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By: Michael Riek
Yoga’s Stereotype Like many people would be venturing off into a completely new realm of exercise, I was very skeptical of yoga at first. The stigma that it was only for women, that it was all about flexibility, and that the “breath” was a critical tool in the practice all sounded a bit foreign to me, considering I was a male who preferred more “masculine” methods of exercise. But once I realized how closely integrated my passion for golf and the practice of yoga were, I decided it was worth a try. Coming to Yoga To give you a bit of background, I was a three-sport athlete in high school, earning all-conference honors in football, basketball, and golf, and when I graduated I was blessed with a choice of which sport(s) to play at the collegiate level. Though my highest aptitude was likely in football or basketball, my true passion was golf, and I was excited to see how much I could progress with golf as my only athletic focus. After a successful four-year college career where I made great strides in improving from a 10-handicap to a scratch golfer, I continued to play competitively in Wisconsin amateur tournaments, and in the summer of 2011, had my most successful season yet, nearly winning two tournaments and contending in a few others. As a person who loves taking on challenges and is driven to continually improve, I pondered the idea of honing in on an exercise program that would give me an advantage on my competition, and in early 2012 I decided I wanted to take initiative in further developing my golf game. I began researching golfspecific exercise programs and stumbled upon a website dedicated to yoga for golfers, and was somewhat intrigued. I found out there was a certified instructor named Jim Crane in Oshkosh, WI, the city I worked in, and so I decided to contact him. What really sold me about Jim was before agreeing to meet me, he made it clear that this program would require dedication and was not just a casual practice. He asked me a series of questions about what my goals were and what prompted me to get into yoga, and upon telling him that I wanted to improve my golf game by increasing my strength, flexibility, and balance, I knew a one-on-one environment with Jim was what I wanted to pursue. Early Going I had expected the first few meetings to be a learning experience, picking up on the terminology and basics of yoga, but it was much more difficult than I had originally thought. Simple poses that were fundamental to yoga proved to be very difficult for me, and I realized how much work I had ahead of me. The progress was slow but noticeable, and it wasn’t until four to six weeks after starting that I transitioned from a mindset of simply trying yoga to a long-term mindset committed to integrating yoga into my golf game. What initiated this decision was my realization that the most worthwhile things in my life were never easy, and making that connection with my early struggles in yoga was a turning point. Following that conscious decision, I began seeing significant changes in my mind and body.
The Many Benefits of Yoga The benefits of my yoga practice were numerous and continue to exceed even my highest expectations. In my golf game, I was able to enhance my focus on the present, a crucial aspect of playing competitively. Physically, I gained 10-15 yards with each club with a swing that felt more effortless and controlled. My stability and balance were so good that I enjoyed holding my finish position when I was practicing because it was something I was never able to do consistently. And as an added bonus, I found myself with no back pain or soreness before or after any round of golf that I played throughout 2012. One thing I overlooked was how the benefits of doing yoga would extend into my everyday life. I was able to relax more easily. Walking around the office at work felt much easier and effortless, and things like sitting in a chair saw me using better posture. I found myself randomly balancing on one foot and performing stretches and poses automatically because of my heightened self-awareness of what my body needed at any given time. My New Perception and What I’ve Learned Today, nearly 11 months after beginning my journey into yoga, my vision of the practice has changed dramatically. Yoga is no longer a women’s activity that is solely about flexibility and breathing. To me, it’s a cumulative practice that yields no shortcuts to improvement and requires commitment and discipline to reap the benefits of one’s labor. It’s a practice that integrates so seamlessly with golf that I no longer see one without the other. It’s a practice that challenges your mind and body to do things you never thought you could. If nothing else, yoga has taught me that it’s not about the final result or the goal you aim to achieve, but more importantly it’s about the journey it took to get there and the process of doing what you can with what you have. Failure is part of learning and learning is part of improving. And because of these and many other reasons, yoga is a practice I plan to make a lifelong journey because of the lessons I continue to learn from it.