Putting with Pranayama

Both my grandfathers were avid golfers, a trait that must skip a few generations, since neither I nor my parents have any interest in the sport (now, minigolf, that’s a whole other matter…). I fondly remember watching both men spending every Saturday out on the course, their games at once social, competitive, and personally intense.  

If either of my grandfathers were alive today, I wonder what they’d think of using yoga as a way to improve their golf games. It seems a bit new-agey for these traditional, hyper-masculine types; but then again, even today’s “stereotypical” golfer seem to be an old-school businessman who is more comfortable making online trades than rolling out a yoga mat. But you might be surprised at how much the two very separate disciplines of yoga and golf intersect.

Golf: A Mind-Body Experience

As most golfers will tell you, a good game has as much to do with one’s mental state as it does one’s physical talent for hitting balls with a club. “The sport introduces a constant struggle between the conscious mind – analyzing, alert, logical – and the subconscious mind, the well of intuition and long-term memory. Though golf fundamentals like body stance and stroke are learned in the conscious mind, they are stored in the nether regions of the subconscious,” explains Baron Baptiste and Kathleen Finn Mendola in their article for Yoga Journal. Practicing yoga can help golfers stay in the “zone”, maintaining a relaxed and alert state through breathing and focusing exercises.

A number of yoga programs have been cropping up specifically geared towards golfers. One such program, Yoga-for-Golf, delves “into the mental aspect through breathing techniques and visualisation. The key is to visualize the whole stroke before you play it and to hone instincts through relaxation. With this programme golfers become calmer, fitter and more meditative.” (Khaleej Times, 11/8/08)

How Asanas = Improved Handicap

Besides focusing the mind, yoga can help free the body in ways that can improve a person’s golf swing. Think about the logistics of golf – you need fluidity, flexibility, and balance to play well. And because you use either a right-handed or left-handed swing, you’re dealing with repetitive motion and strain on one side of the body: your muscles on one side (especially in the upper body) become stronger, tighter, and more dominant. This obviously can affect your balance and range of motion.

So how can yoga help? If you concentrate on poses that strengthen the weaker side of the body, and poses that are “opening” for the stronger side, you’ll be creating more balance and equality. And the better your body moves in general, the more adaptable and successful your swing will become. In addition, yoga can help heal repetitive strain injuries common in golf, like back and knee problems.

Golfers don’t need to become experienced yogis to reap the benefits of a better game through yoga. According to yoga teacher Melina Meza on the Cybergolf News Website, as little as 10-15 minutes of yoga prior to starting your golf game can help: “Your alignment, posture, and stamina for the game will improve. Old neurological patterns of movement that are no longer serving your body will change as you introduce a wider range of shapes for your body to follow,” she says.

That sounds like something even my ultra-traditional, meat-and-potatoes grandfathers would have appreciated!

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