’s a twice daily practice where you sit down for 20 minutes and they give you a mantra— which is just a word in Sanskrit that should have no connotations for you, it’s just a sound—and twice a day you go over your sound for 20 minutes. When you are meditating, thoughts come in and interrupt and infiltrate your mantra and your transcendental state. The lesson is that’s OK! You’re gonna have stressors and thoughts; you could be thinking about what you’re having for dinner or why you are getting a divorce. It impacts your meditation differently, but at the end of the day a stressor is a stressor, and meditation teaches you to take the power away from it by not giving it any attention. For these 20 minutes all you’re doing is repeating your mantra. For me, it’s less about the benefits of a transcendental state than the lesson that I have the power to control how I react to whatever is happening in my environment. In Vedic meditation, it’s a seated position with your back supported and no support for your head (so you can’t be lying in a lounge chair for example). Sitting up on a seat or a sofa or on the ground with your back supported is perfect. Your legs and hands can be however; your hands don’t have to be the traditional hand open, thumb-finger touch; use a natural position that allows you to relax without falling asleep.
Q: You mentioned it gives you the power to choose your response. How have you seen that show up on the field?
A: I think there’s two main ways that meditation has impacted my sport and my profession. The first thing is generally I am happier, I have less stress, and that just makes me a better person and better player. When everyone gets as close as possible to their best self, everything is fruitful from that point. Actually, meditation has allowed me to find a new focus on the pitch. I think back to my college days. I was a terror on the field, my teammates will tell you, and I yelled at everyone and was constantly stressing out about the shots I missed or why that person passed there instead of here. I was in my head so much. Not only did it make me unhappy, it distracted me. What meditation taught me is that all those thoughts are completely unnecessary. There’s nothing constructive about me worrying about the shot that I missed. The only way that you can let that go is by refocusing. That’s what meditation is, it’s constant refocusing. I kind of made my mantra about the ball. I just come back to “Where’s the ball on the field?” and I think this loudly. “Where’s the ball on the field?” and then, “Where should I be?” By the time I fixate on the ball and reposition myself, I’m back in the game. I do this constantly during the game.