Ping Pong and the Present
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You leave the hallway and enter a well-lit room. Big windows stretch across two of the walls facing you. To your left is an open kitchenette with a long, clean, island countertop. Soft music plays in the background—quiet but contemplative. The room is minimally decorated with no clutter and virtually no furniture. In the center of the room beyond the countertop is a sturdy, balanced, dark blue ping pong table.
“I play ping pong with people to learn more about myself as well as [to understand] the human experience,” says Ajay Bika.
Ajay, an engineer by training, has had a long-term fascination with the game of table tennis. A couple years ago, he turned a studio apartment in Minnetonka into a space where people can retreat from the media-obsessed world around them through medi-playtion.
“When you’re playing you’re more true to who you are,” says Ajay. “The game [of ping pong] teaches you to be here.”
Ajay has found that the rhythm, repetition, and heightened sense of awareness that come through playing table tennis has a centering quality.
“Everything becomes meditation after a while,” says Ajay. “You then take your time with things—you’re more contemplative.”
Others have begun to notice the health benefits of ping pong too. The game engages both fine and gross motor muscle movement and develops hand-eye coordination. Because the game stimulates multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, it has even been used as therapy for dementia and early stage Alzheimer’s.
Ajay remembers playing table tennis with his father, also an engineer, who had Parkinson’s disease. “He was transported to a different world when we were playing—he would completely forget about it.”
Ultimately, what makes Ajay’s practice of medi-playtion through ping pong unique is that it is non-competitive. This changes the dynamic of the game for people. The experience becomes a conversation rather than a competition.
“You’re not here to prove anything,” says Ajay. “You’re here to be you.”
Coming from a technical background, Ajay has spent the majority of his career balancing equations. He describes his training as learning how to understand the “equal” sign.
Ajay’s work is still about balancing equations. Although now, rather than fixing things, he wants to offer people an alternate perspective. Seen from above, he points out, a ping pong table becomes an “=” sign.
To learn more or schedule a time to play ping pong with Ajay visit: onceupongatime.com.
Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to [email protected].