With his deep Southern accent and relaxed, open demeanor, Ed Rivers might not immediately seem like an innovator who can speak about Daoist philosophy as easily as athletics. But as a former cross-country coach and university sports administrator for over thirty years at the Universities of Virginia, North Alabama and Mississippi, Mr. Rivers has long been a practitioner of integrating contemplative practices which develop the link between the mind and the body for improved performance in wellness, athletics and management. Mr. Rivers explains that such contemplative practices can be transformative, because “when you get to those tough points in a workout or management setting is when one’s mental discipline becomes most important…the difference between an average and an elite performance or reaction is the mental edge, assuming one has prepared physically meaning rigorous practice along with proper nutrition and sleep or managerially has listened and studied to understand a scenario.” Now the special assistant to the Athletics Director, Mr. Rivers is continuing his work to bring University of Virginia students the opportunity to supplement health, wellness and daily physical workouts by facilitating training in mind-body practices, including various yogic practices, guided meditations, and martial arts offered through Intramural-Recreational Sports.
For Mr. Rivers, however, the contemplative activities at the University of Virginia supports not only developing students’ general wellness and athletic abilities, but also enhances their academic potential: “Contemplative practice allows a person to clear their head before they have a marathon study session, before taking an exam or making a presentation… basically anytime they face adversity. One can take these tools learned in our mind-body classes and use them daily in their academic or work life. These benefits contribute to a quality of life outside the classroom too helping to balance family and career responsibilities—one can practice these as lifetime wellness habits, because it is important to take care of the mind as well as the body.” Mr. Rivers is eager to stress the importance of developing contemplative awareness for the future health and well-being of University of Virginia students; supporting contemplative activities at UVa does not only help students on Grounds, but also provides them with the skills to succeed in their careers: “If you’re a manager of a workplace and something is going wrong the last thing you need to do is lose your head, to succumb to pressure—you have to keep your wits about you to remain composed and disciplined. That is how contemplative practices, the discipline of developing this mind-body link, is important for University students.” In Mr. Rivers’ philosophy, these tools can be so powerful for students because, ultimately, training one’s body as an athlete and developing one’s livelihood have at their core fundamentally similar skills—skills which contemplative practices can help develop: “Self-doubt creeps into everyone’s experience no matter what they are doing or how much they’ve prepared. They can be managing a staff or training for a marathon. These mind-body practices help you respond positively to stress and to make good decisions to perform in pressure situations.”