In loving memory of my sister,
Elizabeth Higgins Merriman (1967-2009)
She was the first to see a spark of something special in this project. She believed in it. She believed in me.
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© by Andrea Higgins
2006 First Edition; 2007 Second Edition; 2015 Revised and Enhanced Web Book Edition. All rights reserved. This web book contains audio found in earlier editions.
Elizabeth A. Merriman; First and Second Editions.
Ann Haughey; First, Second, and Third Editions.
Molly McKitterick; Third Edition
Interior page design by
Andrea Higgins using the Atavist Platform
Golf Photos: ©Everett Collection, 2013. Used under license from Shutterstock.com
Cover Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Tyler Boyes
Feldenkrais Method® and Awareness Through Movement® are registered service marks and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP) is the certification mark of the Feldenkrais Guild® of North America.
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Web ISBN: 978-0-9968512-1-3
Golf came into my life unexpectedly. I was a graduate student at American University in Washington, DC, studying dance during the day, and teaching Pilates at night. It so happened that several of my Pilates clients were golfers. When I met them they had already been playing golf for many years, and each of them had invested a great deal of time and energy into learning to play well. Despite training with highly qualified and respected teachers, they struggled with inconsistency in their execution, and were troubled by various injuries.
After beginning Pilates, my clients quickly recognized that the exercises we were doing in our weekly training sessions had direct applications to their golf swing, particularly in terms of increasing core strength and improving flexibility. Conversations about golf technique soon became a regular occurrence during lessons. As a trained dancer, I understood the principles of the technique they described. I could also see that they were missing the mark in terms of execution, primarily because of a lack of integration. They understood the individual elements of a great golf swing, but the pieces didn't connect smoothly.
I began working with my Pilates clients in exactly the same way that I did with my dance students. I designed sequences of movement, with each new sequence relating to and building upon the previous. The end result of this approach for my golfers was an increasingly more integrated use of the whole self, in which the overall quality of their movement became more fluid. The personal measure of the changes these clients felt in themselves always seemed to come back to golf. They would frequently stop in the middle of a lesson to practice a few golf swings. The freedom they felt during and immediately following their Pilates lessons brought a renewed sense of excitement, because they could sense the potential for improvement in their game. However, this feeling would oftentimes elude them by the time they played their next round of golf. It was clear that strength and flexibility training alone, were not enough to remedy the situation.
The Feldenkrais Method
In addition to dance, my graduate program included coursework in somatic movement.I was intrigued by the philosophy of these methods and found them to be especially helpful in rehabbing my own knee injury. After graduation, I enrolled in a teacher certification program in the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. Named for Moshe Feldenkrais D.Sc. (1904-84), the Feldenkrais Method uses a combination of movement and guided attention to increase one's kinesthetic awareness of neuromuscular activity.
Feldenkrais lessons can bring about deeply therapeutic physical change, both consciously and subconsciously. In the case of the latter, more comfortable movement patterns emerge in the way an individual walks, stands, turns or bends. The student may not know what is different, they just know that they feel better, both physically and emotionally. The experience can also trigger a renewed sense of intellectual curiosity and creativity.
Conscious levels of change happen when an individual is so highly in-tuned with their movement that they can choose ways of acting from moment to moment. Think of the great Jazz musician, Miles Davis, for example. He achieved a physical command of his technique through hours of practice, but he remained flexible in how he used that technique and could respond in the moment of performance with subtle nuance. Many world-class athletes who are at the top of their form often describe a feeling of being in the zone. It is that place where they feel confident and focused, and where non-verbal thinking informs their instincts and actions. Author and expert in the study of positive psychology, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, describes this experience as being in a state of flow.
It can be exhilarating when your primary motivation rides upon your skills, and your skills, tested to their limits, are available and responsive to the changing demands of the moment. There may be no better example of this than what happened in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, when Sage Kotsenberg pulled out a gold medal run in the Men's Slopestyle Snowboarding event by doing the never-before seen Back 1620 Japan Air. He completed 4 1/2 rotations while grabbing his snowboard and bringing it behind his back. The truly remarkable thing about Kotsenberg's winning run was that he had never tried the Back 1620 Japan Air before--not in competition, not in practice--never. In a post-run interview he was quoted as saying "I had no idea I was even going to do a 1620 in my run until three minutes before I dropped" (Pells, 2014).
