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Chi-Power Golf Part 7 - All About Swing Thoughts

SWING THOUGHTS – HOW MANY, IF ANY, SHOULD YOU HAVE? ARE THEY A HELP OR A HINDRANCE TO YOUR GAME? IT SEEMS EVERY MENTAL GAME COACH AND SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST HAS A DIFFERENT VIEW. JAYNE STOREY, FOUNDER OF CHI POWER GOLF TAKES A LOOK AT THE ANSWERS EASTERN PHILOSOPHY HAS TO GIVE, AND OFFERS SOME ALTERNATIVE INSIGHTS FOR IMPROVING YOUR GAME

As anyone who's ever practised the Eastern art of meditation will tell you, it's almost impossible to have a completely silent or ‘empty' mind – unless of course you want to quit your job, leave your family and practise at the Wu Tang Temple for 30 years. The mind is naturally restless and scientists aren't even sure how thoughts occur, only that they are electrical impulses in the brain.

However, it's possible for every golfer who is serious about improving his or her game to use the wisdom this ancient art offers us, to stop the incessant chatter of internal dialogue which ultimately sabotages even your best efforts around the course.

The mind can and needs to be trained, in the same way you train your muscles and/or your stamina in the gym. That is, it can be trained to think about what you want to think about at any given moment, rather than you being prey to whatever your mind comes up with, which as research shows us is negative a good 80% of the time.

As mentioned in this column before, in the Eastern world (medicine, philosophy, martial arts, spirituality) mind and body are seen as one reality, one and the same entity. Golf would be viewed as more than just a sport but as an art form and a path to mastery. Connecting the mind to the body during your swing, would be viewed as the only way to synchronise the complexity of everything that's happening during the golf swing, to ensure a smooth execution of the movement.

Rather than taking the mind away from the body, in order to focus on technical aspects of the swing and with it, individual and isolated segments (arms, wrists, shoulders and so on) Eastern philosophy – and in particular the martial arts – would suggest we simply aim to centre the mind in the breathing, relax the upper body and root into the ground, thus developing a strong, athletic and above all balanced posture.

I am reminded as I write this of the Korean art of horseback archery. In days gone by this of course was part of warcraft, but now it is a form of martial art where the rider shoots at a fixed target, while thundering along on the back of a stallion. So what do you think the archer is focused on while shooting his arrows?

Well, he'll obviously look at the target but doesn't have the time to talk to himself too much about it and certainly thoughts of missing the target never enter his head. Instead, he is taught to focus on his posture, maintaining a rooted yet upright position in the saddle and to dispel doubts, anxiety, fear of failure and so on, he concentrates his mind at the navel (t'an tien) breathing deeply and slowly, with his mind fully occupied in maintaining awareness of breathing in and breathing out.

In Zen meditation, posture again is seen as the practise itself. When one sits down to meditate and keeps the body strong but relaxed, the mind centred at the navel, one automatically recreates, within moments, the feeling of peace and serenity that is integral to the art.

In kung-fu, the art of stance keeping is seen as more valuable, powerful and integral to fighting success than repeating endless patterns of movement (kata's). The famous Samurai, Miyamoto Musashi who wrote the treatise on swordplay The Book of Five Rings practised only his ‘ready-posture' – that is, the moment before the sword is drawn from its scabbard – and would stand like this for hours on end mastering rooting, relaxation and the mental intent needed to draw his sword, cut down his opponent and return his sword to its sheath all in the time it took him to breathe in and breathe out. History tells us that no one who took up arms against Musashi ever lived to tell the tale.

Not swing thoughts, swing feelings

I digress! Back to golf. If we accept the Eastern way has some valuable insights to offer, then we can understand that swing thoughts instead need to become swing feelings, connected to the body as a unit, focusing on the key postural points posture of address, while at the same time staying focused on the breath, thus denying self-limiting and self-hindering thoughts to sabotage and undermine us.

Set-up is king. Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time, said that if you set up to the ball well you can almost virtually guarantee a good swing, yet if you set up poorly, no matter how well you swing, you won't make good contact with the ball and you won't get the results you desire.

So focusing on key postural points of rooting, relaxation and awareness of your breathing should become integral to the way you address the ball and will reap far greater dividends than trying to consciously control the turning of your shoulders or the hinging action of your wrists.

Swing feelings for balance and power

1. Empty your chest: emptying or hollowing the chest is the first key to developing rooting as it relaxes the upper body, freeing the neck and upper portions of the spine, releasing the shoulders and emptying the lungs. You'll find that exhaling deeply is a natural part of this process which releases pent up energy/ tension in the torso, arms and neck.

2. Drop your mind to navel: lowering your centre of awareness, by concentrating your mind at the navel, is a key focus in meditation and extremely useful for your golf. Eastern philosophy states that your mental intent has the effect of leading or harnessing your energy (you may recognise this in a negative way when you miss a shot during a game and as your mind focuses on your perceived failure, it brings to mind many other misses and before you know it you've talked yourself into making a bogey on the next hole). Harnessed correctly, your mind can focus your energy in a way that encourages relaxed concentration. As you gently focus on your navel, you will find that your breathing becomes less shallow, you will start to breathe more slowly and deeply and this in turn sends increased oxygen along with your ‘feel-good' chemical signals (endorphins) to your brain.

3. Sink into the feet: your final point of focus is your feet, which you may now be more aware of, and actually be able to feel the soles of your feet in contact with the earth. Again, your energy will follow your thinking, so if you focus on your feet you will feel more stable and rooted. Oftentimes, when coaching a client, I ask them to address the ball and then give them a little nudge in the sternum, only to watch them fall backwards into the driving bay! With just a few moments practising the drill – i.e. emptying the chest, mind at the navel, feet firmly on the ground – it becomes impossible for me to budge the client from their stance, which just shows how much more balanced and rooted they are.

Summary of the lesson

At first it may take you a while to become familiar with these focuses and your body, mind and breathing will take time to respond. With a little practise it will become automatic and second nature, so that when you set-up to the ball you can immediately go through the routine and achieve a state of relaxed concentration, knowing that you will be able to stay rooted yet fluid throughout your swing.

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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