Yoga GolfLaughing Buddha by Soulfood

One sweltering afternoon in my twelfth summer, I flipped on our brand new color television set. The 1972 broadcast offerings were scant, and I clicked the dial round and round and round looking for something – anything besides Gilligan’s Island – to watch. Each time the PBS channel clicked by, there was a strange woman seated cross-legged on the floor. Her dark hair hung in a long fat braid, and a crazy orange leotard with a curious symbol on the chest covered her body from neck to wrist to ankle. Her voice was mesmerizing, and I finally stopped turning the dial to check out the weirdness of it all. “Lilias” seemed to be leading some sort of an exercise class, but she peppered her instructions with foreign words and ended the show with her hands clasped like a prayer and her head serenely bowed. She talked about burning incense and meditating, and it was so hippy-dippy freaky to my twelve-year-old mind that I flipped off the tv with a scoff and some eye rolling as only a pre-teen can do. Over the next few years, I stumbled upon that show every once in a while – remember, there wasn’t a lot on the tube – and it was intriguing enough to make a lasting impression about that mystical thing called yoga.

I guess you could say I’ve been a lifelong student of yoga, although it’s been a series of fits and starts. In the 80’s I bought a couple of books to learn about yoga, and by the 90’s it had become mainstream enough to find a local studio without having to go underground and run the risk of looking like a new-age woo-woo. I have listened and learned from some wonderfully inspirational yoga teachers at studios around the country, at yoga retreats and conferences, at the Sivananda Yoga Farm, and now at YogaWorks’ array of classes. I will probably never be a true yogi, but I continue to enrich my practice and to strive for that state of nirvana that gurus embody.

Golf was another foreign mystery in my growing-up years. Oh sure, large green swathes cut across the Arizona desert where I laughed at the silver-haired snow birds driving around in funny little cars swinging silver sticks at tiny white balls. Clearly they had nothing better to do with all that leisure world time, so I thought. I wasn’t a country club kid like my better half, although he will tell you that he wasn’t either. His father once entered Tony and his two older brothers in a club tournament where they wound up securing the last three slots on the leader board. Without flinching, they beat a hasty retreat back to their strongholds of the football field and the baseball diamond.

As we age, we often begin to embrace those things we once scorned. Whether our bodies tire just enough to appreciate the nuances of a slower pace or whether our minds mature enough to focus on mental clarity and cerebral bliss, activities such as yoga and golf become central to our being and teach us things about living a joyful, well-intentioned existence.

** Life is a game to played, not a contest to be won. Yoga is not meant to be competitive, although hot yoga certainly feels like a battle sometimes. It’s important to find an inner or outer focal point instead of letting our eyes wander around the room checking out the quality of our fellow students’ handstands to see who’s winning. Similarly, although golf is competitive, the primary competition is against oneself. I may be trying to improve my putting, develop a better chip shot, or hit a longer drive, but the primary goal for me is smoothing my swing until it feels like second nature – not winning the club championship.

** Take the time to marinade your mind. Holding challenging yoga poses by finding one point of focus or easing into shivasana (aka total relaxation) by completely letting go, it is immensely beneficial to let your mind steep like a giant tea bag, gently bringing out the rich, bold flavors locked within. While the yoga mat can take you deep within yourself, the golf course challenges you to look far beyond. Walking the rolling hills and taking in the artful vistas of a golf course can be truly mind-expanding, like a moving meditation. As a plus, nature’s majesty helps to take your mind off the frustrations that stem from the inconsistencies of the game.

** Have fun and don’t be too serious. The practice of yoga puts our bodies in some very compromising positions. It’s easy to feel like a wobbly weeble when balancing in one-legged King Dancer Pose, so when I feel myself toppling over it’s ok to smirk, even snicker a bit. In our most exposed state – lying on our backs with our crotches vulnerably stuck up in the air as we grab our feet and rock side to side – we can’t help but feel amused by the silliness of Happy Baby pose. One of the primary reasons I chose to marry my husband is because he never fails to make me laugh. Tony has taught me the humorous subtleties of golf etiquette and the pleasures of spending an afternoon chasing after balls. And I have shared so many moments of hysterical laughter with my simpatico partner as she and I learned the game together from the ground up, dodging each other’s hack shots as we rolled. If we took ourselves seriously, we would have quit playing long ago.

** Preparation is the key. The surest ways to ruin a good yoga class are scrambling to gather props while rushing in late, despairing for a potty break in the middle of the workout, and trying to suppress a tickly cough during shivasana. That’s why I always make sure I get there with plenty of time to settle in for a few moments of meditation, and I always have cough drops in my yoga bag in case of a sneak attack. And get this – I always play my best golf when I do a little yoga before I hit the course.