While golf may be more understated than Slopestyle snowboarding, all the top golfers in the world today exemplify a similar state of flow in competition and they, like Sage Kotsenberg, are always doing a trick they have never done before. They may practice many shots like it, but in the moment, it is a new experience. The question for you is: how do you draw upon the skills you have already mastered, and use them confidently and effectively when it matters most?
Let me come back for a moment to the issue of practice. While great athletes may compete in the zone, a great deal of time, energy, and thought goes into their preparation. In Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell observes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to arrive at a level of mastery. But what is really being mastered? Is it the activity? Or, is it the self?
During the opening lecture of a 1979 workshop, which is documented in the book The Master Moves, Moshe Feldenkrais begins by asking, "What's the learning that is important?" (19). He later answers his own question this way:
...the truly important learning is to be able to do the thing you already know in another way. The more ways you have to do the things you know, the freer is your choice, and the freer your choice, the more you're a human being. (20)
Choice and personal freedom were important concepts in all of Moshe's teachings. Explore his writings and you will see repeated references to the distinction between being able to act freely, which arises out of a clear self image born of self awareness; versus a compulsive and unconscious use of the self, which results from the repetition of deeply ingrained habits.
Muscles have memory, which is one of the reasons that habits form. Mastery in any realm requires 10,000 hours of practice because the habits of technique are imprinted at a neuromuscular level. But the element of choice that the greatest of masters exemplify requires that they cultivate within their arsenal something more: they need to cultivate the sensitivity to discern the smallest of differences in the all the available ways they can do what they know.
Moshe understood that in order to cultivate sensitivity of one's physicality, it is imperative to reduce effort. For athletes, hard work is a given. What Moshe was suggesting was quite radical. He taught that you shouldn't work harder; you should work softer. He believed that how you approach learning was more important than anything. Reducing effort to the point at which you could understand and explore small distinctions was the key to mastering the self. It was the self in the act of learning, more than what was being learned that would ultimately lead to a sense of freedom. The kind of freedom that allows someone like Sage Kotsenberg to understand how to do something he has never done before, and collect a gold medal in the process.
Great musicians like Miles Davis and great athletes like Sage Kotsenberg often arrive at the type of mastery we are talking about here because they are driven by passion. They are so fully invested that they find their own way to an understanding of themselves, through the act of doing that thing they know and love. They experiment. They fall down. They get up. They try again, and again, and again. Day after day, year after year, they are able to work successfully on the big things, because they have intuitively arrived at an understanding of how the seemingly small things make a big difference.
Moshe's teaching works in the realm of those small things that greatly influence the big things. He developed a process that can teach you how to reduce effort in order to cultivate kinesthetic sensitivity, and apply that sensitivity to whatever it is that you are passionate about. These lessons (and the process itself) is called Awareness Through Movement, or ATM for short.
ATM utilizes movement and our ability to sense ourselves while moving as the foundation for understanding how we think, process information, and initiate change. The lessons bring about a fully integrated experience of the mind body connection through careful observation of kinesthetic sensation. What makes the ATM process even more interesting is the way it allows the student to have a concrete experience of the neuroplasticity of their brain. This manifests during the lessons as a felt change in neuromuscular response during movement.
I first experienced the benefits of ATM when I suffered my first serious dance injury. The lessons had a profoundly positive impact, and were central to my healing process. The results were equally promising when I began teaching ATM to my students, many of whom had initially sought out Pilates to help alleviate lingering pain from past injuries. Especially rewarding, was the way in which the new pain-free movement my students experienced after their lessons allowed them to reconnect with golf in a new way. It gave them confidence that they could improve and grow as athletes.
