When Bobby Fisher prepared for his world championship chess match with Boris Spassky, he prepared by swimming laps underwater everyday.He knew that as the chess matches wore on into the late hours, the player with the most oxygen going to his brain would have the mental advantage. So he built his chess game by building his lungs.
When he defeated Spassky, many were surprised by his astonishing wit and mental staying power, especially late in the matches when both players should’ve been weary and burned out. What kept Bobby Fisher alert wasn’t caffeine or amphetamines—it was his breathing.
General George Patton once gave a lecture to his troops on brainpower.He, too, knew the connection between breathing and thinking.“In war, as in peace, a man needs all the brains he can get,” said Patton.“Nobody ever had too many brains. Brains come from oxygen. Oxygen comes from the lungs where the air goes when we breathe. The oxygen in the air gets into the blood and travels to the brain. Any fool can double the size of his lungs.”
I learned about Patton’s passion for teaching his troops deep breathing from Porter Williamson. I had once written a few political radio and television commercials that caught Mr. Williamson’s attention, so he called me and asked me to lunch one day. Because he had identified himself as the author of Patton’s Principles, I eagerly accepted his invitation, having coincidentally read the marvelous book a few weeks earlier. Williamson had served in the army for many years as Patton’s most trusted legal adviser.
Williamson told me many stories about serving with Patton, and how truly extraordinary a motivator the general was. Most of the Patton quotes in this book come from Williamson’s own memories of his service with the great general. Williamson told me about how he himself had lost his leg to bone cancer, and how the doctors had erroneously forecasted his death twice. His inner strength, he said, often came from the inspiration he received in his days of serving with Patton.
“Frequently, General Patton would stop at my desk,” recalledWilliamson, “and ask, ’How long you been sitting at that desk? Get up and get out of here! Your brain stop working after you sit in a swivel chair for 20 minutes. Keep the body moving around so the juices will run to the right places. It’ll be good for the brain! If you sit in that chair too long all of your brainpower will be in your shoes. You cannot keep your mind active when your body is inactive.' ”
That one principle—an active mind cannot exist in an inactive body—became Bobby Fisher’s secret weapon in winning the world championship of chess. Who would have guessed that swimming underwater would make you a better chess player? Certainly not the overweight, worn-out chess “genius” Boris Spassky.Sometimes, all you need is the air that you breathe to motivate yourself.Going for a run or a walk or simply deep breathing gives the brain the fuel it feeds on to be newly refreshed and creative.