By Natalie Taylor
Yoga is a form of exercise that can greatly benefit golfers. It improves flexibility, rotation, balance and core strength, and enhances calmness. All of these, as golfers well know, are critical for improving performance and preventing injuries.
Yoga has become increasingly popular with golfers, who often discover that its benefits begin on day one. And how many other popular forms of exercise are known to promote calmness? Yoga just might be the ultimate cure for the “yips”!
To get you started, I’ve drawn on the expertise of Shy Sayar, yoga therapist and founder of Tantravaya Yoga. We’ve selected four yoga exercises that work well for golfers. Because all of you are not starting at the same place in terms of flexibility and experience with yoga, Shy offers alternatives within the instructions that even if you can’t do the exercise exactly as he demonstrates in the photographs, you can make easy modifications and still enjoy the basic benefits of the exercise.
I encourage you to read over these instructions carefully, study the illustrations and get started today. Of course, don’t be reluctant to contact a trained yoga instructor to help out; that’s truly the quickest way to make substantial progress.
1. Eagle Pose Shoulder Stretch
This stretch increases flexibility in and around the shoulders while building strength in the supportive musculature in the sides of the rib cage and reducing tension in the neck. Added flexibility and strength allows for more freedom in your golf swing, and a lower risk of shoulder injury:
From standing or sitting, cross one arm over the other, trying to stack the elbows. Bend your elbows, and try to bring your palms together, or at least the fingers of one hand to press against the palm of the other. If your flexibility does not allow for your hands to connect, modify by simply resting the palm of the arm that is on top on the opposite shoulder. The important action is to then press the elbows into each other and roll your shoulders back and down – you should feel a stretch just inside the shoulder blades. Take deep, slow inhalations and exhalations, as though trying to massage the area of the stretch with your breath.
2. Twisting Wide-Legged Forward Fold
A variation on the classic wide-legged forward fold, this twist helps develop independence between the upper and lower body, which will keep your lower back safer for your swing:
Stand with your arms outstretched to the side from your shoulders, and place your feet parallel to each other, and about as wide as your hands. Exhale to scoop the lower belly in and fold forward to place one palm on the ground or a prop under the chest, while the other hand reaches straight up overhead. Keep your neck long and soft, and your shoulder blades wide apart. Be careful not to overstretch your top shoulder – emphasize the turn in the chest, not just in the top arm. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the second side.
3. Triangle Pose
The classic triangle pose is one of the poses most unique to yoga, demanding extraordinary freedom in the spine to facilitate deep lateral flexion. Doing it right will make your hips and back both stronger and more flexible, which is as good for every day life as it is for your golf game:
From the same wide-legged standing position of the last exercise, turn your right foot straight out to the right, and press the ball of your right big toe firmly down without gripping the ground with your toes. Activate the right thigh upwards and twist it to the right, without dislodging the base of the big toe. Keep the inner arch of your left foot lifted. Inhale to expand your chest, and exhale to lift the lower belly and fold up and over the right leg. Place your right palm on the ground or a prop on the outside of your right leg, directly under the shoulder. Turn your chest upwards and reach your left fingers upwards, again being careful not to overstretch your top shoulder. Repeat on the second side.
4. Oblique Thoracic Rotation
Due to the structure of the spine at the lower back, rotation is safest in the upper back; this exercise will strengthen the oblique abdominal muscles to protect the lower back while freeing up more rotational range in the upper back for your swing:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, and interlace your fingers behind your head. Draw your elbows gently in towards each other, and exhale to draw the belly. Roll up just enough to get your upper spine and perhaps the shoulder blades off of the ground, ideally without rounding the lower back or tucking the tailbone. At the top of the movement, twist the rib cage and shoulder girdle to the right, and press the left shoulder blade into the back, as though reaching it through the left side of the chest. Keep your navel drawing back towards the spine as you lower your back and shoulders onto the ground, and inhale. Repeat in the other direction.
I hope that as you make these yoga exercises part of your regular routine, you’ll begin to appreciate the impact they have on your golf game as well as your everyday health, wellness and enjoyment of life. That should motivate you to learn even more excellent yoga exercises!
This article on yoga and golf originally appeared in the October/November edition of Desert Golf & Tennis. You can find the online edition of this issue on their website and enjoy all the other articles on golf, tennis and the desert lifestyle.