In turn, my clients started to teach me more and more about the golf swing so that I could better help them embody the principles taught to them by their golf teaching pros. One day a student said to me, “The teaching pros teach me about golf. You are teaching me how to make the golf swing work for my body.” The truth of the matter is that I was merely facilitating a process. The lessons were providing a context in which this student reconnected with his own body and could then use his understanding of the golf swing, which was rather sophisticated, to confirm his own learning and growth.
Kinesthetic Edge for Golfers will help you find the golf swing that works for your body. You will participate in the process through a series of audio lessons. These lessons will help you to reduce your effort while moving. Then, using gentle, verbally guided movement sequences, you will begin to experience small differences. These differences, when combined with greater clarity of observation, will help you to find a sense of flow and a golf swing that works for your body.
Movement and Habits
Your golf swing, at its most fundamental level, is simply movement. Movement that you practice over and over again becomes habit. Therefore, we could say that your golf swing is a habit of your mind that is expressed through your body. Ideally, you want your body habits to reflect an intelligent thought process. Oftentimes, however, our movement is simply a series of repetitive patterns that formed at some point in our past, and which were successful enough that we started to repeat them.
The way you move today is a combination of the very early patterns that developed as a result of the experiential learning you did as an infant and toddler, and how you applied those earliest of movement patterns to the skills you acquired later. The problem is that once we learn a physical skill, let's use walking for example, we tend to do it automatically without any attention to what it feels like.
In a commencement speech at Kenyan College in 2005, writer David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) began his speech with the following story, which calls to mind the question Albert Einstein once posed, "What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?" He said:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?" (Wallace)
Like the fish in water, we are creatures of habit and gravity. We walk multiple times a day without experiencing how it feels. The experience of walking eludes us.
Of course, it is not practical to get lost in the sensory experience every waking (or walking) moment. If we tried, we would probably forget where we were heading and what we were supposed to do once we got there. However, reconnecting to our sense of movement through ATM is a very powerful and effective way to selectively bring sensory awareness back into focus. The ability to do this is a skill. It is an essential skill if you want to be able to intelligently examine your movement patterns.
In the book, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success, authors and educators Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick identify key attributes of intelligent behavior. They include metacognition (or thinking about thinking) as one of these key behaviors. Moshe Feldenkrais proposed that movement is an essential component of the experience of thinking. In his lecture Mind and Body, printed in Your Body Works, Moshe writes:
I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow relegated to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning. A brain without a body could not think; at least, the continuity of mental functions is assured by corresponding motor functions. (73)
In this same lecture, Moshe goes on to give the following example to support this assertion:
It takes us longer to think the numbers from twenty to thirty than from one to ten, although the numerical intervals are the same between 1 and 10 and 20-30. The difference is that the amount of time needed for thinking the numbers is proportional to the time needed to utter them aloud. So one of the "purest" abstractions--counting--is inextricably linked with the muscular activity through it's nervous organization. (73)
If we consider the concept of meta-cognition as described by Costa and Kallick, through the perspective of mind body unity offered by Moshe Feldenkrais, we realize that it is possible to examine the working of one's mind through the felt and sensed experience of the body in movement. What does this mean for you? If improving your golf swing is your goal, first you need to understand how your mind senses your golf swing through your body.
A lot goes on in the body during the golf swing, far too much to be aware of in the moment. It is possible, however, to examine one small part of it at a time. The audio Awareness Through Movement lessons in this program will help you to break down the multiple sensations of the golf swing, so that you can more easily sense the underlying patterns of movement that combine to make the whole. As you bring awareness to one movement pattern at a time, you will start to sense that pattern begin to integrate more fully throughout your body. Once that happens you will be much more likely to embody that pattern during your golf swing.
Changes that Stick
So, the next question for most golfers becomes, How do I get my body to remember that pattern? In Made to Stick, co-authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath identify six principles that make things memorable: 1) simplicity, 2) unexpectedness, 3) concreteness, 4) credibility, 5) emotions, and 6) stories. The audio ATM lessons you will do during this program will provide you with an embodied experience of the first five principles:
- Simplicity is embodied in the structure of the ATM Lesson, which is built upon a singular theme that becomes clear through the use of repetition and variation.
