Tiger’s doing it. Justin Rose is
doing it. Using Eastern practices
like Zen meditation for enhancing
a golfer’s performance is not simply
a new fad but a coaching
phenomena that has been gaining
momentum and credibility as
neuroscientists study the effects
of meditation on brainwave patterns
and the ability of the mind
during meditation to remain internally
focused and not become
affected by outside influences.
What have a Buddhist monk practising meditation and a golfer playing “in the zone” got in common? The answer is Alpha brainwave activity!
It is common knowledge in sporting and scientific circles that athletes performing
at the very peak of their abilities can experience an increased level of
this type of brain activity – a phenomena which is usually only associated
with deep relaxation, such as during meditation.
During meditation, brainwaves alter from the normal waking consciousness
Beta waves to the slower Alpha waves, promoting in the athlete a state
of relaxed yet alert concentration and calm acceptance, where there is little
or no internal chatter.
This is similar to the sporting zone or flow-state, which is experienced in
golf as a realm of optimal performance, where everything goes right, clicks
into place and the golfer seems to function on auto-pilot.
What we know about
the golfer’s experience
of the zone
is that the
player is totally
easy and he
doesn’t take in
from the outside environment
or talk to himself
at all about the
game, his opponent
or his personal performance
And you know
what else this means,
perhaps the most important mental
game factor of them all – no confusing swing thoughts!
The attainment of this heightened state makes possible superior or peak
performances that seem effortless, in which the player allows his body to do
what it has been trained to do, without his mind wreaking havoc. A state of
absorbed concentration is achieved, so focused that it amounts to absolute
immersion in playing the game, without any mental interference, in the way
of self-doubt, loss of confidence, nerves or stress.
So, does this apply to the everyday,
recreational golfer as well
as to elite players?
You bet! Most of us are familiar
with The Inner Game of Golf, in
which author Timothy Gallwey explains
that for any golfer to reach
their optimum performance level,
they need to play their game
minus mental interference and
that holds as true for the weekend warrior
as it does for members
of the Ryder Cup team.
Anchoring the conscious mind
in meditation, specifically using
the Zen practise of mindfulness of
breathing, allows total immersion
in the ‘here and now’ – a state of
heightened yet relaxed concentration where
the mind is calm
and neutral and minus the mental
interference Gallwey mentions.
From personal experience and
from the testimonials of the
many golfers I’ve worked with, I
can confirm that the zone is a
natural state which lies beneath
the surface of your everyday
mind, and the key to accessing it
is to focus your awareness on
your breathing, which has the effect
of subduing conscious
thoughts and allowing total immersion
in simply playing the
game, rather than thinking about playing it.
Put another way, the zone is a state in which your conscious mind stops
talking to you about how you’re playing and lets your body get on with the
shot in front of you.
If it’s so simple, there must be a catch, right?
Well, not a catch exactly, but there is a paradox. In Zen – specifically the art of
focusing on the breath – the paradox is that you can’t access “enlightenment”
(the Buddhist monk’s aim) or
the experience of being ‘immersed’
(the golfer’s aim) by
using your will-power. You can
only practise Zen as a daily
routine, in order to condition
your mind to become a place
that enlightenment and/or the
zone may manifest.
In other words, the more you
try to get into the zone, the
more elusive it becomes – but
you can create the right conditions
in your mind (calm, relaxed,
neutral, accepting) which
will not only allow the zone to
manifest, but will help you to
stay in it once it materialises.
When the mind is distracted
by thoughts of success
or failure, then mental clarity
is lost and performance deteriorates.
However, with regular training,
the mind can be re-programmed
distractions, whether internal
(anxiety, fear of failure, pressure
of expectations) or external
(crowd noise, competitors,
weather conditions) – without
holding on to them or giving
away precious mental energy
by paying them any attention.
HOW TO PRACTISE ZEN:
1. Sit upright on a stool or hard backed
chair – not slumped forward
or leaning against the back
of the chair – feet firmly on the
ground, palms resting on your
thighs. Hold the crown of your
head up, as if it were held by a
thread. Tuck your chin under
slightly and relax your chest and
shoulders. Look down at the floor
or gaze gently at a blank wall
about a metre or so in front of
you. Keep your eyes open.
2. Once you are comfortable,
concentrate your mind at the
hara or t’an tien – a point inside
the lower abdomen, about 2”
below the navel. It is important to
centre your attention in the hara.
The hara is the well-spring of
your physical power and your
body’s natural centre of gravity.
Put your attention there. As you
develop your Zen practise, you'll
become more aware of the hara
as your physical centre.
3. Relax your stomach. Touch
your tongue to the roof of your
mouth and breathe in and out
through your nose. Do not force
your breath. Just relax and
(To aid your practise, you can visualise
a small balloon inside the
stomach, below the navel. As you
breathe in, this balloon gently expands,
and when you breathe
out, the balloon gently releases
4. Relax fully. Do not try to take
deep breaths, but just keep your
mind on the hara for the duration
of the exercise and quietly observe
5. As thoughts come into your
mind, simply watch them, like
clouds moving across the sky on a
breeze, and gently take your
awareness back to your breathing.
6. It may also be helpful to count
your breath. Breathe in and exhale,
silently counting one.
Breath in and exhale, silently
counting two. Repeat ten times,
and then start again from one.
This helps to keep the mind and
breath engaged in a feedback
loop, which is useful when starting
your Zen practise.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
You will gradually find your
breathing becomes deeper and
slower. You will also feel heat in
the lower abdomen. Start your
Zen practise by concentrating for
just a few minutes each day and
build up your training gradually
to 20 minutes or more. Over time
you will feel yourself getting
physically and mentally stronger
and feeling more relaxed.
Zen can be practised in general
life, in training and finally in
EVERYDAY PRACTISE –
to achieve a relaxed and focused
state of mind needs to be
trained and experienced on a daily basis, and is not a technique
that can be pulled from the bag on
the day of competition. You need
to start preparing your mind now,
by learning to detach from all the
trivial problems which beset
You should aim to practise Zen for
at least 20 minutes a day. Start
gradually by meditating for 5 or so
minutes and work up another
minute a day until you can sit
comfortably in silence for at least
20minutes. Of course, if you can
sit for longer, all the better.
Practising while preparing to play
– here you will be learning how to
meditate while in action, and can
quietly start training yourself to
focus on your breathing while putting
on your spikes, your glove
and taking your clubs out of the
Practising before and during a
game – the night before a game,
it’s helpful to meditate for a few
minutes before going to bed. Sit
quietly for a while, without reading
or watching the television and
then quieten your mind completely
by practising Zen for a few
moments. If you feel restless in
the night, get up and do some
gentle stretching, then sit and
meditate for a little while. This will
help you relax your nerves again
before going back to bed.
During the game itself, use your
meditation training as a trigger to
increase your focus and relaxation
during moments of intense pressure.
Also use short bursts of
meditation when walking to the
next shot, to calm your nerves if
you start to feel anxious.
Gently pushing down the diaphragm and
sinking your awareness
to the hara while exhaling, is
a great way to stay strongly present
in your body.
Martial artists use the hara –
which is the body’s centre of gravity
– to gain greater power and
Focusing your attention and your
breathing in the hara will help you
relax and will also help timing,
balance and rhythm.
arts for more
than 20 years and her unique
coaching method for golfers
Chi-Power GOLF has been
included in the PGA’s Professional
for the past two years.
Here she talks about the role
meditation has to play in enhancing
key mental game skills like attention
control and relaxed
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine