Feeling the Center of Gravity

Over the past several weeks, I've argued in some depth that the only really effective path forward in learning sports is in learning to feel, that feeling is something of a missing link in instruction and learning.

A few weeks ago, I was playing around swinging a club in the backyard. I was thinking, if what I'm saying about feeling is accurate, we're only going to get anywhere with the golf swing if we learn to feel the position of the club in the hands, feel the plane of the swing, and feel the contact between the clubhead and the ball. As I was playing with the club, it occurred to me that it's very hard to feel the striking face of the club, that I didn't really feel its connection to my hands. In what might have been a moment of insight, I tried to find the point on the shaft where the club balanced, that is, the club's center of gravity. I was surprised to discover that the center of gravity isn't somewhere in the clubhead, nor at the point where the shaft joins the head (which would have been my guess), nor even particularly close to the clubhead. On this particular club (an eight-iron), it was a good six inches or so up the shaft of the club. Wouldn't it be easier to swing a club properly, I thought, if the part of the club that naturally should be our focus--the head--was where the club's center of mass, and hence its feel, was?

After a little research, the reason clubs are engineered this way made a bit more sense. Because of the physics of leverage, the closer to the hands that the club's center of gravity is, the easier it will be to accelerate the club, which will make for a faster clubhead speed, which leads to longer shots.

So it makes sense, but I nevertheless remain convinced that less experienced golfers like myself are naturally going to put our focus on the clubhead--it's what hits the ball, after all--and we're likely to imagine we feel the weight of the clubhead where it actually is in space, but that's not where we feel the club's weight. We feel the center of gravity. What we think we feel isn't what we feel, which is going to lead to a certain kinesthetic confusion,

After a bit of practice, I found I could feel the center of mass swinging from my hands, which had to be an improvement. This led to an idea: I found the point of balance along the shaft of each of my clubs and wrapped a bit of electrical tape at that point. (The longer the club, the further up the shaft the center of gravity is.) That way I'd have a visual cue for the club's center of gravity whenever I picked up a given club.

As I've practiced with it since, I've found that this visual cue has helped me feel the swing of the club much more accurately. It's led to an increased smoothness. Throughout my swing, I have the sensation of the club's weight at the club's actual center of gravity. I rely on my eyes to guide the clubface back to the ball (as most of us should), but because the club's weight pulls from a spot several inches up the shaft, the clubhead kind of floats in space.

I recommend finding the balance point of your clubs as well. A visual indicator at the center of gravity will help you connect with the feel of the club. Working on learning to truly feel the club as you practice your swing can lead only to positive results.

Truth Part 4

As Ben and I discussed this series of pieces, he reminded me that this material is hard to reconcile, because it actually challenges our preconceived notions of reality. The idea that we are energy beings and not just the physical bodies that we walk around in can be difficult for people to believe. In fact, Ben likes to remind me, that sometimes it’s difficult even for him to believe. Ben has moved so fast in his energy awareness and training that I forget that he’s only been training with me for the last 18 months. Having worked and played in this field for the last twenty years, I often take being able to see and feel energy fields for granted.

This week I hope to provide you with a little more understanding and clarity as to what I’m trying to help you do and more importantly, feel.

From the moment we enter this world we have been programmed to think and feel certain ways. For the first five years of our lives we are learning how to navigate the world from our parents, siblings, and other relatives. As we watch them live their lives, we learn through mimicry, mirroring their deeds and actions. We learn to walk, talk, and think just like them.

At the tender age of 5 or 6 we start the socialization process by going to school. We learn to think and act in a manner that's acceptable to society. We’re taught their ideas and beliefs and these teachings shape our ideas and thought patterns as we learn to interact with others within our society.

For those of you who were raised in religious families, the church, whichever one you went to, added another layer of ideas and beliefs that shape how you think, feel, and act.

All this programming has been crammed into your head your entire life. Unfortunately, not all of this information was correct. I’m sure if you tried, you could come up with many instances where what you were taught as a child was not only wrong, but goes against your belief system as an adult.

Now, I’m not saying that this programming or teaching was in any way malicious. This is how we have learned to raise and educate our young. What I am saying is that we have another level of intelligence and knowing that we were brought into this world with. The ability to access this ‘innate intelligence’ was hard wired into our systems and is accessible to all of us, if we’re willing to access it.

In fact, I’m sure that you already have. For some of us, we occasionally get a ‘gut feeling’ or a flash of understanding that we can’t explain. Others have learned to trust their “intuition.” It doesn’t matter how you want to think of “it” or explain “it”, this is your innate intelligence trying to guide you.

Centering is simply a tool that I have developed to help people become more intuitive, while making their innate intelligence more accessible.

When teaching my clients about fitness and exercise, I always begin by teaching them to center. The first instruction in any exercise to find and establish their center. I do this to help build the center position into their posture and begin the process of teaching them to access their innate intelligence. If they can feel the truth within a movement, they can begin to feel truth within their lives.