- Unexpectedness is experienced subjectively, most often through the learner's surprise at felt changes in comfort level, efficiency, body organization, and new pathways that had been previously unavailable.
- Concreteness results from the experience of being in the moment, fully present, aware, and engaged in the learning process.
- Credibility arises from the absolute certainty of the felt changes and the recognition of how that change is beneficial.
- Emotions are experienced because they are tied to our physicality. As movement becomes easier, more comfortable, and suggests new possibilities, our emotions can't help but move in a positive direction as well.
Stories, the sixth of Health and Heath's stick factors, will ultimately be up to you to provide. As you work through this program consider documenting your progress through journaling or a video diary. You might also consider sharing your experience with others, either directly or through an online book club. By sharing your story, the new patterns of movement the ATM lessons elicit will be cemented into your conscious thinking and are, therefore, more likely to stick.
In ATM we work with deeply habituated movement patterns that, in most cases, lie beneath our conscious awareness in day to day living. These movement patterns support all movement activities, including the golf swing. Our movement habits feel right to us because they inform our sense of what is normal. When we try to change these long-standing patterns, we can sometimes feel disoriented.
In graduate school I had a dance professor who used to say that if we wanted to make a change in some aspect of our dance technique, we would first have to change our most deeply habituated body patterns (Halligan-Donahue). Moshe Feldenkrais referred to these habituated states of being in his book, The Elusive Obvious.
Moshe defines the concept of the elusive obvious as that state in which our habits become so ingrained in our sense of normal and sense of self, that we (like the fish who didn't know what water was) no longer recognize that we are living in and through them. His ATM process doesn't force a change of habit, it invites it by quieting the nervous system enough that the mind can distinguish even the subtlest of changes in body use, and make new pathways of movement available. Once you begin to experience those new movement pathways in simple, functional ways, your golf swing will begin to improve at an accelerated pace.
Time and Process
Although the ATM lessons in Kinesthetic Edge for Golfers are relatively short, this program is designed to be done over a three-day period. An hour to an hour-and-a-half a day of quiet, focused work can bring about remarkable changes. Your focus will be on process, and you will learn to create the optimal internal conditions for kinesthetic learning through the physicality of the ATM lessons.
Each day begins with a mat lesson, which will be followed by a golf application lesson. The application lessons will involve hitting some golf balls, so that you can get a sense of how the lessons are impacting your golf swing. You can do this at the driving range or anywhere that you can safely hit some golf balls. It is okay to play a round of golf after doing the lessons each day, but you might also consider working through the program once. You can then go back and use the lessons as a warm-up for future lessons or games.
By the end of the third day of Kinesthetic Edge for Golfers, you will have formed a deeper understanding of your golf swing. This will not come from analyzing your technique, but by cultivating awareness. It is this new and heightened sense of awareness that will reorganize and realign your mind body connection. Once that happens, you will begin to experience a fluid and easy quality in your movement that will support your technique.
Before you do your first ATM lesson, take a trip to the driving range. After hitting a bucket of balls, write down a few observations about your golf swing. Pay particular attention to any physical sensations that draw your attention. Be as detailed as possible. Note what you are doing well, and what you would like to change. This will give you a baseline for understanding how it is that you observe and evaluate your golf technique prior to starting the lessons.
Mark Twain once wrote, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”. The day my journey with golf officially began, one of my Pilates clients was mid-lesson when he suddenly jumped up and said, "a light bulb just went off for me."
He started to tell me about a recent golf lesson, in which he was working on the chain reaction that happens in the body during a good downswing. While doing so, he picked up a golf club that happened to be nearby and started to demonstrate, while explaining what he thought he was doing.
