by Vidagdha Bennett

“Who said man was not meant to fly?”
Michael Jordan, NBA All-Star

 

When children want to spontaneously express their happiness, they jump for joy. It is a phenomenon of human nature that we cannot explain, this urge to leap upwards with the whole body into the sky — as if happiness imparts such a lightness of being that we feel we could fly. Who can forget the men’s 100-metre final at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles? When Carl Lewis, running in his first Olympics, realised that he had won the gold medal, he literally leapt for joy around the track.

Now Sri Chinmoy is showing us that such joyful enthusiasm belongs to the young at heart and not necessarily only to those who are young in terms of their physical age. As he approaches his 65th birthday, he has introduced many childlike diversions into his daily routine. These include juggling, the game of marbles, shooting for basketball goals — and jumping.

The basic explosive ability to jump high or far is held to be a God-given talent. It is associated with the same fast-twitch muscles of the lower body that are used for sprinting and other anaerobic sports that combine both power and speed. As a youth, Sri Chinmoy excelled in volleyball, long jump, high jump, pole vault, hurdles and sprinting, all of which require a natural jumping ability.

 

 

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Sri Chinmoy stepping up 30 inches – April 3, 1996.
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Sri Chinmoy jumping up 30 inches – April 4, 1996.
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Here in the West, due to chronic knee problems and other leg and foot injuries, Sri Chinmoy has not dared to subject his body to the rigours of jumping for many long years. Then, on January 7th this year, he began moderate training with a jump rope, doing two-footed double jumps for each turn. He progressed so well with this new item that he introduced low step-ups, as well as hopping and skipping. In this way, he was able to overload certain muscles and joints and test their response.

Then on February 12th, a new inspiration came to him. Facing a padded moveable platform that had been specially constructed, he set it at 11 inches and jumped onto it with both feet together. He executed ten jumps on this first day of training and set his next goal at 20 inches. On February 13th he progressed to 13 inches and on February 15th he attained his first goal by completing seven jumps at 20 inches.

It is worthwhile to compare this height with that of some common household objects: a standard chair height is 17½ inches; a bed and mattress combined can be 19½ inches. It is difficult to imagine a man of 64 years springing up onto a chair. It is a feat that would daunt most women of any age and many a younger man.

For Sri Chinmoy, however, this was just an interim goal. On February 16th, he improved to 22 inches in his jump-ups and 20 inches in step-ups. By February 18th, he had reached 25 inches in jump-ups. This is approximately the height of a piano keyboard.

Sri Chinmoy maintained this level for almost three weeks. Then on Saturday, March 9th he literally ‘sprang’ a most astonishing surprise on his students by suddenly increasing his jump to 27 inches. He attempted this height four times during the course of the day — twice in the early morning and twice in the evening — and achieved instant success with each attempt. Sri Chinmoy’s pattern each time was to begin jumping at the much lower height of 16 inches and then gradually increase the height of the platform in two-inch increments. Finally, he moved it directly from 24 inches to 27 inches.

“Whoever thought I would jump so high!” Sri Chinmoy exclaimed upon completing this unique feat. He recalled his youthful sporting days at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India, where he would compete in the 110-metre high hurdles as part of the decathlon event. Here the hurdles were set at the standard competitive height of 39 inches. Sri Chinmoy observed that the speed with which a hurdler approaches the hurdle enables him to achieve this height. Similarly, the flight phase in high jump, long jump, pole vault and steeplechase are all preceded by a substantial run-up.

Sri Chinmoy’s new style of jumping, by contrast, is a standing vertical leap, such as basketball and volleyball players use in their practice drills. Here, the major problem is that of overcoming the inertia associated with the standing position. Interestingly, Sri Chinmoy faced a parallel problem during his six years of intense weightlifting training (1985-1990). In order to lift the mammoth barbells that he did, he had to generate a huge amount of power very quickly. Studies have revealed that the differences in power output between a vertical jump versus a snatch are less than 10%. Both are explosive movements and there are significant similarities in the lower extremity and torso movements in both the starting position and the propulsion phase of the vertical jump and the snatch or clean lift (of which Sri Chinmoy’s one arm overhead lift is a variation).

