'Sorry to be so abstract'

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Ricky Williams is a certified yoga instructor. He took a training course in India a couple of years ago when he retired from the Miami Dolphins, a moved triggered by a four-game suspension for his third positive drug test.

He went back to India this year and took an advanced training course, which included four weeks of training.

"It's pretty tough," he said. "You learn what yoga is. One eighth of it is physical."

"(Yoga) means union. We exist on three different levels: The spirit, the mind and the body. Yoga is when all of those are on the same page and life is beautiful. There's balance; there's beauty; there's harmony. When your soul is telling you 'don't do this' and your mind is saying 'do this' and the body is saying 'the back hurts,' they're going to all be going in different directions. But when they can all be aligned and on the same page, everything goes smoothly.

MEDITATION

"The past creates the present. Until you have turned the past so that's it's all positive, then you can't be all the way in balance. Every morning I wake up I have to deal with things I've done in the past that are making me off balance. My job first thing in the morning is to sit for meditation and find that balance for today and spend the rest of the day trying to keep that balance. It's every day. It's like in the Bible, Peter says, 'Every morning I wake up and I die.' What he's saying is every morning I let go and I try to align myself with my spirit and I try to spend my day that way in my spirit. Every day, you get a little better. It's just a process."

Does that mean he's religious?

"People don't really know what religion means," he said. "I don't think you can be an effective spiritual person unless you are a religious person. I'm not saying organized religion. For me, religion means there's some kind of practice. If you just talk about the spirit and you just talk about things, it's just philosophy. It's just intellectual gymnastics. But to actually do something, whether it's praying, whether it's meditating, whether it's doing yoga ostenance or doing yoga charity work, you have to be doing something for your spirituality to grow.

"To me, that's what religion means. Organized religion is just something that's been set out to make it easier to follow. I think organized religion is a wonderful, beautiful thing, but sometimes the people that are head of the religious organizations aren't always in the right spirit of what religious is supposed to be ... It's like the new age movement: There's a lot of spirituality but there's no organization; there's no practicality. It's just floating out there. But to actually have yoga or any kind of serious religion, you're actually doing something. Yoga is literally a science. The science of how to align yourself. It's not religion. It's a bridge."

Yoga is clearly important in Williams' life. It was at the suggestion of his yoga instructor in California that Williams made his own way to Toronto last week, even as negotiations continued between the Argos and Dolphins.

"Living in an ashram (spiritual retreat)you spend all your time turning inward and to go from an ashram to training camp is such a big jump that (my instructor) thought it would be better to just come and be here and make it an easier adjustment for me," he said. "It was a good idea actually. In an ashram you don't really exist. I'm not a football player. I'm not black. I'm not a guy. I'm just who I am. Because I'm here to see and to feel like there's a difference between people, it's tough for me at first. That's why for people to be excited about me and all, I'm slowly getting reacclimated to what that feels like."

I mention to him the story about him in Esquire two years ago, by former Toronto-based journalist Chris Jones, that portrayed him smoking a gigantic marijuana joint in a tent. Williams quickly pointed out that's not a true reflection of what the story said.

"I think when people don't read the story that's what they come out with, but that's not what Chris wrote," he said. "He didn't find me. I told him where to find me. He e-mailed the sports information director at the University of Texas. Him and I are good friends and he e-mailed me and told me this guy was looking for me. By that time I was in Tamar.

'PART OF CULTURE'

"I thought it was an interesting idea. My stance is I'm not doing an interview, but if you want to come hang out, go hang out with me, so I told him where I would be. I e-mailed him back and a couple weeks later he e-mailed me back and I told where I would be. I was in a kitchen cooking -- I wasn't in a tent -- when he found me. One thing I will point out is I never went out to look for marijuana or I would never ask for it. It was just that I was there. In the places I was, it was a very alternative culture, people that are more or less free-thinkers, more free-spirited. It's just part of the culture. It's not me. It's just part of the culture."

I told him there had been a recent protest in front of the Ontario legislature building by people advocating legalizing marijuana, and that some of the protesters were reportedly smoking pot in clear view of the police, who didn't charge anyone. I told him smoking pot may not be a big deal to some people, but it's a big deal in the world of football.

"It's perceived to be a big deal," he said. "The story as I understand it is in the '70s no one watched basketball because (the players) were all in trouble all the time. The NFL says we're branding a product for a family, so we have to take a hard stance against drugs and violence and all these other things. It's so taboo and Nancy Reagan saying no to drugs. Instead of exploring the issue of drugs and why do people use drugs, they just say, 'say no.' My thing is, I smoked marijuana for a couple of years. Having gone through the experience and learned from it, I understand what drugs are. I understand why people use drugs. I am better able to assist people than just say no.

"It's like people use drugs, food, movies, TV, books. They use all these different external things to fill a void they have inside of themselves. Who's to say alcohol is better than drugs? Our society says go ahead and drink yourself to death, smoke cigarettes and do all you want but you can't do this and you can't do that.

"My thing is you don't need to eat excessively. You don't need to smoke cigarettes. You don't need to drink. You don't need to do all these things because there's something deeper. Get in touch with who you are on the inside and you don't need these things.

"If you're doing something your whole life and I say you shouldn't do this because of this, it's going to take you a long time to understand where I'm coming from. As a teacher and yoga teacher, you know it's a long process; that you're lucky in 10 years if you get it. It's like you just plant seeds for later, maybe another lifetime, maybe when you're 50 years old. You just give them knowledge and you plant seeds.

"The truth is so real and so powerful that when someone gives it to you, you can't help but accept it. You might not be able to grow into a flower again, but it's there and it's working and it's power. Eventually, it'll grow. Because it's so powerful it's hard.

'GOAL OF LIFE'

"In yoga we say the aim of yoga is the goal of life. It's not something that's little or simple. It's real. It's something that's serious and so it takes time. You just give of yourself freely and the knowledge that you have you share and when people are ready they'll come to you on their own. If not, you just keep teaching freedom.

"The thing about yoga being a physical thing, you can't pursue a spiritual path if you're not physically healthy because in your mind you're thinking, 'I'm sick, I have a disease.' Being sick is a disease that lowers your thoughts. It lowers your wavelength. It lowers your mind. Until you're healthy and you feel good, you're not ready to go on a spiritual path. By getting yourself healthy, naturally you go next. When your body is fit and you've got a lot of energy, you say, 'What's next?' That leads you into a spiritual (journey).

"It's a goal. They call it a spiritual practice. In essence, they say God plus mind equals man. Man minus mind equals God. So it's a process of stilling your mind to see the God within you. When I'm talking to you, I'm at work or I'm driving, my mind is involved in going outside. When you sit for meditation, you practise your mind going inside. The goal of sitting meditation is so you can have that state no matter what you're doing. It takes practice."

When I ask him if he is looking forward to playing football again, Williams says he is looking to serve and do something positive -- whether football, teaching or whatever.

"I don't say that football is better than this or this or this or that," he said. "Sorry to be so abstract."


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