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How Novak Djokovic's unconventional belief system & commitment to yoga have helped his tennis

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic's beliefs have helped him become what he is today
Mihir Gawade
ANALYST
Modified 05 Aug 2020, 02:25 IST
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Novak Djokovic has won almost everything there is to win in tennis. The Serb has already won 17 Grand Slams, five year-end championships and every single Masters tournament at least once. He also currently sits at 282 weeks atop the ATP rankings, within touching distance of Roger Federer's all-time mark of 310 weeks.

Djokovic is heavily tipped to own most major records in tennis by the time he calls it a day. But it's not just on the court that he is so successful; he is a real winner even off the court.

The Serb has a very fulfilling family life and is perhaps the most admired individual in his country. He has millions of followers all around the world who are mesmerized by his tennis and his personality. All things considered, "The Joker" wins at life!

Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena
Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena

But it hasn't always appeared to be so.

Novak Djokovic has had his fair share of low points in life. The Serb has often relied on solutions that people with conventional beliefs struggle to comprehend, giving him a controversial image among the media and neutral observers.

In 2010, Novak Djokovic almost decided to give up on tennis. Although just 23 and already a Grand Slam champion, Djokovic's career hadn't really taken off the way it was expected to. And in 2010, it almost felt like he was going backwards as he suffered a shock defeat to Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals of the French Open.

The Serb was also constantly dealing with health issues in this phase of his career, with his breathing troubles forcing several mid-match retirements. You couldn't blame the 23-year-old for thinking he had had enough and needed a break.

But little did the lad from Serbia know that his life was soon about to change.

In his book 'Serve to Win', Novak Djokovic says that his career (and life) found a new wind when a doctor placed a slice of white bread on his stomach. With more subsequent exercises, it was found that the Serb's body was highly sensitive to the intake of gluten.

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That led to Djokovic relinquishing gluten completely, and radically changing his diet. And the results were rapid; the very next year, the 'talented kid from Serbia' became the ruthless, all-conquering 'Serbinator'.

But along with a rejuvenated career, Novak Djokovic also had a newfound love for life. It's almost as if what you eat transforms the entire way you think!

Along with hitting his shots deep into the court, Djokovic also started looking deep into the spiritual realm. In addition to his strict diet, the Serb also adopted a strict regimen of exercise, yoga and meditation.

What started as a temporary diet to fuel his tennis career became a habit and almost an obsession - leading to Djokovic eventually adopting a fully vegan lifestyle. He also started working with several spiritual 'gurus', who re-shaped his outlook and introduced him to concepts that the scientific world refuses to acknowledge.

Novak Djokovic with spiritual guru Pepe Imaz
Novak Djokovic with spiritual guru Pepe Imaz
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With a re-invigorated interest in life and everything beyond, Novak Djokovic started diving even deeper into topics such as transcendence. If you hear the World No. 1 speak now, you might think you are listening to a Trans-humanist - one of those perceived villains in a Dan Brown Novel who has a motive larger than mere existence for humanity and the universe.

Novak Djokovic's unconventional methods have made him the subject him of a great deal of trolling in recent years. And when he expressed skepticism towards vaccination at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and also talked about telekinesis with 'pseudo-scientists', the criticism of his beliefs went into overdrive.

But for Novak Djokovic personally, his belief in what the majority considers 'pseudo-science' has evidently been very fruitful - bringing him great success and joy.

Yoga, meditation and spirituality have shaped Novak Djokovic's career

Novak Djokovic's career has been on a continuous upward spiral (with relatively small blips) since 2011. This period of unstoppable success on the tennis court has coincided with the Serb finding his 'calling' off the court.

In addition to following a strictly vegan diet, the 17-time Slam champion also follows other unique eating habits; he does intermittent fasting regularly, and consumes only warm water. Novak Djokovic also isn't a fan of breakfasts and prefers to begin his day with fruits and "green juice" made of spinach and other leafy vegetables (sounds delicious!).

The Serb revealed the extent of his dietary practices in detail in a recent chat with Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.

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Along with strict and healthy eating habits, Novak Djokovic also practices yoga and meditation. While neither of those two things qualifies as 'pseudo-science', they have certainly played a role in bringing the World No. 1 closer to spirituality and opening up his mind to things beyond proven science.

Diet, Yoga, Love is Novak Djokovic
Diet, Yoga, Love is Novak Djokovic's success mantra

Novak Djokovic is a committed yoga enthusiast and embraces the physical side of the discipline as well as the more spiritual, reflective practices of meditation and prayer. The Serb once said that yoga and meditation help him stay at “an optimal state of mind and have peace and calm in life”.

The Indian art of yoga has been proven to yield many benefits to the human body including increased flexibility, better muscle strength and a more balanced metabolism. And all of these things are very crucial in achieving improved athletic performance.

