The Bridge Between the Chess and Yoga Communities
By Evan Rabin, CEO of Premier Chess, Flow and and Grow Kids Yoga Educational Partner
In 2016, I was living in Somerville, MA around a few blocks away from O2 Yoga and would walk by the place almost every day. At the time I was recuperating from whiplash and my doctor ordered that I stretch. Soon after, I became curious as to what yoga was like and decided to take a few classes. I quickly became hooked! As a National Chess Master, I often play games that are 5-6 hours long and need great stamina. Here you can see a student and I doing some yoga poses before a game at the 2017 Elementary Chess Nationals in Nashville, TN.
Having played over 950 rated chess tournaments, often I would arrive to tournament venues shortly before the events would begin, not leaving me any time to relax and warm up before the first round. It is important to make sure to arrive early, relax and mentally prepare for a match. My coach Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin, former World Championship Candidate, has encouraged me to meditate before games -- to clear my mind from business, busy work, relationships, etc. One should do yoga beforehand, too! While my student and I did get some strange looks while we were in Nashville, it worked! After he won the game, he thanked me for insisting that we do some yoga poses to prepare for it.
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As a frequent traveler who has been to 24 countries, I love how chess and yoga are easy communities to energize your mind and make new friends. Practically everywhere I go, I find the local chess scene, a Jewish organization and a yoga class. For instance, when I was in Toronto in September 2016, I played some chess on the street in Moss Park, participated in a massive 100 person free yoga class in High Park and attended a beautiful meal at a local Chabad house. I also danced away at the Ashkenazim Festival and even ran into a good friend from Boston.
Chess and yoga have few barriers to entry. If you have a mat or a chess board, you can get started. While both activities are hard to master, it is easy to get started with both. All it takes is a chess board or some decent comfortable clothes and a yoga mat. As Grandmaster Irving Chernev, used to say “Every Master was once a beginner.” Chess players and yogis generally do not have egos. I like how yoga is more about constant improvement than winning and losing. If you can’t do a certain position, the instructor will always give you a modification. If all else fails, you can always go into Child’s Pose!
Chess is certainly a little different in that every game has a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’; however, at the end of the day the white and black pieces are returned to the same box. I tell students all the time that some of my best games were losses and some of my worst games were wins. I lost many games that I was winning and vice versa. As Elliot Neff, the owner of Chess4Life often says, “You either win, draw or learn.” While games can be intense, especially when there is money on the line, after the round, your opponent becomes your friend. At the 2015 Eastern Class Championships, I shared a room with National Expert Tico Kola. We spent most of the weekend with each other’s company. Sure enough, going into the last round, I won my first 4 games and he had 3.5/4 points; our pairing was inevitable.
Evan and a chess friend
Given the tournament situation, I would have been okay with a draw -- but he certainly wanted to win for his shot at first place. Eventually he took too many chances and lost the game, so I won first place. We then briefly analyzed the game and traveled back to New York together. While we were opponents at the board, we soon went back to being friends and joking around. It actually can feel the same way in yoga; during a class there is generally little to no small talk; all of your focus is on the poses and breathing. Before the class and when you are drinking water and getting ready to leave the studio afterwards is the time you could meet others.
Chess and yoga can both help individuals build their community, stamina and overall happiness and much more. I am forever grateful that I stumbled into yoga back in 2016 and now get to work with some incredible yogis. You can see episodes with Lara Hocheiser, Founder of Flow and Grow Kids Yoga and Alli Bradley, Private Yoga Soho on my podcast: soundcloud.com/premierchess. As there are now many unknowns in the world, we need to as Michael Deutsch of Hands on Hoops Skills often says, “control the controllables.” While we do not know what exactly many schools are doing this fall, when indoor dining will reopen in New York City, or when we will see a vaccine for COVID-19, we do know that we can remain grateful and focus on self-care. Consider energizing your brain through yoga and using your rejuvenation on the chess board today.