The use of energy bubbles and other little tools that I introduce are simply a means to help you feel and access your truth. They become very helpful when using centering to explore other aspects of your life.

On Instruction, Part 5

Earlier this week I was chatting with Terry, the woman who gets such a kick out of seeing me practice in the park. She asked how my writing connects with what she's seen me practicing, and I gave her my standard answer, that we're writing about energy flow in the body and how it contributes to learning sports and athletics. This was my standard on-the-chairlift answer all winter long when someone asked about my writing, but it always felt vague and kinda lame, and even all these months later, I'd never figured out a way to say it better. But then just after Terry and I finished our conversation and she rode away on her bicycle, I finally thought of a better description: we're seeking to revolutionize the way sports and athletics are taught and learned.

Perhaps I needed to see the results of this first not-quite-year of experimenting and practice before I was comfortable making so bold a claim. As I see my golf short game get more imaginative, consistent, and with a deeper repertoire of shots; as I see more and more of my full swings fly straight and long; as my tennis serves more and more frequently pock off the strings with easy power, I'm seeing, in areas in which I stagnated for, literally, decades, consistent and often substantial improvement.

The energy techniques that Jerry teaches work. They work better than anything else I've ever tried. Do I dare claim they're the missing piece in sports instruction? It makes me nervous to make such a statement, but...well:

  • Over all those summers of tennis lessons as a kid, no one ever adequately explained to me that the power of the shot isn't in the arm, it's in the legs and core, and certainly no one ever got me to feel that truth.

  • The golf lessons I took as a kid left me with a hideous push-slice and no power.

  • I took years of yoga classes with many different teachers, including a couple of famous teachers whose names you'd recognize from the magazines, but for all the talk of "connecting to the breath," no one ever explained that the free flow of the breath determined the depth of the pose. I figured it out by myself after applying centering to the yogic breath one summer morning. Without exaggeration, centering taught me more about properly finding the pose than any teacher I ever practiced with. From that perspective, it wouldn't be entirely untrue to say that Jerry is the best yoga teacher I've ever had, and he doesn't even do yoga.

That Jerry and I have both seen such improvement working together to teach ourselves, with neither of us having any deeper familiarity with "proper" golf technique than the mediocre lessons we've taken in the past and the occasional bit we've read in a book or online, leads pretty inexorably to the conclusion that most instruction is poor.

It's not fully the instructors' fault. Few people have the personality and constitution to look at the conventionally held wisdom and say, "Wait. This doesn't actually seem to be working." That conclusion makes most people feel desperately out on a limb. If people think to wonder just why it is that more students don't see better results, the answer given back all too frequently is one of the most pernicious, disheartening and false answers one could imagine: that the students in question just lack talent.

It appears that something separates the top, top performers from the rest of us. Maybe no amount of the best instruction and concentrated, dedicated practice would have ever made me into a Tiger Woods or a Roger Federer. And that's fine. But I know now that my level of accomplishment never even came close to the limits of my potential, and in my observed experience this is true for almost everyone. The rare kid who really thrives in the current system is declared talented and moved into the sports track; the rest are shunted to the wayside. Consider this: several times this winter, I'd have a student explain to me that she isn't athletic, that she is actually a klutz--and then, by connecting the centered breath to what she was trying to do, turn out to be the student who picked up skiing more quickly than anyone else in the class. Where did this story about herself come from? It was taught to her. But it isn't true and almost certainly never was.

This is why we make such a big deal about centering and the feeling of flow that it engenders: because once you learn to feel flow in the body, you can follow that feeling to the truth of any athletic pursuit. Most of our limitations are untrue stories we carry with us. Centering begins to move us beyond those stories. Which isn't to say that it's a simple process. Letting go of stories we've carried with us for much or most of our lives can threaten our sense of identity. But after two years on this path, I feel confident in saying that we're better served letting go of our limitations than we are staying constricted, no matter how comfortable we've become there.

Truth Part 3

Last week we learned more about using center to discover personal truths. This week I would like to continue to hone this ability by sharing a technique that I use myself.

Let’s begin by Centering and establishing an open and flowing breath. Feel the flow as your breath moves through your body. Notice the sense of ease that accompanies each breath. Enjoy the feeling of being connected to yourself and your surroundings.

Remember, to be in a state of flow is to be in a state of truth. Anything that cuts or diminishes your flow should be looked at with a skeptical eye, because living to your highest potential is impossible when your flow is limited.

A technique that I find extremely useful when monitoring reactions to other people, places or things is what I call the energy bubble. The energy bubble is a ball of energy that you create and hold within your body. You can hold it anywhere, but I find holding it within the core allows for better monitoring while interacting with the world.

