Breathing Awareness

By Katherine RobertsSeptember 16, 2005, 4:00 pm
In Yoga and Your Golf Swing
 
The Sanskrit word for yoga breathing exercises is pranayama. Prana refers to the energy in the body or life force, the fuel or oxygen that keeps us alive. Yama refers to expansion, extension, meaning the ability to expand the breath and increase the energy in the body. It is critical in golf to be aware of how the body and mind react to the stresses of the game. With awareness comes change!
 
Any time we experience stress on the golf course - during the first shot, tight lye, or any shot that creates anxiety, the heart rate accelerates and breathing becomes erratic. Physically, breathing sustains the metabolic processes of the body; mentally, breathing keeps the mind calm and focused. When the body is relaxed, the lungs, diaphragm and the muscles of the ribcage, and chest move in an unrestricted way. This is often referred to as deep diaphragmatic breathing. Additionally, this type of breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system relaxing the body and mind. When under pressure, the physiological effect of holding the breath is a fight or flight response, resulting in rapid uncontrolled breathing and a loss of blood flow to the extremities, including the brain. The body becomes tense, the mind races, and the ability to execute the golf swing becomes more challenging. (As if we need more challenge!)
 
Your breathing pattern is a direct reflection of the level of stress on the body and mind at any given point. It is the mirror of your internal physical and mental condition. Peter Kostis, commentator for CBS Sports remarked on the stress level of Annika Sorenstam as she played on the PGA Tour (the first woman to play in 53 years). Regarding calming the swirling of emotions under these stressful situations Peter said, Annika has been able to control the heart beat and control the emotions. There is only one way to calm the heartbeat and that is with the breathing.
 
The most important aspect of yoga is the breath. Without focus on breathing, yoga is just another form of stretching. Here we address breathing awareness, how to obtain deep diaphragmatic and thoracic-diaphragmatic breathing are utilized in yoga and on the golf course. Breathing awareness provides insight into the tempo and rhythm of your golf swing. According to Ernest Jones, When you stroke with timing and rhythm, the ball sails straight down the fairway, and for distance. It is effortless power, not powerful effort.
 
We think of breathing is an automatic response and part of the automatic nervous system -- it just happens. But at the same time, it is the only automatic response mechanism we can control. In the same way we manage movement as in the golf swing or yoga postures, the breath is managed ' its function originates in the two lowest segments of the brain stem. Also a function of the Somatic nervous system, breathing can be controlled. This is what makes diaphragmatic movement so unique. Breathing relieves tension and tension is the number one cause of bad shots on the golf course.
 
Breathing consists of three basic components- inhalation, exhalation and retention. Although retention can be an important part of expanding breathing and stimulating the nervous system for our purposes we will focus on the inhales and exhales. In our Dynamic or flow yoga sequencing, the inhalations raise the body and the exhalations lower the body. Breathing influences movement in the abdomen and chest but also has an effect of posture. To begin to understand the process, lye on your stomach, face pointed towards the floor. Relax. Begin to inhale through the nose and you will fee the body rise or lift. Exhale through the nose and you will fee the body lower or fall. Before beginning a warm-up sequence of yoga poses intended to increase your breathing capacity, practice these simple deep diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Begin by lying on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Gently place your finger tips on your lower ribs. Close your eyes and begin to inhale and exhale as deeply as possible. Feel the movement in your fingers, reflecting the movement of the diaphragm. Begin by inhaling and exhaling for a count of four. If possible, increase the count to six. (There should not be any point where you need to hold your breath.)
 
Level One: Ten Breaths
 
Level Two: Twenty breaths
 
Level Three: Three minutes
 
Stretching the diaphragm, thoracic spine, and intercostals will open this part of the body, allowing the ribcage to expand and contact fully with each breath.
 
Standing chest opener:

Yoga for Golfers

Place feet wider than hip width apart and clasp the hands behind the back. Inhale as you draw your navel towards the spine, slightly tucking the tailbone and pelvis. Exhale and roll the shoulders back, moving the hands towards the floor. Hold for two breaths relax and repeat three to five times.
 
Extended side angle pose:

Yoga for Golfers Yoga for Golfers

Place the feet approximately five feet apart and revolve the right leg inward. The right foot is placed at a 45 degree angle. Bend the left knee to a 90 degree angle and keep the left knee moving towards the left small toe. Place the left elbow on the left knee, extending the right arm towards the ceiling. Lift out of the left shoulder, maintaining space between the left shoulder and the left ear. Focus on the rotation of the torso towards the ceiling and the extension in the ribcage and intercostals.
 
Yoga for Golfers

For more intensity extend the right arm over the right ear. Hold for three breaths, relax and repeat five times. Switch sides.
 
Side stretch / half plank pose:

Yoga for Golfers

Place the left hip on the floor and press the left hand into the floor. As you begin to extend the left arm, focus on maintaining contact with the floor and the left hip. Feel the stretch from the left hip up to the left armpit. Hold for five breaths, relax and repeat three times. Switch sides. In this pose the more you allow gravity to sink the hips down towards the floor the more you will feel the stretch.
 
Supine twist:

Yoga for Golfers

On your back extend the arms perpendicular to the body. Bend the knees and allow the legs to fall to the left. Keep the right shoulder on the floor. Hold for three minutes and switch sides. If your knees to not rest on the floor, place yoga blocks under the knees for more stability.
 
Golfers may incorporate into their pre-shot routine this new breathing awareness - calming the mind, facilitating greater focus, and developing more tempo in your swing. To get a sense of feeling the tempo and rhythm in your swing simply swing the club as if it were timed with a metronome. Coordinate your breathing with your swing tempo. Get a sense of ease and freedom in your swing.
 
For higher handicap golfers, start by setting your golf stance completely and then begin a long, slow deep cleansing breath. Then begin your take away. Higher handicap golfers should start by setting their golf stance completely, and then begin a long, slow deep cleansing breath before executing the take away.
Golf Magazine's top 100 instructors, Paul Trittler suggests the following pre-shot routine for lower handicap golfers. As you stand behind the ball, visualizing the ball flight, incorporate long slow deep breathing. As you sole the club, aim the face, set your back foot and begin a deep inhalation. Then set your front foot, let your eyes go to the target and begin to exhale. Once you have finished feeling your balance and completed your exhale, let your eyes go to the ball and swing.
 
This weeks article on breathing is an excerpt from my book, Yoga for Golfers ' A Unique Mind-body Approach to Golf Fitness. For more details, visit www.KRTotalFitness.com.

I look forward to seeing you at the Fitness Performance Golf School in Scottsdale, AZ. on October 28th and 29th.
 
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    Katherine Roberts - Total FitnessEditor's Note: Katherine Roberts, founder of Yoga for Golfers, has 20 years of experience in fitness training, yoga studies, professional coaching and motivation. Katherine welcomes your email questions and comments, contact her at Katherine@KRTotalFitness.com or visit www.KRTotalFitness.com.
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.