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Zen and the Flow-State
By: Jayne Storey (profile)
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‘Spontaneous excellence’… the ability to produce spectacular shots with seemingly little effort… is the thing that keeps us all playing and loving the game…so how can you experience this state more often? Jayne Storey, founder of chi-power GOLF explains.

Spontaneous excellence’… the ability to produce spectacular shots with seemingly little effort… is the thing that keeps us all playing and loving the game…so how can you experience this state more often? Jayne Storey, founder of chi-power GOLF explains.

 

The Flow-State

 

Phrases like peak performance, transcendence, the flow-state and the zone, all refer to the bursts of spontaneous excellence experienced by many golfers, however briefly, and describe a state where actions are easy, focus is 100% and the player knows instinctively what to do to succeed.

What we know about the experience of ‘the zone’ is that the golfer is totally focused, actions are automatic and intuitive. A golfer in the zone doesn’t take in any information from the outside environment or talk to herself at all about the game, opponents, weather conditions or personal performance level.

Action and awareness therefore merge when the golfer becomes totally absorbed in what they are doing – when they have the skills to meet the challenge and focus all of their attention on the task at hand. This total absorption or immersion in the game is one of three core components of the zone/flow-state.

The three core components are: Skill + Passion + Immersion.

You may also be familiar with the ‘Inner Game’ model, which states that peak performance is a natural result of talent minus interference.

The experience of the zone usually takes the player by surprise, as it comes at a moment of intense physical effort and mental concentration. It is almost as though golfers who push themselves to their limits often experience something like a transcendent state which some have referred to as mystical or otherworldly – a state similar to the ‘Samadhi’ experience of inner peace achieved by those who practise meditation.

The attainment of the flow-state makes possible superior or peak performances that seem effortless, in which the player allows her mind and body to excel, without the hindrance of self-interference, like doubt, anxiety, nerves or loss of confidence.  

So, How Can You Achieve The Flow-State?

 

In order to become immersed in your game, and therefore create the conditions necessary for ‘spontaneous excellence’ to occur, the conscious mind needs to be anchored in a natural process – the simplest one being to focus on the breath. By doing this, the skills you have honed through experience on the course and the practise ground can be allowed to manifest without desire, doubt or anxiety creeping in to wreck your game-plan. Put another way, the zone is a state in which your conscious mind/superego stops telling you why you can't make the shot and allows you just to get on with it!

Zen – the Doorway into the Flow-State

Commonly known as Zen, this is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ch’an – derived originally from the Sanskrit dhyana – which may be translated as meditation or contemplation. Very simply, meditation is the art of sitting quietly, focusing on your breathing.

Why Does it Work?

The brain undergoes subtle changes during meditation. Research shows that meditation can actually train the mind and reshape the brain. Tests using the most sophisticated imaging techniques suggest that meditation can reset the brain, changing the point at which a fluffed bunker shot, for instance, sets the blood boiling and walking out to the first tee fills you will anxiety. What the scientists discovered through these studies is that with enough practise, the neurons in the brain will actually re-shape themselves, and many parts of the brain responsible for taking in information, actually slow down or go off-line altogether, enabling the practitioner to have a more positive experience of themselves and detach from negative feelings and situations.

How Will Your Game Benefit?

Golfers who have made a commitment to this simple practise have reported many benefits, including feeling a greater sense of freedom and being more relaxed around the course, stopping negative thought-chains, reducing anxiety and self-interference, and even better powers of visualisation. Bringing your attention to your breath also helps to increase concentration during your pre-shot routine. Focusing on the T’an tien (see Stage Three below) is ideal for helping you feel relaxed yet strongly rooted into the ground at address, as it encourages a lowering of your centre of gravity. You can also use short bursts of meditation (a few deep breaths) any time you need to let go of poor shots.

Stages of Meditation

It is important to find which of the following stages work best for you. As a general guide, try to practise each stage for a minimum of 3 weeks. For each stage, breathe in and out through the nose, making each breath long, smooth and silent.

Stage One: Watching

Sit quietly for twenty minutes and simply be aware of yourself breathing in and breathing out. Tune into the feeling of yourself breathing and follow each breath with a warm-hearted mind.

Stage Two: Counting

On the first breath, count one silently as you inhale and count one again silently as you exhale. Continue like like this, counting up to ten breaths. When you reach ten, start counting from one again. If you lose your place, start counting from one again.

Stage Three: T’an tien

Breathe in through the nose and when you exhale concentrate on pusing some of the breath down into the navel area (T’an tien). Of course, the breath does not actually move to the lower abdomen, but concentration on the navel will help you to produce a very composed and concentrated state of mind and experience more physical stability.

What to Expect

Over time, you will gradually find your breathing becomes deeper and slower and you will feel yourself getting physically and mentally stronger and feeling more relaxed.

Home Programme

A good time to practise meditation is first thing in the morning. This helps to energise you and refreshes your mind for the rest of the day. Do not look for the ‘perfect’ place, which you may never find; sitting on the edge of the bath is fine, if that’s the only quiet place in the house! Aim for 20 minutes, four days out of seven.

Pre-Competition

It is often quite difficult to sleep the night before a big tournament or competition. Instead of lying there worrying, get out of bed and practise meditation for 5 or 10 minutes and restore a calm state of mind. In the morning, practise meditation for 5 or 10 minutes immediately upon getting out of bed. From then on, do short bursts of meditation to help maintain calmness and focus until the competition.

As the competition approaches, the ‘bursts’ of meditation should be more frequent. Any panic or negative thoughts can be controlled in this way. Use short bursts too as you drive and then walk to the club house or changing area, and while lacing up your golf shoes and picking up your bag.

During Play

As you set up for each shot, practise focusing on one or two breaths before striking the ball. It may be particularly useful to use Stage Three T’an tien breathing, which will help to centre you physically and emotionally and produce a strong feeling of stability in your lower body. Some golfers have even reported that this stage of meditation makes them feel more powerful.

When you have finished your shot and are walking to the ball again, stay focused on your breathing. You may even like to match the rhythm of your breathing to your foot-steps.

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