As you sit centered, imagine a bubble of energy within your core. It can be as large as you like, but keep it to a size that you can easily manage. Just sit and breathe through that bubble. Feel it respond to your breath. Notice as you inhale that it gets slightly bigger. Feel the quality of the energy flow as it moves through your bubble.

Now, just sit and notice the energy. Don’t do anything, just notice. Slowly move your focus from the bubble itself to the room around you. Try to remain aware of your bubble, but not focused on it. Take in your surroundings while being aware of your energy bubble. Notice any changes to your energy bubble as you take in your surroundings.

For me, I find that anything that causes my energy to expand and open to be positive and beneficial, while anything that causes my energy to waiver or contract, to be potentially harmful or dangerous. Don’t be surprised if your energy doesn’t react to anything immediately around you, especially if you’re reading this at home or somewhere you feel comfortable and safe.

As with any tool, it requires practice to master and use effectively. So this week practice creating your energy bubble in many different situations. Notice as it reacts to different situations around you. I wouldn’t necessary act on the reactions yet, just notice them. We want to be able to fully understand what our reactions are telling us before we react to them.

On Instruction, Part 4

Jerry and I started this project with the hypothesis that by using the energy techniques he's developed over the past twenty years, we could work together to radically improve our golf games. I've spent the past three weeks writing about the possible value of outside instruction, but what I haven't done is really measure our success in terms of that initial hypothesis. Once I began to use that yardstick, the question about the need for instruction got much more clear.

We've been working on this project for less than a year, and the improvements we're already seeing strongly suggest that our hypothesis was accurate. We've both improved markedly. Our short games are far stronger than they were. Jerry has seen improvement throughout his bag on full swings, and while the long irons are still proving to be a challenge to hit consistently, the distance he gets from his hybrids, coupled with how well he hits his 7-iron, 9-iron and wedges, should already be enough to get him close to his initial goal, which was breaking 90 regularly. I'm still working on the more basic goals of hitting my shots straight and with some power, but things are clearly getting better. Over the past couple of weeks, on a couple of occasions I have hit my driver straight to about 180 yards. That may not seem like much, but I literally cannot remember the last time I hit a truly straight drive. Sometimes I even hit a hook now, and though that's "bad," it shows very clearly that my swing is changing. I used to push-slice horribly almost one-hundred percent of the time. And about a week ago, I went to the range and hit a three-quarter 7-iron about 110 yards. Again, that may not sound especially impressive, but until recently I've been unable to hit an iron longer than a nine at all.

My initial goal when we began the project was to break 100, and I gave myself five years to get there. Based on what I'm seeing, I think there's a good chance I'll manage my goal before the end of 2016.

So back to the question that has occupied me for the past few weeks: what defines good instruction? A good measure would be the student's consistent improvement, don't you think? Based on that metric, the instruction Jerry and I are currently receiving is quite good indeed.

Truth Part 2

Last week, I had you monitor your flow as you interacted with others. This week I hope to explain some of the things you probably saw and felt as you monitored your flow.

Have you ever taken or seen a polygraph test administered? Felt the numerous straps and devices attached to your body in order to monitor and detect the slightest physiological response to the questions being asked. It’s really quite intimidating knowing that you cannot control your physiological responses under these or any other circumstances. As intimidating as all those straps and devices are, the machine isn’t even the lie detector, it’s just a monitor and recorder. Your body is the lie detector! In fact, unless you’re a sociopath, the human body is incapable of lying. From blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration changes, to pupil dilation and restriction of flow, the body will always react to the stress of lying or subverting the truth.

Because the body is incapable of lying, it truly is the perfect lie detector. Think about it: all of the physiological changes that occur in the body when being dishonest or disingenuous will block or otherwise break the feeling of flow.

Now, I’m not interested in using my ability to center and feel flow to catch someone lying. I’m interested in using these abilities to feel truth. My truth!

When we are centered and in a state of flow, we are in a state of harmony and truth. Anything that breaks our sense of flow has to be in some way or another bad for us.

Now think back to last week. Think of the times that you felt your flow get interrupted and weren’t quite sure why. It was that something being said or done wasn’t quite agreeing with you. It was interrupting your sense of flow and harmony.

Now, it does NOT mean that someone was lying to you or trying to intentionally deceive you. It just means that whatever it was wasn’t aligned with your sense of flow. Here’s an example: I was recently approached by a woman who sells supplements. She was telling me about her company’s latest product. By watching her energy, I could tell that she really believed in the product and thought that it would help me. As I listened to her spiel, I held a bottle of the product and monitored my center. As she talked, I felt my center contract and begin to withdraw. I took that as a sign that her product really wasn’t for me, so I politely thanked her for showing me her product but declined the opportunity to try it. It wasn’t that she was wrong or trying to deceive me, it was just not the right product for me.

