From yoga to incense – what is Zen golf?

To excel at any sport demands the right mental approach as well as physical skills. We’ve all seen or read about those players who have all the talent in the world but never quite play to their full potential. It’s certainly something that applies to golf, where the slightest tension or the smallest twitch will inevitably manifest itself in the player’s swing – and can be the difference between a booming drive down the middle of the fairway and slicing the ball into the heavy rough. 

Add a little Zen to your golf

The idea of working on your mental approach to the game might sound a little new age in the highly traditional setting of the golf club. But here’s the thing: it really does make a difference. Zen techniques are derived from Buddhist teachings around mindful awareness. Applied to your golf game, there are two sides to the mind. The Analytical does all the preliminary work. Which club, what’s the wind doing, how is the lie of the ball and so on. Once this is all clear, Analytical steps back and lets Intuitive take over, making the swing and finding that natural sweet spot that’s not too tight and not too loose.

It sounds simple enough when you are sitting here reading it on your laptop or phone. But what about when you’re out there on the 18th tee with people looking on and a million other thoughts racing through your mind. This is where the mental preparation you put in before the game can pay dividends.

We all meditate

If you’re “not into meditation” prepare yourself for a shock. We all meditate, it’s just that we don’t necessarily see what we are doing as meditation. All that means is we don’t derive as much benefit from it as we could. Sitting cross-legged with whale noises playing and joss sticks burning is not obligatory, although of the three, burning a little herbal incense, perhaps even some that you have made yourself, is something you will never regret, and helps you to properly relax. 

The idea of meditation is to clear the mind of stress and excess noise. Sit in whatever way is comfortable, keep your eyes open, look at a point about five feet in front of you and take deep breaths. Mark the breaths “in… out” and feel your shoulders gradually settle into a more relaxed posture. If stray thoughts swim into your mind, watch them go by, a little like passing cars. If one of them tries to carry you along, don’t let it, take a deeper breath and keep your mind focused on the breathing. 

Yoga brings mental and physical rewards

Yoga is also based around breathing exercises, and mixture of mental and physical preparation leaves you ready on all fronts for your round. The really useful thing is that a yoga routine aimed specifically at golfers teaches some techniques that you can take with you onto the links. 

Steve Hughes, a golf fanatic who lives beside Shirkey Golf Course in Richmond, Missouri, put it best. He describes Zen golf as “getting out of your own way.” Give it a try, the results might just astonish you. 


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