How taking a breath could make you a better player
I am very fortunate on my podcast show, The Brain Booster, to get to interview some really interesting people.
Every now and then someone comes on the show and really gets me thinking in a totally different way. Someone who shakes my existing world view and has me considering, ‘why didn’t I think about that?’
The most recent example of this was a man called Patrick McKeown, author of a book called The Oxygen Advantage. Patrick tours the world teaching people how to breathe better.
Yes, as strange as it may seem this man has spent the last 20 years studying how we breathe and how when people breathe inefficiently, it can have serious repercussions not just for how we perform at sports like golf but our whole well-being in general.
In the book he explains many of the myths and misconceptions about what should be the simplest thing we do in life.
Without giving the whole story away, Patrick explains that most people are what he calls “chronic over breathers”.
They are using the mouth to breathe when in fact we should be using the nose to do what it is designed to do. As he says, “the mouth is for eating and the nose is for breathing.”
The effects of mouth breathing can be a lack of energy, an inability to focus and concentrate, poor digestion and, perhaps most vital of all, poor sleep quality.
He also makes it clear sucking in a big deep breath is perhaps one of the worst things that you can do to try to calm things down in a stressful sporting or life situation.
A big deep breath through the mouth will actually increase your sense of ‘fight or flight’ and make your anxiety worse. His whole principle is about breathing efficiently through your nose in a much quieter, calmer and slower manner.
The other interesting point he made on the podcast was that in the modern world we are so much inside of our heads. We are always thinking about what we should have done and what we ought to do, what we need to do in the future.
As we spend all of this time up in our heads, we are in a constant state of low-level distraction.
Our attention is literally scattered through our busy lives like confetti. The ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand is almost a forgotten skill.
We then come to play a game like golf, which absolutely demands our attention to perform well, and we then wonder why we often play so poorly.
When you simply bring your attention to your breath you quieten all of this noise down. You focus on your body as opposed to drowning in the noise between your ears. You become present to what is going on now as opposed to having a conversation with yourself about a past that has gone or a future that hasn’t even arrived yet.
Just by making a point to notice your own breathing you can begin to slow the breath down. You can begin to let the nose do the job it is wonderfully capable of doing. You also learn to keep your attention in one place.
From a mental game view, I have long since believed the secret to better golf resides in one word: attention. The ability to pay attention to something you deem important for a period of time.
It may seem the simplest thing in the world but to paraphrase another guest on the show, Fred Shoemaker, there are perhaps just a handful of golfers who manage to keep their attention on one thing for the duration of a single golf swing.
As the mind jumps around then the body is unable to perform the task it is trained to do. We drown in our thinking and block the innate ability of the body to perform.
It may be a stretch to say going for a walk each day and just simply placing your attention on your breath will make you a better golfer but from what experts like Patrick McKeown are saying, it will certainly give you a better chance and at the very least you will certainly feel a lot better in general.