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Chi-Power Golf Part 25 - The Quiet Mind & Peak Performance

We have all experienced it at some point or other, that magical moment of singularity when our mind and body work in harmony to produce a sweet, perfect shot. The question is, how do you replicate the conditions that enable you to do this more often? Jayne Storeyexplains the phenomenon of the so-called ‘flow state’

OPTIMAL THINKING

The flow-state is the realm of optimal thinking in which a person becomes fully immersed in the activity they perform; experiencing energised focus, total engagement and assured success. Proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the positive psychology concept of Flow has been widely referenced across a variety of areas, especially in relation to sporting performance.

The concept of ‘being in the zone’ when playing golf is in keeping with Csikszentmihalyi’s description of the flow experience, and theories and applications of being ‘in the zone’ and their relationship to competitive advantage on the golf course, are topics now widely studied in the field of golf psychology.

For thousands of years, practitioners of Eastern disciplines such as Buddhism and Taoism have honed the development and application of the quiet mind to overcome the duality of self and object; in other words, being immersed in an activity rather than feeling separate from it. Eastern philosophy has developed a very thorough and rigorous set of practices for this very purpose, including seated meditation (Zen), breathing meditations (Chi Kung) and various forms of ‘moving meditation’ such as Tai Chi – all of which are proven to enhance the experience of flow.

TOTAL IMMERSION

The flow-state or ‘zone’ is a realm of awareness that enables athletes to surpass technique and achieve extraordinary results; oftentimes with seemingly little effort. In all sports, from golf to tennis, cricket, running, football – athletes have long-commented on the feelings of relaxed power, confidence, guaranteed success and effortlessness experienced while in this state; the flow-state is so-called because Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 25 years of research into the phenomena noted the language used by those who had experienced this altered state of awareness, as they described their thoughts and movements ‘moving naturally like a river in flow’, and allowed for total immersion in the activity they were engaged in. Zen Buddhist Monks describe a similar state-of-mind achieved through the practice of meditation, where thoughts become quieter, ‘flowing like a river’ in the back of the mind.

Achieving this mental state in sports is the surest way to guarantee peak performance, particularly during competitive play and in seeking ways to help achieve the best possible performance under pressure.

THE FORMULA

The brainwaves of a person deep in meditation (Zen) closely resemble the brainwaves of a golfer playing ‘in the zone’ – that transcendent state of play where golf becomes instinctive, natural and intuitive. Many golfers have had this experience, even if for just a few shots – and of course, as subtle as the zone is when it appears, conscious awareness of it only causes it to evaporate as mental interference returns.

Yet, it is possible to quieten the mind such that the zone is more likely to manifest itself when playing; moreover, one can reach and retain this state of enhanced performance even if a series of poor shots have been played or if anxiety has kicked in. The formula for getting in and staying in ‘the zone’ is SKILL plus PASSION plus IMMERSION:

• It is important for an intermediate level of skill to exist (i.e. an individual has played golf for at least three years).

• A love of the game and the willingness to improve are attitudes which help to find the ‘missing link’ in refining performance and therefore enjoyment, resulting in being immersed in the game rather than watching and analysing technique and play.

THE PERFECT SHOT

I've long pondered on why golf is one of the world’s most popular sports, played by an estimated 58 million people every year. Perhaps the answer lies in the zone experience which gives us access to other-worldly abilities and a glimpse of the limitless potential inherent within the human heart, mind and spirit. The sheer number of books on the subject – from Steven Pressfield’s The Legend of Bagger Vance (the mythical teacher who seeks to cultivate his students’ “authentic swing”) to Esalen Institute Founder Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom (of Shivas Irons fame) and M. Scott Peck’s Golf and the Spirit – each lay testimony to the sublime and uncanny states of awareness experienced on the golf course when the player become immersed in the game and stops analysing performance.

TRY THIS

I’d like you to try an experiment the next time you play golf. Arrive at the golf club a little earlier than you normally would for your tee time. Sit in the car or in the locker room for at least 10 minutes, quietly focusing on the sensation and activity of breathing in and breathing out. Pay attention to the sensation of the chest/ stomach rising and falling as you inhale and exhale, or tune into the sound of your breathing as the air enters and exists the nostrils.

This simple, yet profound awareness exercise will have the effect of reducing the internal dialogue, neutralising the emotions, and flooding the nervous-system with quiet confidence.

Out on the course, repeat this quietly at address for a few seconds over each and every shot, taking a moment to enjoy the stillness and be aware of breathing before starting the motion of your swing. Enjoy the results.

To learn more about Chi-Power Golf, visit www.chipowergolf.com 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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