Using my ability to stay centered in the moment and to feel flow allows me to explore what is true and right for me. For some of you, this idea that I can feel right from wrong by simply centering will be a stretch. Next week, I will share a basic technique or two so that you might explore these concepts further.

This week, I would like for you to once again monitor how your sense of flow reacts to others around you as you watch and listen from center. Try to use your ability to feel flow to learn more about yourself and your truth.

Remember, begin by centering and establishing an open and flowing breath. Feel the flow as your breath moves through your body. Notice the sense of ease that accompanies each breath. Enjoy the feeling of being connected to yourself and your surroundings. To be in a state of flow is to be in a state of truth.

On Instruction, Part 3

I had an interesting conversation about a month ago. A woman from my neighborhood was watching me practice my golf swing in the park, and she struck up a conversation. She introduced herself and told me a bit about herself and her family and their relationship to golf: her husband had played professionally and now ran a local golf course; both of her daughters had played at the collegiate level; one of them was now a teaching pro at another local course; she herself had been a pretty good golfer at one point. She asked about my practice, and I told her what I was doing. She clearly enjoyed hearing about it. And she replied, quite casually, "It's a tough sport to figure out on your own."

I have been thinking about that comment for a few weeks now. I think it's really interesting. It seems pretty obvious on the face of it, but the more I examine it, the more I see.

First of all, as I try to improve my game, I'm not trying to figure it out on my own--I have Jerry and all his knowledge of centering and kinesiology to help me. I have my own eyes. I have all the video I could ever want of the best players in the world. And I have my own practice of centering and the body-focus it engenders to teach me the "rightness" or "truth" of my swing.

Furthermore, right now I'm actually operating in a pretty specific problem space: I am trying to unlock my power. A powerful shot arises from a swing that flows from core. That's the only way it can work. So the answer will be found in feeling my way to unrestricted movement in the core. Which is to say that right now I know what I need to be practicing.

And finally, as I've been practicing, I've discovered a very important piece that most outside instructors just aren't equipped to deal with: a major block to flow doesn't manifest in sport alone. The way I restrict my power is not limited to just my golf swing. The problem runs far, far deeper than that. Somewhere, a long time ago, I learned that letting my power flow in my life didn't feel safe, and so I put the brakes on. And it's affected me in all aspects of my life ever since. This is a sensitive space.

There will come times in this process when I won't know what I don't know, and the technical knowledge of an expert will serve me well. But there are also times, as now, when I know both what to practice and the energetic repercussions of that practice. I'm not stuck or confused. I'm not saying that no one out there is equipped to help me, but when things are flowing on their own, why risk muddying the waters?


Last week I left you with this assignment: Take the time to consciously watch others. Look for the flow or truth in what they are doing or saying. Put aside your thoughts or opinions for the time being, just focus on their state of flow around their actions.

Essentially, I asked you to watch others from your center, while focusing on how they reacted to what they said and did. This week, we’re going to focus on our energetic reactions to others.

To begin: Center. Breathe. Feel the flow as your breath moves through your body. Notice the sense of ease that accompanies each breath. Enjoy the feeling of being connected to yourself and your surroundings. To be in a state of flow is to be in a state of truth.

Now, as you move through your day, monitor how your sense of flow reacts to others around you, as you watch and listen from center.

On Instruction, Part 2

Last week I finished my piece about the value of coaching by asking if Jerry and I could speed up our learning process in golf with some good outside instruction. In answer, I asserted that the definition of "good instruction" is that it helps you learn more quickly. But from that perspective, what makes instruction "good?"

Before I go any further, let me share an observation that's driven our approach to this endeavor that will strike many people as startling or even simply wrong: the golf swing isn't actually all that difficult. The ball is sitting on the ground, not moving. We have a club in our hands. The problem we're trying to solve is, how do we move the body so as to generate a fast-moving clubhead that's traveling straight along the aim-line at impact, with a clubface that's square to the direction of travel? It's really not that complicated. A modest knowledge of kinesiology and physics should get us, more or less, to the right answer. Furthermore, we have dozens of fantastic instructors teaching by example on TV every week, which makes learning even simpler: other people have already figured this out! We only need to emulate them.

Another observation: I had a fair amount of instruction in golf when I was a kid, and yet I was terrible golfer. So why is it that I've made more progress in the last year of practicing with Jerry than I did in years of instruction as a kid? Is it simply that I'm older and better at figuring things out?

No, it's not. There have been periods in my adult life in which I practiced golf. I just never got anywhere.

The difference between then and now is that Jerry taught me about centering. Centering, and the attention to the body that it brings, is what was missing all along.

By combining centering, knowledge of kinesiology and energy flow in the body, good observation of top performers in the field, and a practice of feeling the body accurately, we've made great strides in less than a year (as Jerry pointed out on Tuesday). If the measure of good instruction is that you learn quickly, well, how much better do we need our instruction to be?