Yoga and Golf Are Both Four-Letter Words

How practice unexpectedly changed one unlikely yogi’s golf game.

I’m about as unlikely a spokesperson for yoga as you can get. I’m a 60-year-old male, who is the retired CEO of a manufacturing business. My early impression of yoga was that it was only for Beatles fans who really wanted to join them in Strawberry Fields forever. When my millennial daughters both got into yoga, I thought it was just something that young women did to look good on the beach. But after listening to them proselytize about the benefits of yoga, I decided to secretly investigate. I bought an old “Yoga for Dummies” DVD at a yard sale for 50 cents, a series of basic practices and flows. I was surprised at how quickly my attitude toward yoga changed, but the most unexpected result was how I was unwittingly turned from a lousy golfer into a passable one.

I am a latecomer to the game of golf. When I was young I didn’t have the money or the inclination to play. As I reached middle age, I couldn’t justify the time commitment while trying to balance the demands of running a business with the desire to spend time with my family. So I just played occasionally at corporate or charity events. Now that I’m retired, however, I find myself on the green at least once a week.

Playing golf is a very humbling experience. There’s a certain degree of futility in a game in which the objective is to hit a 2-inch diameter ball roughly 1,000 feet and have it land in a hole that’s not much larger than the ball itself. I must admit that I take secret joy when I tune into a golf match and see one of the pros whack the ball into the woods. They then have to take their next shot while awkwardly embracing a tree—a shot with which I’m fairly familiar.

It is a common golf adage that “golf is a four letter word.” I’ve witnessed even the most refined and gentlemanly of individuals spew forth streams of four letter words on the golf course that they would never dare utter elsewhere. I can’t tell you how many players I’ve heard, myself included, wonder out loud why they ever decided to take up the game in the first place. But then that amazing moment comes when you hit the ball long and straight in the direction that you wanted, and you know that you are hooked like a yoga teacher is to morning vinyasa.

There’s a deeper relationship between golf and yoga than just a compulsion to practice over and over again. To start: Yoga has tremendously helped to increase the flexibility of my 60-year-old body. While my sun salutations, downward facing dogs, and cobra poses are not something of beauty, I know and appreciate the fact that it’s yoga practice rather than yoga performance. And it’s not just physical flexibility—as much as it pains me to admit, my daughters were right. I’ve also begun to experience the benefits of an increased knowledge of myself and an inner peace that I may have scoffed at in the past.

It is not a coincidence that my golf game has improved by ten-plus strokes per round since I have taken up yoga. After all, golf is all about flexibility and keeping control of yourself. My golf swing is akin to a yoga flow; I call on pranayama techniques with every swing to make smooth, repeatable, and effective movements. However—like life—even my best efforts sometimes result in less-than-perfect outcomes. It is then that my yoga practice helps me remain calm, even when that little white ball decides to misbehave and fly off into the woods to find his siblings that I have deposited there before him. Namaste.

After seeing and feeling the improvement in my golf game as direct result of my yoga practice, I wouldn’t dream of heading out to the golf course without first spending time doing yoga. As it turns out, yoga and golf are both four-letter words.

jim profileJim Johnson retired after a 30-year career in manufacturing, the last seven of which were as President of Performance Motorsports Inc., a leading manufacturer of engine components for the performance racing industry. He is now a consultant to business owners and a speaker for Vistage International, an international CEO coaching organization. Before moving to the beach, he led the Cincinnati Lutheran coalition for Habitat for Humanity. He currently spends his time traveling the world with his wife of 35 years, playing card games with his family, and singing loudly off-key. He’s also an avid golfer and seeker of truth.