Alexander Technique lessons can help every golfer improve their all-round game
Most golf manuals offer a host of tweaks and tricks to transform your game. If you want to halve your handicap, so the guidance goes, consider tightening here and loosening there. And what about more power, less rotation…
This constant build-up of advice can be very counter-productive, especially for the golfer who is still getting to grips with the basics. Instead of enjoying the exhilaration of a straight drive from the tee or a long holed putt, it’s possible to get so bogged down by technique that you suffer paralysis by analysis.
Rather than adding layer upon layer of instruction, a far better starting point for any golfer is to stop trying to do more and, instead, do less. An approach that simplifies instead of complicates chimes perfectly with the principles of the Alexander Technique, by helping you become more aware of how you’re using your body while you play. Unnecessary physical tension not only places stress on your muscles and joints, it also limits your ability to perform with freedom and focus.
Here are three key ways in which Alexander Technique can be as useful as an extra club in your golf bag:
1. Stay in the moment
The great American dancer Martha Graham once said: ‘All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living’. Graham’s comment will be understood by all sportspeople searching for that holy grail: being ‘in the zone’. It’s a state where movement happens instinctively and without effort: picture an athlete flowing naturally and gracefully along the track, or a footballer poised and balanced to strike the ball without visible strain. They are responding to the situation, rather than reacting to it.
The key to staying in the moment is to focus on the activity itself – what an Alexander teacher will call ‘the means whereby’ – rather than emphasising its outcome, known as ‘end gaining’. ‘Consciously allowing the whole body to be free to hole a putt,’ says Alexander Technique teacher, STAT spokesperson, and golf coach Martyn Jones, ‘is more likely to produce a positive outcome than fixating on what might happen after the ball has left your club head. Otherwise your mind can be jumping ahead of what you want your body to perform, with the likelihood that you’ll tense up and fluff the shot.’
2. Regain control of your body
When asked how they might improve their posture, many people talk of trying to stand or sit up straight. However, turning into a parade ground sergeant major takes effort and actually introduces tension, pulling ourselves out of shape. The Alexander approach is to develop awareness of this tension and encourage muscles to release, helping you feel as though your body is ‘better organised’. A more natural posture comes, well, just naturally.
For the golfer, improved body control can have a transformative effect. Applying excessive effort in an attempt to drive the ball longer, for instance, will only cause a contraction in muscles that should instead be letting go. It’s akin to driving a car with the handbrake on: it’ll move, but not very efficiently – not to mention the added wear and tear. ‘The inevitable consequence of playing golf with a body that’s carrying tension is injury,’ says Jones. ‘Given the repetitive movements of golf, there is a far greater risk of suffering overuse injuries if you’re asking your muscles and joints to do more work than they need.’
3. Release – and breathe!
Alexander was known as the ‘Breathing Man’ early in his career because he was able to help people improve in this aspect of everyday function. For the golfer, aligning your breathing pattern to your movement seems a natural way to keep control of a shot; however, Alexander also noted that he could not improve a person’s breathing without improving the overall ‘use’ of their body. Someone who slouches, for example, will never improve their breathing patterns without first addressing their slouch.
Collapsing down into a slouch is usually accompanied by raising the shoulders, arching the back and lifting the sternum. It’s impossible to suddenly undo these habitual patterns of movement the moment you step onto a golf course. Thinking back to our overly prescriptive coaching manuals, far better to prevent this interference with our natural movement in the first place than try to add on some new ‘improvement’.
This approach to developing better use of your body, free of unnecessary tension, is at the heart of the Alexander Technique. Learning to ‘release’ your muscles and joints during lessons with an Alexander teacher will help you find your natural length – a quality that will not only enhance your everyday movements but will be an asset to your golf as well. Lengthening your torso as you move more freely will allow your abdomen to respond naturally to the rhythms of your breathing. In this way, breathing will become one less thing for you to need to think about every time you address the ball.
One golfer who has taken Alexander lessons can vouch for their impact on his game: ‘Increasing my awareness through the Technique has helped me release tension which I was previously unaware of, in particular when standing at the tee. In the past, my mind would have been elsewhere and my thoughts made me more tense. Applying the Technique, I discovered how relaxing the jaw, feeling my socks in my shoes, sensing the ground beneath my feet and just “being there” really helped.
‘My drive distance improved and I cut five shots in one game. By applying the Alexander principles I’m now much more relaxed when I play. I’m more aware of the moment and less focused on the outcome, or what my teacher calls end-gaining. My driving distances have improved through being more relaxed and having greater freedom of movement.’
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