More importantly for Djokovic, the breathing exercises in yoga help improve respiration, energy and vitality. For someone who has faced breathing difficulties on court all through his career, the Vedic art-science has proven to be a life-saver.

Novak Djokovic has incorporated yoga into his tennis regime, as a part of his strength and conditioning training. The champ is often seen warming down after a match or hitting session by practicing a couple of basic yoga poses to help loosen his muscles and regain a sense of calm in his body.

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And the results speak for themselves. Novak Djokovic is easily the most flexible player in tennis, who can slide on the court like knife through butter. He can stretch his body and legs in unimaginable ways and postures to make seemingly impossible gets and extend points beyond any human limit.

The Serb is often called the 'Spiderman' due to to his incredible stretching ability. The video below highlights just a few of the superhuman moves that Djokovic has made a habit out of.

Djokovic also displays incredible muscle strength while belting his backhand cross-court, despite being one of the skinniest male athletes in the world. And the Serb is never even seen struggling for breath on the court any more.

While a lot of Djokovic's's stretching, sliding and easy power come down to his talent and training, his dedication to yoga has certainly played its part.

Novak Djokovic is known for doing crazy splits on the tennis court
Novak Djokovic is known for doing crazy splits on the tennis court
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In addition to yoga, Novak Djokovic is also committed to practicing meditation - which has been just as vital to his on-court success. Meditation helps calm the brain and rinses it of any negativity. In his own words, Novak Djokovic says that meditation has helped him "achieve happiness and joy" - which is crucial for a tennis player's body language and mental state on the court.

When results were not going his way, Djokovic had hinted it was due to lack of balance on the court emotionally. Meditation has largely helped him fix that.

Meditation also helps in improving focus and concentration, which shows in Djokovic's game at crucial moments. The Serb is probably the best pressure player in history; he is always locked in when the stakes are high, and has a tendency to produce his best when it matters the most.

Novak Djokovic has often talked about how yoga and meditation have helped his tennis career
Novak Djokovic has often talked about how yoga and meditation have helped his tennis career

Novak Djokovic has made a combined total of ONE (!!!) unforced error in the previous six tiebreaks against Roger Federer. Of those six tiebreaks, three were at the biggest stage of tennis - the Wimbledon final of 2019 - while one was in the semifinals of this year's Australian Open.

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You could say that the Serbinator's nerves are literally made of steel.

But inner calm is not just about performances on the tennis court; it's about life. Finding his spiritual calling has opened up Novak Djokovic's mind to a lot of things that the scientific world finds absurd and preposterous, but it works for him.

The Serb has found a holistic approach to life and constantly talks of things beyond the realm of human imagination. Thinking and speaking about these topics bring him happiness and a sense of purpose. And that translates to the court; when the mind is calm and sharp and happy, it makes the muscles click.

Some label Novak Djokovic as a 'quack' and a science-denier. Djokovic's acceptance of things that are at odds with mainstream conventions has made a lot of people think that the tennis legend is part of a cult actively working against science. But the Serb's actions prove otherwise.

Is Novak Djokovic really a 'science-denier'?

Novak Djokovic's belief in spiritual remedies, alternate healing and psychokinesis has led to allegations that he actively encourages his millions of followers to move away from proven science. The Serb has often been put down for his beliefs, and sharply criticized for not being a good role model to kids.

But Djokovic is far from actively working against science. The Novak Djokovic foundation funds a science fellowship at the Harvard University, the aim of which is to research on ways to improve the lives of impoverished children. Recently, four budding Harvard scientists were even awarded a grant under the Djokovic fellowship.

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Having had an extremely troubled childhood himself amidst the Balkan War, Novak Djokovic is committed to keeping children away from similar '"toxic environments".

If Djokovic was indeed against science, he would have tried to help kids by encouraging them to seek the divine power within themselves or asking them to improve their circumstances through telekinesis. But in reality, he is funding a Harvard research program for the betterment of impoverished kids through nutrition and scientific data.

Novak Djokovic is not a science-denier, as some people claim to be
Novak Djokovic is not a science-denier, as some people claim to be

Moreover, to battle the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Novak Djokovic has donated over 10 million US dollars to hospitals and COVID centres through various charities across Serbia, Italy and Spain.

Novak Djokovic believes in a world where science and spirituality can co-exist. He is open to entertaining new ideas, including ones that seem implausible for humanity at the moment.

The Serb is also constantly trying to learn new things, as evidenced by his love for learning new languages. If the harshest critics of his beliefs want to have a civilized discussion with him to prove he is wrong, he would probably invite them over for tea.

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Novak Djokovic is not some extremist who will release a lynch-mob on you for criticizing his beliefs. In a world where everyone wants to be heard, Djokovic is someone who listens.

That can never be a bad thing - especially since his beliefs, which he keeps to himself, work so amazingly well for him.

Published 05 Aug 2020, 02:25 IST
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