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Chi-Power Golf Part 24 - Under Pressure? Don't forget to breathe

As pressure builds so your physiology is under threat. Learning to recognise the warning signs and understanding how to develop a defence mechanism can help you to maintain performance all the way to the final hole – and basic principles of Zen can help you to that

As we all know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When it comes to your golf game breakingdown under pressure, the first thing to go is not your mental game nor your swing but your nervous-system, which controls both. Contrary to popular belief, a deterioration in a player’s performance is not a psychological phenomenon but results from a dramatic change in bio-chemistry.

This change produces an increase in adrenaline which causes the feelings and thoughts of anxiety, produces increased mental interference (analysis paralysis), followed by an inevitable collapse of technique as the mind-body connection is all but destroyed.

Yet anxiety itself is the result of chemical changes in the brain and nervous-system which can, in fact, be halted by controlling the ‘stress response’ and restoring the biochemistry to a state of calm neutrality, known as the ‘relaxation response’.

Both these states are hard-wired into your physiology and just as you can unravel under pressure, so too do you have the ability to take control of your state and re-establish your equilibrium.

When things start to come apart and you find yourself playing poor shot after poor shot, the best thing you can do is bring yourself back ‘in the now’ – a state akin to the Zen Mind of relaxed concentration, also known as ‘the zone’.

Coming away from ‘the now’, either by castigating yourself for your poor performance, worrying about what you need to do over the following holes or even getting ahead of yourself by thinking ‘just one more birdie’, all flag up the ‘stress response’ which makes you feel tense, nervous and hesitant and invariably wreaks havoc with your swing.

Performance Breathing

Next time you feel your game start to unravel, pay attention to what’s happening physiologically. Chances are your breathing has become shallower, your chest a little tighter and this in turn creates the following chain-reaction: shallow breathing = less oxygen to the brain = increased adrenaline = accelerated heart-rate = tightening of the muscles = poor swing.

In this state (known as the ‘stress response’) a number of psychological and physical changes occur such as an increase in mental interference, over-thinking technique, loss of confidence, rushing your preshot routine, shortening your backswing, failing to followthrough fully and correctly and so on – and yet the breakdown of your swing technique, seemingly brought about by a psychological meltdown actually begins in the moments your breathing pattern alters.

When your physiology changes from ‘the zone’ to the impending ‘choke’ the best thing you can do to restore your equilibrium is stand quietly for a few minutes, focusing on your breathing, taking slow, deep breaths until you feel a sense of calm restored. You might also want to check your grip-pressure, which has probably become a little tighter, resulting in a chain reaction of tense muscles from your grip, forearms, shoulders and chest, right back to the inevitable shallow breathing. It’s a vicious circle... but you can reverse it quickly and simply.

Abdominal breathing (the ability to take deep, slow breaths while focusing on your core) alters the chain-reaction thus: deep breathing = more oxygen to your brain = a rush of endorphins = lower heartrate = relaxing of the muscles = a fluid, powerful swing. Now you’re ready to set-up to the next shot and execute

To learn more about Chi-Power Golf, visit where you can find out about personal tuition, talks and workshops, and also sign up for a free newsletter, "The Mindful Golfer".

To contact Jayne Storey, ring 07986 447250

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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