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Katherine Roberts: Flexibility on the fairways starting to take root

Katherine RobertsBy Katherine Roberts,

According to Time magazine, 20 million Americans practice yoga on a regular basis, and this ancient tradition continues to be the fastest-growing form of exercise in the world. This same trend is also showing up on fairways. Professional and amateur golfers are embracing yoga as a proven physical and mental regiment that benefits the golfer - on and off the course.

Professional golfers such as Brad Faxon, Stewart Cink, Aaron Baddley, Jonathan Kaye, J.L. Lewis, Ty Tryon, Andrew Magee, Gary McCord, Gary Player, Julie Inkster, Betsy King and Jill McGill practice yoga. Tom Lehman said that a lot of golfers on the PGA Tour swear by yoga.

Why yoga and golf? Flexibility, strength, balance, conditioning in the core of the body and quieting an overactive mind are all necessary to be a good golfer. Physical and mental exercises are an integral part of the yoga sequence of exercises or poses. On the golf course, yoga will enhance flexibility and strength to improve many components of the golf swing. Shoulder turn, hip turn, extension, balance and increased club head speed will be enhanced.

In addition, golfers experience greater power, control, mental focus, reduced risk of injury and reduced recovery time when practicing yoga. Golf is often referred to as a one-sided sport, meaning the golf swing stresses one side of the body over the other. The repetitive nature of the golf swing creates an imbalance in the muscular skeletal system, but practicing yoga restores this imbalance.

Tension in the body and the mind is the No. 1 cause of swing flaws. Any time we experience stress on the golf course -- during the first shot, tight lye, double bogies or any shot that creates anxiety -- our breathing becomes erratic. When we are under pressure, the physiological effect of holding the breath is a "fight or flight response," resulting in rapid uncontrolled breathing and a loss of blood flow to the extremities, including the brain. Physically, breathing sustains the metabolic processes of the body. Mentally, breathing keeps the mind calm and focused. When the body is relaxed, the lungs, the diaphragm and the muscles of the rib cage and the chest move in an unrestricted way.

Yoga Breathing awareness is the most important component of the practice of yoga. An effective tool for decreasing stress while on the golf course is the practice of slow deep-rhythmic breathing. Your breathing pattern is a direct reflection of the level of stress on the body and mind at any given point and is a mirror of your internal physical and mental condition.

Mastering yoga breathing techniques gives you more "feel" in your putting and tempo in your swing. Yoga incorporates the mind and body into a complete comprehensive workout, offering a unique approach to golf fitness.

The following poses provide you with a basic yoga practice specifically designed for golf performance. Inhale and exhale through the nose for 10 to 15 breaths per pose. It is acceptable to feel slight discomfort as the muscles stretch, but you should never experience pain.

These basic Yoga for Golfers exercises address flexibility in the hands and wrists as well as the muscles of the spine. The modified cobra pose will increase strength in the back. Practice these poses three days a week in order to increase range of motion in the torso and to reduce the risk of injury in the golf swing. This warm-up sequence is also beneficial as a flexibility routine before beginning a round.

Golf benefits of these Yoga for Golfers poses:

Strengthens back muscles, shoulder turn and supports core strength.

Increases your ability to keep the spine straight throughout the golf swing.

Reduces back fatigue.

Increases club head speed, extension and power.

Cat/cow pose

Place your hands directly under your shoulders, spreading your fingers wide apart and pressing your entire palm into the floor. Press the tops of your feet into the floor, creating more flexibility in the feet and supporting more push-off power in your swing. Inhale, drawing your navel toward the spine, with your spine toward the ceiling and chin into the chest. Exhale, pressing your spine toward the floor, rolling your shoulders away from the ears and gently lifting your head. Do not hyperextend your neck. Slowly repeat 10 times.

Dynamic eagle twist

Lie on your back, with knees bent. Allow your legs to fall to the right. Inhale and bring your left hand to meet your right hand, allowing your left shoulder to come off the floor. Exhale and bring your left arm back, perpendicular to the body. Continue for five to seven breaths and switch sides.

Modified cobra

Lie on your stomach and place your hands just below the chest, fingers pointing forward. Be sure your elbows are directly next to the body (like a cricket). Inner ankles should be touching with your legs pressed together. Inhale, engage the buttocks, tailbone presses down and begins to telescope the rib cage forward. Keeping the legs on the floor, exhale, slightly lifting the chest off the floor. Hold for five breaths.

Modified down dog

Begin on all fours with your hands on the top of the mat. Spread your fingers with your entire palm flat. Inhale as your shoulders move away from your ears. Forearms remain off the mat. Exhale and begin to move your buttocks toward the back of the mat. Note: Your buttocks should not touch your heels, and a 90-degree angle should be maintained at the knee joints.

Katherine Roberts is a nationally recognized writer and presenter on golf fitness and the founder of Yoga for Golfers.Because Your Body Doesn't Get A Mulligan! She is a contributor to The Golf Channel. Katherine's unique mind-body approach to golf fitness is available through her DVDs, workshops, retreats or videos online at yogaforgolfers.com. E-mail Katherine with questions or comments at katherine@yogaforgolfers.com or call (888) 313-YOGA.

GolfInstruction.com readers are invited to receive a 25% introductory discount on all Yoga Fitness products. Visit www.yogaforgolfers.com and enter the code PR25 in the mailer code to receive your automatic discount.

Katherine Roberts and her highly successful Yoga for Golfers program, five instructional videos/DVD and, book have been featured in USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine, Self Magazine, Golf for Women, Athlon Golf, Affluent Golfer Magazine and numerous other media. She is a member of Golf Magazine's fitness panel. Katherine can often be seen on The Golf Channel.

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