Mark Twain famously called golf “a good walk spoiled.” If you have played the game you know how maddening it can be. It is one of the most mentally challenging sports. Sports psychologists and golf professionals consider golf to be about 90% mental, meaning that the game is mostly played with the spot between the ears—the mind. In a five hour round of golf it’s estimated it takes just a couple of minutes to execute all of the golf shots. The remaining time is spent playing the mental side of the game…just you and your thoughts.
Unlike most other sports, in golf you do not have the benefit of running or jumping which naturally stimulates a lot of oxygen intake through exertion. For these reasons professional golfers are keenly aware of the importance of breathing deeply to help keep their nerves calm, their emotions in check, and their mind quiet. Tom Watson, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, said that he didn’t learn how to win until he learned how to control his breathing.
In the final round of the 2013 British Open Golf Championship, the importance of deep breathing was center stage for millions of television viewers to witness. As Phil Mickelson was walking up to the final green with a chance to win, television commentator Paul Azinger (another great golf champion) was talking about how important breathing is in such a pressure-packed situation. He said, “The only way to slow down your heart rate while feeling this much pressure is to control your breathing.” While he was saying these words, the television camera was focused on Mickelson’s face and you could literally see him taking in deep breaths and breathing out slowly as he was getting ready to stroke the final putt for the victory. After one more deep breath, he stepped up to a difficult 12-foot breaking putt and rolled it into the center of the hole.
When I first learned this practice of breathing deeply in the belly I was amazed at how it elevated my performance on the golf course. More importantly, I’ve noticed how this practice has helped me be more patient and positive in interactions with my family, has improved my focus and ability to think more clearly, and has positively impacted so many other areas of everyday life.
Consider the following benefits that stem from deep breathing:
- Better focus
- Sharpened mental clarity
- Lower anxiety and better health
- Clearer communication
- Healthier relationships
- Improved performance on the job and at home
- Better mood
- Higher energy
- Healthier digestion
- Weight loss
- Enhanced learning ability
A pretty compelling list wouldn’t you agree? If you find that you’re spending most of your life in “hurry up” mode, then you are probably in the habit of shallow breathing. Awareness is the first step toward improvement—check in from time to time by asking yourself, “How am I breathing right now? How much tension am I feeling in my body?” And next time you’re in a highly-charged situation, or preparing for a big event, or you feel your adrenaline kicking in due to fearful thoughts, pause for a moment, place your hand on your belly and consciously move toward abdominal deep breathing. As you do so your emotions, performance, and thinking ability will improve on the spot.
(excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
When life is weighing you down one of the best ways to maintain peace of mind and a sense of well-being is to breathe. Now, that may sound a little ridiculous. After all, we breathe unconsciously and don’t even think about it, right? But, therein lies the catch. We don’t think about our breathing much and over time, with the pressures of daily life, most of us have defaulted to shallow chest breathing which dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen we take in. Shallow breathing actually causes a lot of unnecessary misery for us.
In today’s frenetic, high-stress world, most of us sit, stand, and move in ways that undermine our breathing and our physical and emotional health. If we were to sense and observe ourselves in action for a moment, we would notice an enormous amount of unnecessary tension throughout our bodies—this tension is usually stored in our shoulders, back, jaw, face, throat, belly, hands, or chest. As we become more aware of our body tension, we would also notice that it usually escalates when we are in a hurry and feeling stressed, which for many of us is almost all the time. This tension throughout our body often impedes the natural, harmonious movement of the diaphragm and its coordination with the secondary breathing muscles causing a shallow breathing pattern.
In highly charged situations notice that we tend to take rapid shallow breaths, and we feel the heart pound and muscles tighten as adrenaline kicks in. This is the sympathetic nervous system in our body working in high gear, and it is stimulated in times of stress—we know it as the “fight or flight” response. When this automatic response is triggered it causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream putting all systems on high alert. Very helpful if you are about to be attacked by a bear in the woods, but in everyday life this high-stress state can become detrimental to our health and happiness over time.
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
To begin the exercise, sit down and place one hand on your belly. With your eyes closed breathe comfortably for a few breaths and feel your belly rise and fall with each breath. On your next exhalation, breathe out slowly through your nose, counting to 6 in your mind. At the bottom of your exhale, pause briefly for 2 counts, and then inhale slowly to a count of 6. Expand your belly as you breathe in. At the end of your inhalation pause briefly for 2 counts, and then exhale slowly as you count to 6 in your mind. Slow, rhythmic breaths – inhale…pause…exhale…pause. Breathe this way 8-10 times.
This abdominal deep breathing exercise is a great way to help your mind and body relax. It is also a helpful cure for people who get migraines or stress headaches because a major cause of headaches is lack of oxygen due to shallow breathing. Over time with practice, this exercise will train your body to naturally breathe through your abdomen even in stressful situations.
Take a time out a few times a day and practice abdominal breathing. You will discover this to be one of the single most helpful tools to improve the quality of your life.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 14 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.