"When I started practicing yoga, my skill was terrible and so was my golf swing," said Joe Hafera of the Titleist Performance Institute. "As my dedication to yoga increased, it became easier to swing the way I wanted to on the golf course. My lower back pain decreased and my balance increased, as my poses improved. I also felt the mental calmness from my yoga practice transfer to my temperament on the course. The breathing and focus of yoga had a place in my golf game."
Like Hafera, many golfers complain of lower back pain from repeated spinal rotation from swinging the golf club during a game. Increasing flexibility in the spinal rotators is key to preventing injuries. One of yoga's major benefits is improving core strength. Stronger trunk muscles result in more spinal support and less strain on the lower back.
Because golfers swing with one side of the body, their muscles can develop unevenly. During the less than four seconds that it takes to swing, the body draws from lateral, vertical and rotational power sources. Developing strength and length evenly will help counterbalance what happens on the course. The golf swing requires stability and flexibility of the hips and thoracic spine. A regular yoga practice can help address these issues.
Golf involves a great deal of physical skill and practice, but unless the mind is calm and focused, one won't be at the top of his game. The emphasis on yogic breathing and mind-body connection in yoga is essential in helping athletes develop mental acuity, patience and concentration. Learning to be present in each moment on the course will result in a more fluid, enjoyable game.
Try these three poses before you hit the golf course to warm up your body and cool down your competitive mind.
Revolved Crescent Lunge
This pose is a rotation of the spine combined with an intense hip flexor stretch on the straight leg and a deep stretch of the outer hip of the bent leg.
Stand in Mountain pose with your feet together. Lunge your right foot forward and make sure that your right knee is directly over your right ankle so that your right shin is perpendicular to the ground. Balancing on the ball of the left foot, press the left leg straight. Draw your hands together at your heart, twist from the waist, and hook the left triceps on the outside of your right thigh, rotating to gaze up over your right shoulder. Make sure to keep your spine long and chest lifted off of our thigh. Keep pressing the palms together. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), variation
This twisting pose is excellent for creating balance between the left and the right sides of the body, for opening up the chest and torso, and for opening up tight hips.
Sit tall with both legs extended in front of you. Make sure you are sitting evenly on your sitting bones. If your hips are very tight, sit on a block or folded blanket until you can sit with a straight spine. Bend your left knee in and place your foot on the ground on the outside of your right thigh. Place your left hand on the ground behind your sitting bones, as close to the back as possible. Inhale and reach your right arm straight up. Exhale and twist to the left, rotating from the waist. Place your elbow on the outside of the left quadriceps and gaze out over your left shoulder. Hold for one minute and switch sides.
Bird Dog or Kneeling Balance
This pose is excellent for improving your core strength, balance and coordination.
Start on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly beneath your shoulders. Spread the fingers, pressing into the thumb and index finger to avoid sinking into your wrists. Your knees should be positioned directly beneath your hips. Draw the navel into the spine and keep your back flat. Extend your left arm straight out in front of you as you simultaneously extend your right leg behind you. Hold for two full breaths and return to center. Repeat on the opposite side. Do ten repetitions on each side.
Claire Petretti is a RYT yoga instructor, NASM certified personal trainer, certified Pilates teacher and freelance writer residing in San Diego, California. In addition to training clients privately, she teaches at Sculpt Fusion Yoga, Frogs and CorePower Yoga. You can learn more about Claire and yoga at www.oceansoulyoga.com.