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Golf & Yoga – A Match Made in Heaven

‘Golfers who stay in the present just keep playing the shot at hand until they run out of holes. Then they add it up.’ Dr Bob Rotella

The Dreaded Late Collapse

Us amateur golfers have all been there. 16 holes played in the monthly medal, 35 points on the scorecard and the winning line in sight. Standing on the 17th tee many of us will be writing our winning speech, wondering what prize we will get and thinking about how good it will feel when we see another shot come off our handicap. Then it all goes pear shaped. A double bogey on 17 is followed by a drive out of bounds on 18 and we walk into the locker room shell shocked. Where did it all go wrong?

Golfers of all levels will relate to this situation and that feeling of utter frustration driving back home on early Sunday afternoon. Each shot on those fateful last two holes replaying in our minds. ‘How could my swing have fallen apart after being so consistent for 16 holes?!’ Many of us will think wish that we could return to the scene of the crime and we would handle it so much better. But in reality, would we?

Professional golfers are born champions and have been winning tournaments since they were kids and even they can wilt in the heat of the pressure. Us average amateurs experience this maybe a few times a year and so when the winning line approaches, many of us are ill equipped to deal with it.

The Power of the Mind

Most of us are aware that our thoughts affect our golf game. When we see a lake to the right of the green and obsess about not going in the lake, where do we normally go? Or when we have a two-foot putt and are thinking about where to hit our next drive, what normally happens? These are all lessons that most golfers have learned the hard way.

So when we are stood on the 17th tee with a chance of winning, how many of us remain as calm as we were on the 4th? Very few is my educated guess. And here in lies our problem. As our mind wanders to winning, we become excited. Our heart rate rises, our breathing speeds up and we can begin to perspire more heavily. Suddenly the goal posts have moved. Our chances of a clean contact are reduced as our swing speeds up, our timing is lost and our muscles from head to toe tighten.

Cue 1 point from the final two holes and an evening spent kicking the cat!

The Lessons From Yoga

In explaining what yoga can bring to this situation, the physical benefits would be an obvious starting point. Many golfers who have suffered injury or want to become fitter have discovered yoga can greatly help our physical approach to the game. Improved flexibility, stamina and fitness will help your golf game and these are all obvious benefits of regular yoga practice. Nothing new here you say.

The lessons of yoga are much deeper than this however.

Most golfers have never considered whether or not we breathe properly. We just breathe and to the best of our knowledge it has been working so why would we ever think about that! The reality is that very few of us breathe as deeply as we should, and this will become apparent when your yoga instructor asks you to breathe deeply from your diaphragm. Go through this process of deep breathing for a minute or two and see how it feels. A deep sense of calm and relaxation anyone? OK so just hold that thought for now.

Apart from breathing, how many of us are ever actually present without a single thought of the future or past. ‘I must remember to send that email’ ‘I wish I hadn’t agreed to this 5k’, ‘That fella has some nerve for what he said to me last week’ etc. etc. etc.

This lack of presence is so common we don’t even acknowledge it but observe what happens at the end of your first yoga class. You are lying in silence on your back on the yoga mat and your instructor asks you to remove all thoughts and feel the moment. Crikey, there is that deep sense of calm and relaxation again!

Your Golf Game

OK so we have visited the yoga class, carried out some weird poses and felt pretty calm at the end of the class. But what on earth has this got to do with our golf game?

Lets return to that 17th tee on the monthly medal. We have tapped in for par on 16 and have a gap of 1 minute until we tee off.

Now there is no need to roll out a yoga mat and lie on our back on the tee. This will most likely result in your playing partners falling into the nearest bunker they are laughing so hard. But how about we decide to close our eyes, focus on deep breathing, and remove all thoughts from our mind for just that minute or even 15 second before our turn to tee off. Those who have been practicing yoga regularly will find this exercise to be second nature. Who would like to be calm, relaxed and present in this situation?

There it is. Your heart rate remains stable, your palms are not sweaty, and your breathing is steady. Above all you are present, and the significance of the shot is lost. Hey presto you do what you have been doing all day and stripe your drive down the middle. Repeat the process for another hole and a half and you are home and dry.

Lose the Macho Image

As a male golfer writing this post, I apologise to all the ladies out there screaming, ‘we have known how great yoga is for years!’. I am also conscious of coming across sexist as I know that there are many men out there who have practiced yoga and felt the benefits. The reality is however, if you visit any yoga class in Ireland or across the world, us men will be outnumbered.

So lets lose the macho rubbish. If my handicap can drop by a couple of shots I am willing to open my mind and you should be too. Controlling your thinking and being present will help your scoring ability, becoming more flexible and fitter will help your swing and guess what, if you start going to yoga regularly, you might just improve your diet!

Look up your local yoga studio. Instead of a new driver invest in your body and mind this winter and you can not only benefit your golf game but also your every day life. Set the trend and it won’t be long before your playing partners are desperate to find out where this ice-cold operator coming down the stretch suddenly appeared from!

If you are interested in a fun golfing weekend that incorporates the many benefits of yoga for your game then why not check out the very first Golf & Yoga Weekend at Arnolds Hotel Dunfanaghy on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th April 2018 - you can read all about it here or call the hotel direct for further information and single and group rates.