PRACTICE Makes Present: Yoga poses improve your flexibility, but a yoga practice will help you find your inner game.
IS THERE A neighborhood in Colorado without a yoga studio? You can’t walk a city block today without bumping into a fitlooking person with a mat rolled under their arm and a beatific expression on their face. Yoga isn’t spinning or step or Zumba. A discipline people have practiced for more than 5,000 years hardly qualifies as a fad. Since its origins in northern India, yoga has taken on many meanings—including union, connection, focus and mindfulness. Its “practice” focuses on both the body and the mind. With its myriad poses (asanas), the physical practice of yoga helps build strength, balance and flexibility—all of which reward golfers with obvious benefits. But how can the mental components of a yoga practice affect the way you play golf? To “practice” is to continue to try and improve upon something. In the same way we physically practice asanas on the yoga mat or flop shots from the fringe, the mental practice of yoga helps us to achieve mindfulness.
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them— without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. How does this translate to your golf game?
First and foremost, mindfulness teaches us to be in the present. Often, when we play a round of golf we are rehashing the past and looking into the future of the next shot or next hole. This can set us up for failure. Although golfers are notorious for their ability to recall every shot with every club from every yardage on every course they’ve ever played, the best ones have “short memories” when it comes to poor shots or “blowup” holes. Many of the clichés you’ve heard about golf—“The most important shot is the next one” “One shot at a time” “File the good, forget the bad”—suggest the mindfulness approach. When we incorporate mindfulness into our game, we become more aware of our thoughts both positive and negative. Once we are plugged in and more aware we are able to shift and create change. The best way to change any behavior is to create a solid foundation of awareness around it. Golf is a lot like life. We forget that life, too, is a practice. We will never master either. However we continue to strive to be better and enhance performance. When we apply yoga principles to the game of golf we learn how to clear our minds, let go of what was, and be present to what is. In a society that is fast-paced, constantly moving and changing, we are continually challenged to be present. The golf course is a perfect place to “practice” mindfulness. The more mindful we become on the course the more present we can become in our daily lives. The practice of yoga will change your game and your life. It is a commitment to yourself, becoming a better player, better person and, ultimately bringing more peace and happiness into your life.
BREATHING Breathing is essential to keeping you in the moment. When you start to become distracted, frustrated or discouraged, breathe in through your nose for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 4 and exhale from your mouth for the count of 4. Do this two or three times and it will bring you back to the present. A second exercise is to practice basic pranayama breathing. Inhaling through the nose fully and exhale out of the mouth as you are approaching your next shot. Create time and space in your round to practice breath work.
ASANAS These yoga asanas, among others, open up your hips and side muscles, which are essential to the golf swing.
HIP OPENER: Shift weight onto left foot, place right ankle on top of your knee, sit back and low as if you were sitting into a chair. Keep your weight on all four corners of your foot and make sure the knee does not track past the ankle.
HALF MOON: The half moon is important to stretch the side muscles critical to the golf swing. Feet together, draw low belly up and in, engage your legs, lengthen the tailbone and honor the natural curve in your spine. Keeping your weight centered, extend arms over your head and fold gently to the right. Lengthen your left rib cage. Do the same for your opposite side.
Kathleen Heiney is an LPGA Class A Professional, master fitness trainer and a certified RYT Yoga Instructor. She is the owner of LINC Golf & Wellness and offers her signature program, Yoga Fit FORE Golf. (lincgolfandwellness.com 303-380-7175).