THE MIND AND THE BODY – WORKING TOGETHER
Any golfer knows that it is impossible to have one perfect golf stroke after the other, let alone guarantee that any given swing would take the ball the distance and direction the golfer wants it to go. This is because the mechanics of the stroke is unbelievably complex. Though the golfer has some control over part of the stroke in that she can select a club and can select a shot, the actual swing is extremely hard to control. It requires precise timing, exactly the right grip on the shaft of the club, precisely the right position of the fingers in the grip, just the right amount of pressure in that grip, accurate positioning of the feet and the hips above the feet, and a steady gaze on the ball with one’s head kept completely still, even as the swing is already nearing completion. At any given moment, during the back swing, down swing or upswing even the tiniest wobble in the communication between brain and body will throw off the stroke and result in a missed hit.
WHAT IS A GOLFER TO DO?
Practice, and practice, and more practice will help towards perfecting that diabolically difficult golf swing. After all, as Gary Player—widely regarded as one of the golfing greats of all time, one of only five and the only non-American to win a Career Grand Slam—insisted, when asked why he was so lucky: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
No matter how much one practices though, Murphy will be sure to make it go wrong. Something else needs be added.
A good friend of mine told me how his golf coach taught him the following trick.
As you line up for the ball, do as many practice swings as you want to, ironing out that tight spot in your shoulder, flexing your hips, focusing on keeping your head still. Then, once you feel ready, take a step back behind an imaginary line. This line is your Trust Line. Once you step back in front of it, you leave behind any thought: about your finances, about whether your spouse will get the message that dinner is in the oven, about that knot in your shoulder, about the other three golf partners who are leaning on their clubs and watching you, about your golf swing.
Once you step back in front of that line, you stop thinking and you trust your body. You line up for your shot, with no thought in your head. You swing and you connect with the ball. You follow through. All of this in one smooth motion, trusting your body to do the micro-computational adjustments required for that one timeless moment of your stroke.
The result is amazing, but not surprising. The coach may call it your Trust Line, other sport coaches and mentors may call it The Zone, but it is nothing other than mindfulness.
The application of mindfulness works in any sport. In high jump, world class athletes can spend minutes at a time rehearsing their jump, before they clear their minds and start their approach to the high bar. Tennis coaches strive to endow their athletes with mindfulness from the earliest days of tennis lessons with the simple mantra of tracking and hitting the ball without a thought: “Bounce and hit”.
It also works the other way around. At the Appalachian State University, researchers subjected 166 college students to 15 weeks’ classes in Pilates, Taiji quan or Gyro kinesis (originally called “Yoga for Dancers”) and found statistically significant increases, maintained over time, for total mindfulness scores. This in turn led to better sleep and other measures of wellness.
Our body (which includes our brain) is a wondrous machine. Let it get about its business. Do not distract it with thoughts of woe and worry. Breathe in. Take your index finger and touch your forehead between your eyebrows. Focus on that spot. Visualize flowing lines of fire, and the beauty of a wind rustling autumn leaves. Breathe out. Now step over the Trust Line, line up and hit.
About Dr. Pieter Strauss:
Dr. Strauss was born in South Africa, emigrating to Canada with his family in 1995. He has a private practice in the Fraser Valley and sees patients with mental health issues in his community. He was Head of the Psychiatry Department at a regional hospital with a staff of nine psychiatrists until last year when he decided to focus on his practice and his work at our hotel. Dr. Strauss has always been interested in long-term human relationships and envisioned enhancing relationships.