As the (Pearl Jam) song goes, Just Breathe…

I love it when readers challenge my blogs. After Friday’s blog was published, I received a great email from one of my subscribers.

The blog, entitled There is a much simpler way to play solid golf, relayed how Charles Fitzsimmons focused on his breathing to help him calm down and get present when he was having an “Oh-my-God moment” during the 2021 Canadian Mid-Amateur Championship, which he went on to win.

I wrote my reader back to explain why I believe focusing on breathing is a key to great performance, and thought—Heck, I should post this. Other people are going to be curious as well.

Dear (Name Deleted to Protect Confidentiality):

Many thx for your great email. I appreciate you taking the time, and your passion.

I completely understand your concern that “concentrating on an automatic function like breathing seems counter intuitive to actually letting your body do its thing.”

The practice that’s described in last week’s blog is the same practice used in breath-focused meditation.

That is, the intention is merely to pay attention to the breath. To focus our concentration on it.

The key is that we’re not trying to breathe any certain way, control it or do anything to our breath.

To use your word, we are merely witnessing the ‘automatic’ functioning of our breath. We’re just feeling it or hearing it or observing—or all of the above—it as it happens naturally. In other words, we let our body do its thing. 

(I could be wrong, but my sense from your note was that you believe I was inferring that we somehow control or manipulate our breath, in the say way as we might try to, say, move our arm a certain way in the downswing, which to me is self interference.)

The breath is ideal for practising being in the present moment because breathing happens naturally. We are always breathing … or we die. 

The thinking mind is most always either in the future or the past. But the body is always in the present. It doesn’t time travel.

That’s why focusing on the breath in sports, performance of any kind and meditation is so popular, and valuable.

Our minds are forever jumping from thing to thing,  and when we get under stress, the mind is prone to jumping around even more. It’s often referred to as monkey mind.

But when we focus on our breath—again, just paying attention to it—we are in the present moment.

In meditation, we make it our intention to focus on our breath. But what happens for everyone, even veteran meditators, is that our minds will drift into thinking. It’s inevitable. That’s the way the mind works.

Eventually we become aware that our focus has drifted from our breath and into thinking. Kind of like, ‘Oh, I’m thinking.’

Noting that your attention has drifted is the skill of awareness. We’re aware of what our mind is doing.

Then we can bring our attention back to our intention—to focus on our breath. And the process begins again. 

The breath works great as our focus of attention because it is always there, happening in a natural way. 

I’m hoping this makes some sense.

Let me know your thoughts. Tx again for the email.

Tim O’Connor

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

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