Despite the fact that yoga tends to be touted as the panacea for everything and, increasingly, as the answer to gaining an edge in sports performance—not all yoga is good for golfers. Becoming a yogi does not equate to becoming a PGA Tour player.
In fact, spending hours doing arbitrary yoga poses to increase your flexibility could actually impede your functional movement, power and control on the links. That isn’t to say that all yoga is bad for golfers…more like, not all yoga is created equal, and its effectiveness is dictated by the quality of its application to the movement and mental demands of the game.
With so many different styles of yoga, “doing yoga” is a lot like going out to eat. What type of food? How good is the chef? Just as spicy Thai differs from traditional Italian, Ashtanga yoga differs from Hatha. And yoga teachers are akin to chefs in their range of acceptable qualifications; one chef may have graduated from culinary school with expertise in thai cuisine, while another might simply have a knack for making pasta.
Unlike certifications for TPI, FMS or the NSCA, with prerequisites and a comprehensive exam to prove competency, specific credentials aren’t required for yoga instructors. Although “registration” with the Yoga Alliance tends to be considered the gold standard, its 200-hour programming leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to training athletes. Of the 200 hours, only 20 are designated for anatomy and physiology, which, depending on the program, could be solely devoted to eastern “energy” anatomy, like chakras.
So when you walk into just any yoga class—even one marketed to athletes—the quality and applicability of the instruction is subjective. Although it might seem like any golf yoga is better than no golf yoga, focusing on flexibility without addressing specific needs for stability and mobility could lead to imbalances, instability, power loss, and increased risk of injury that impedes sport performance.
This is especially true for golf because it requires an enormous range of dynamic rotational motion, as well as the ability to execute precise, controlled movement within a much shorter range. Consequently, spending time opening hips and hamstrings to get your leg over your head isn’t going to help your handicap.
That said, when yoga is taught by an instructor familiar with the body-swing connection who can identify and apply yoga-based exercises to address the physical and physiological demands of the game, it can become a high performance training tool.
Because golf swings require powerful mobility through an enormous range in the hips and thoracic spine, any limitations in these areas will put undue compensatory stress on other areas of the body, like the low back, which requires stability. Essential to stability, mobility and power in a swing—and, arguably, all movements—is a functional diaphragm.
Since the diaphragm is both a respiratory and postural muscle that attaches to the ribcage and lumbar spine while also running through the hip flexors, it influences ribcage position, shoulder girdle stability, shoulder mobility, t-spine rotation, pelvis position/movement, hip mobility/stability, low-back integrity and pelvic floor/core muscle strength and function—all of which enable a dynamic, fluid swing without a loss of balance or control.
As illustrated in the exercises below, building off a foundation of functional diaphragmatic breathing, golfers can use yoga-based methods to leverage breathing mechanics for better thoracic rotation while also strengthening deep core, pelvic floor and low-back stability to support enhanced hip mobility. And training better breathing can also improve golf’s mental-performance aspect via the physiological benefits that heighten mind-body control and mitigate stress response.
The following exercises are not only good for addressing overall mobility, stability and mental performance, but also as specific correctives based on the TPI Screen. Within each exercise’s description, I’ve noted its applicability to Screen deficits. Because these four exercises take players through all planes of motion, addressing both physical and physiological needs, they can be used effectively in a sequence as a pre-game or pre-workout warm up, or as individual exercises, as needed—even on the course or in the cart.