** Lose the inhibition.  Let’s face it – yoga is pretty weird, especially with a playful teacher. Sometimes we find ourselves waggling our fannies in a funky Down Dog, sticking our tongues out as far as we can in Lion’s Breath, and falling flat on our faces in Crow Pose. We just have to dare to be silly, to heck with our image. Furthermore, I certainly can’t worry what I look like when I’m addressing the ball on the first tee box with three golf partners and everyone on the driving range watching. When I think about who might be watching me, I invariably shank it or hook it or god forbid whiff the ball. In actuality, not many people are ever watching me, except in my imagination, so I have to remind myself to stop worrying and just let it rip.

** Avoid comparisons. Yesterday I kept sneaking peeks at a fellow yogi in class, despite my best intention to stay focused. She had the most gracefully athletic body, and her yoga practice was poetry in motion. I was bemoaning the fact that my practice will never be as beautiful as hers, partly because I will never be thirty years old again (damn). I consoled myself by thinking that I have the wisdom that comes with age, but that comparison paled in the bright glow of her beaming face. Who needs wisdom when you’ve got bliss? Comparisons are completely wasted in golf games as well. Handicaps take care of that by leveling the playing field. All we really need to do is play our own best game.

** Work hard and then reap the rewards. Without a doubt, the best part of yoga is a well-deserved shivasana. Sprawled out on your back with the sweat cooling off your steaming Corpse Pose is nothing short of restorative. Any yoga teacher worth her salt will tell you that shivasana is the most therapeutic benefit of the practice. Likewise, the 19th hole is either the best reward for a round well played or the most potent remedy for a lousy game.

** Respect others and be willing to adjust to the surroundings. I love my personal space. I always get to yoga class early to set up my perfect little territory. But every so often the class packs in, spoiling my peaceful reverie. Suddenly our mats are touching, I’m brushing up against the calloused heel of the woman who badly needs a pedicure, and ick – the hairy guy next to me is dripping sweat on my mat.  Here is where I learn to let go and embrace that sense of oneness with humanity, in all its unattractive glory. Fortunately there is lot of open space on a golf course, so the only thing I worry about there is staying in bounds, staying out of the sand traps, and not conking a fellow golfer in their personal space. The secret to bliss is being aware of everything around us, up close and far away – and then tuning it out.

** It’s the little things that matter the most. It may seem like yoga is all about achieving the perfect poses, but the true discipline and fulfillment comes from the moments in between the poses. Smoothly transitioning from one pose to the next is profoundly satisfying – kind of like savoring those peaceful little nothing moments in our day. On the same note, one of my favorite things about golf is simply walking from one swing to the next. It gives me a chance to shake off a bad hack or savor a well-hit shot, revel in the great outdoors, and simply breathe.

** Just breathe. There is nothing like a few satisfying deep breaths to make anything and everything feel better. And there is truly nothing like yoga to instill the techniques and benefits of focused breath. Golf, on the other hand, does nothing to instill good breathing. In fact, I often find myself actually holding my breath when I address the ball. But if I am consciously in the moment, I remind myself to just breathe, which never fails to loosen my swing and better my shot.

** In the face of adversity, smile. When struggling through a difficult yoga pose, forcing out a smile has the amazing effect of activating our chi and opening up our energy channels – really! Even copping a grimacing smile after the five swings it took to blast out of a sand trap softens the angst just a bit. And that’s not new-age woo-woo – that’s just consciously working on being happy.

Such are the life lessons from my secret yoga… not the practice that everyone around me sees, but the one that goes on inside my head.  The practice of yoga is like pouring a bucket of pure sparkling water over my brain – it is suddenly clarifying and helps me to see things in a fresh new light, illuminating thoughts and enhancing positivity.  There are always negative forces in the world that seek to disrupt our game and mess with our mojo. But don’t let that bad old happiness hijacker jump in your cart or lie on your mat – just wave him off with a knowing grin and a heartfelt Namaste.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tom Roueche
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 16:34:39

    Hmmm… My first yoga practice on Tuesday and my 1,000 round of golf on Wednesday. I will have to ponder your ‘lessons’ a bit… Intriguing post

    Namaste and Fore!


  2. Sharon Burke
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 18:56:47

    Ha! I can relate to this ENTIRE post! having taken up both yoga and golf in the last three years. Smiled all the way through! very well written.


  3. Debb Holub
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 04:13:07

    Well, having done both and still craving the mat…golf..not so much..I enjoyed your humor and transparency. xoxo


    • janahaertl
      Sep 30, 2013 @ 21:14:36

      Well, here’s a little transparency, my good karma friend… I knew karma would get me for writing about always getting to class early to mentally prepare… a week later I got stuck in traffic and skittered into a very crowded classroom with two minutes to spare… the teacher had to squish people together to make space for me, right between a very large man and a beautiful young woman… I should know better than to ever be smug about anything! xoxo


  4. Kim Helgans
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 18:43:18

    Jana-Yoga and golf are certainly bound by the joy in the practice… loved your post. I am thankful for time spent in practice with you over the years! And, yes, several belly-laughs each day are a must.


  5. teri smyth
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 17:13:15

    Love your inspiring posts Jana. They make me appreciate life more. I enjoy your writing style and want to be like you someday:)


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