Let us examine the starting position more closely. Sri Chinmoy adopts a stance with feet slightly spread apart. He then lowers himself into a quarter squat or crouch, creating flexion at the hips, knees and ankles. This position stretches the key jumping muscles and prepares them for the next phase of the jump.

Sri Chinmoy’s next movement is to suddenly drive his arms down and then up, combined with an explosive propulsion of the lower body. Beginning with the hips, the flexed joints rapidly uncoil, resulting in an upward movement. Head and neck extension lead and guide this upward direction.

Last in this sequence is the extension of the ankles as Sri Chinmoy’s feet leave the floor. At this point of full triple extension, there is a magic moment of aerial suspension before he quickly draws his knees towards his chest and tucks his feet in to land sure-footed on the platform.

The contribution of each muscle group, according to studies undertaken by the US Air Force Academy, is as follows: hip extensors 40%, knee extensors 24.2%, ankle extensors 35.8%. In addition, it has been found that the arms contribute an average of 10% to the take-off velocity during the vertical jump.

Welding these elements of strength and speed together is crucial for a jumper. An easy, flowing jump depends upon perfect co-ordination or rhythm. There is a special beauty and grace about Sri Chinmoy’s jumping which is most clearly revealed when the jumps are viewed in slow motion. His movements imitate those of a cat or lion springing. When we consider the heights to which a cat can jump in comparison with its size, the image becomes even more appropriate. Indeed, from time to time Sri Chinmoy has said that he has taken his jumping lessons from nature — from cats, kangaroos, horses and frogs. He has learned from them that a stiff-legged take-off is unnatural. He firmly believes that a flexed posture increases the force that can be applied during the jump, which is why animals crouch before they pounce.

In this respect, Sri Chinmoy’s approach resembles that of the great Australian running coach, Percy Cerrutty, who encouraged his runners to study the movements of horses — trot, canter and gallop — and to try to reproduce these movements on the track.

Perhaps this kinship with the natural world also underlies Sri Chinmoy’s choice of jumping up onto a platform as opposed to using a Vertec device where an athlete must leap up and displace plastic swivel vanes attached to a metal pole. The difference is then measured from the athlete’s natural reach when standing with both feet planted on the ground. Basketball coaching manuals list the following standards for vertical jumps according to the Vertec method:

 

  STANDARD
MALE
FEMALE
  Superior
32+
18+
  Excellent
28
16
  Very good
24
14
  Above average
20
12
  Average
15
10
  Below average
10
5
  Poor
5
2
 

 

The great standing vertical jumps of pro-basketball players have been known to top 40 inches. Yet these players are usually taller then 6’7” and are in their twenties.

Sri Chinmoy, by contrast, is a slightly built man of 5’7”, weighing 155 pounds. He is also more than 40 years their senior. His jump of 27 inches — 40% of his height — is equivalent to a jump of 32 inches for a basketball player of 6’7” in height. Although there has been little research on the vertical jump for older athletes, it is at once apparent that Sri Chinmoy’s jumping is quite extraordinary.

On March 16th, he took his step-ups into parallel progression with his jumping by both jumping and stepping-up to a height of 27 inches. He now felt very comfortable with this height and determined to exceed it. In fact, at the very beginning of March he had stated that his ultimate goal for both jump-ups and step-ups was 30 inches.

On Wednesday, March 20th Sri Chinmoy began his routine at 7:25 am with his customary starting height of 16 inches. He then adjusted the platform successfully for 18”, 20”, 22”, 24”, 26” and, finally, 28”. Foregoing caution, he had increased his maximum height by a full inch.

Sri Chinmoy paced back and forth in his weight room for a few moments, gathering his energy and drawing additional inner power from his meditation. He then returned to the platform, stood squarely before it, compressed his body like a spring, and took off with a vigourous movement. Surely this was a “leap of faith” if ever the term has been so literally applied! To crash or fall at this height would have serious consequences. Thankfully, Sri Chinmoy landed securely and evenly on the padded platform, rested there momentarily and stepped back down to the carpet.