I watched as he repeated the movement a few times, and then said, "You realize, that you are not doing what you are saying, right?" He stopped mid-swing and looked at me, stunned. "What do you mean," he replied. I responded by saying that he had just said one thing, but had shown me another. I took the club from him and first demonstrated what I had heard him say, which he confirmed to be correct. Then I demonstrated what I saw him do. I handed the club back and he tried the swing again. He was silent for a moment, then looked at me and said, "You're right!"
In The Elusive Obvious Moshe writes, "If we do not know what we are actually enacting then we cannot possibly do what we want" (xi). In your first audio lesson, Learning to Discern Differences, you will start forming sensory-based perceptions of yourself. Sensing and understanding what your body is doing is one of the most important skills that you will develop over the course of this program.
As Lesson One proceeds, you will become aware of subtle changes to your initial perceptions as your overall body organization changes. These changes will occur as a result of performing some very simple and extremely gentle movement sequences with great attention to the way that those simple sequences resonate throughout your entire body.
As I guide you through the lesson, I will ask a series of questions designed to heighten your awareness of physical and kinesthetic sensation. Many positive changes come about when one experiences heightened levels of kinesthetic awareness. Three of these changes are of particular importance when it comes to improving your performance on the golf course:
- You will sense movement from an internal perspective.
- You will recognize how different parts of your body contribute to each phase of the swing.
- You will reconnect to the internal rhythm of whole body movement.
As your awareness shifts to an internal understanding of your movement, the integration and coordination of movement throughout your body will improve. With continued practice you will start to sense your golf swing differently, and your movement will start to feel easy and effortless.
TIPS for success
- ATM is the antithesis of the "no pain no gain" mentality. Do not do anything that causes even the slightest degree of discomfort. If you find that you cannot do certain elements in the lesson without discomfort, it is better to lie quietly and do the lesson in your imagination.
- Keep your range of movement small. Keep your pace of movement slow. Feel free to stop and rest at any time. At times, I will direct you to rest, but you should rest more frequently if you feel the need.
- I will guide you through the lesson with instructions to move, and instructions related to observing what you feel as you move. It is not uncommon in the beginning to experience a degree of uncertainty with the latter. This lack of clarity can actually lead to important breakthroughs, so don't get discouraged.
- Throughout this lesson you will be asked to observe differences between the left and right sides of your body. The differences are important; don’t adjust yourself in order to feel more symmetrical.
- You will start this lesson lying on your back on the floor. You should lie on an exercise mat or a carpeted surface in a quiet area where you will not be disturbed. Wear clothing that you can move in easily and remove your shoes.
[Take a break, and then continue with Lesson 1A.]
Lesson 1A: Sense and Feel Your Shot
In Lesson One you learned to scan your body. You also learned how to discern differences between the left and right side of your body. Now it is time to integrate both the scanning process and some of the observations that resulted from that process with your golf swing.
Lesson 1A is designed to be done at the driving range, or anywhere that you can safely practice hitting some golf balls. The goal here is not on the distance of your shots, but on using a soft, easy, quality so that you can discern in greater detail what you body is doing.
When you were bringing yourself to standing at the conclusion of Lesson One, you learned that when you resume your regular activities after a lesson, your habits have a tendency to take over. This applies to your golf swing as well. By approaching your golf swing with a different intention--the intention to learn rather than succeed--you will gain new insights into your movement habits.
TIPS for Success
- Work on a medium-range shot.
- Have a club and 16 golf balls at your disposal.
[End of Day One]
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We are all–as part of the human condition–moving and being moved. Studies show that when we see someone perform a movement, we share the experience on a visceral level. When we see movement performed in a context that gives it deeper meaning, we feel its emotional underpinnings.
I am drawn to the dance of everyday living, and I am interested in the hero's journey of the students I mentor. By teaching them how to use movement and awareness as the means to understand themselves more deeply, I trust that they will find purpose, meaning, and beauty in their actions along the way.
Andrea Higgins holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, a Masters Degree in Dance from The American University in Washington, DC, and Certification in the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education from the Feldenkrais Guild of North America. She is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher of dance and the Feldenkrais Method, based in Walpole, MA.
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