Chess & Yoga

Photo: Nerissa Sparkman

The strategic game of chess and the meditative practice of yoga may not appear to have much in common, but a new essay on Chess Life Online, the United States Chess Federation’s online magazine, begs to differ. The author of the essay, Melinda J. Matthews, is a regular contributor to the site, as well as a yoga teacher and the chess mom of an accomplished teenage chess player.

“My 16-year-old son, Nicholas Rosenthal, is a serious tournament chess player with three national scholastic titles under his belt,” Matthews told Buzz. “[The connection between yoga and chess] is just something that has always tickled the edge of my mind.” She adds that she has been able to relate to Nicky’s deep love of chess because she feels the same way about yoga. “They seem to ignite similar delights in us.”

In her research, Matthews learned that two actually have more in common than one would think. For example, the word “chaturanga,” which comes from the Sanskrit chatur (four) and anga (limbs), was also the name of an earlier version of chess, which was based upon the four divisions of a Vedic army: elephants, chariots, horse cavalry, and foot soldiers. In her essay, Matthews also compares yoga to chess, as both are generally solitary practices that help you learn focus, deep inner listening, and non-attachment.

Yoga, writes Matthews, can also serve tournament chess players in numerous ways. She suggests yoga postures for relief from sitting at a chess board for long periods of time (Ardha Matseyendrasana will relieve players’ low-back tightness, she says), balance postures to help build concentration, and Savasana to relieve post-tournament stress.

“Chess and yoga have lasted through the centuries for one very good reason: They answer a deep-seated call in us, firing up our synapses in a way that goes far beyond data collection and scientific studies,” Matthews writes. “Even though yoga doesn’t speak to Nicky the way it does to me, his enjoyment of chess shines through him the way my passion for yoga radiates within me. It’s the same love taking different forms.”