He next repeated this gradual build-up in height using step-ups with alternate legs and once again achieved the goal of 28 inches. “Today I have crossed the barrier of 28 inches!” Sri Chinmoy announced happily later that day. “When I think of what my legs were even a few years ago: I could not walk, I could not move even. Is this not the greatest surprise?”

We heartily concurred. How many men of 64 years in our society can leap onto a table, how many can literally “jump for joy”? Senators, congressman, judges, business professionals — the candidates are all too few who will dare to emulate Sri Chinmoy and seek the higher altitudes of jumping.

On March 22nd, Sri Chinmoy left New York for a three-day visit to Rome. He had been invited by the President of the Rome City Marathon, Mr. Umberto Silvestri, to lead the runners in a moment of silent meditation prior to the start of the race on Sunday, March 24th. Upon his return to New York the following day, Sri Chinmoy resumed jumping to a height of 27 inches. Then on March 28th, he succeeded in stepping-up to 29 inches for the first time. This augured well for a new advance in jumping. On March 31st, Sri Chinmoy completed his regular jumping and step-up regimen to the height of 28 inches. Then, in a radical departure from his customary routine, he elevated the platform an entire inch to settle at 29 inches — the height of a two drawer filing cabinet, a standard kitchen table, or the hood of a Toyota car.

After a brief period of silent concentration, Sri Chinmoy took up his stance in front of the platform and then executed a perfect jump. In just one month he had raised his maximum jump from 27 inches to 29 inches — an advance that is far beyond the accepted margin of improvement for most jumpers for an entire season!

Still something within Sri Chinmoy urged him to transcend his own efforts. On April 3rd, he succeeded in stepping-up to 30 inches during his morning routine. He completed a total of 6 step-ups at this height, three with each leg. He had now arrived at one of his ultimate goals and the stage was set for him to attempt the same height in jump-ups.

As we have come to realise by following Sri Chinmoy’s activities closely over the years, his eagerness and enthusiasm will not brook any delay. At 6:30 the next morning, in the solitude of his exercise room, Sri Chinmoy faced the jumping platform and, to his own personal surprise, discovered that his body was ready. As usual, he started at 16” and progressed steadily to 28”, then 29”. Finally he set the platform at 30”. As he stood beside the projecting platform, it appeared to come up to the level of the top of his legs. Even to the viewer, it is a frightening prospect.

Sri Chinmoy paced back and forth in preparation for his attempt. He later explained that he was keeping his mind totally on the flight — on the lightness of his body — and surcharging himself with determination.

After a few seconds he was ready. Facing the platform, with a look of utter, fearless concentration imprinted on his face, he abruptly bent at the knees and then catapulted himself into the air. The video footage shows that he actually soared higher than the platform before landing on it with both feet. The goal was won — just 53 days after he had started this new venture.

Sri Chinmoy then went on to step-up to a height of 30 inches for the second consecutive day.

His most beautiful and inspiring comment was, “The inflexibility of the mind surrenders to the heart of a child. Only a seven-year-old child constantly jumps and jumps, upward and forward. Our childhood memories always give us joy. If we can consciously bring back our childhood memories then we will be flooded with newness and hope. This is my philosophy, to remain always in the heart. Age is in the mind. With determination we can conquer the age-barrier and go back to our childlike heart where hope is blossoming at every moment. So remain in the heart. If you can remain in the heart, then you can act like a child and there will be no end to your progress. The old age-bondage-limitations will return to the childhood-freedom-dreams.”

With his childlike and dauntless spirit Sri Chinmoy has freed himself from the leaden forces which chain most of us to the ground. His soaring morning-flights are creating new pathways between Heaven and earth for all humanity to follow.

 

– End –

 

Note:
This article was first published on the 4th day of April in the ‘Spring’ of 1996 — the day Sri Chinmoy achieved his goal of jumping 30 inches. Later that month he jumped 31, 32 and 33 inches on April 10th, 21st and 25th respectively. On May 1st, he jumped 34 inches; and on May 3rd, he finally achieved a jump of 35 inches.