26. What’s inside? a golf ball

I live in Scotland, the home of golf, and a country where golf is a sport for all and part of the national culture. It is therefore not surprising that I count several players among my students. But there is more to it than that. In F M Alexander’s third book, The Use of the Self, he devotes a chapter to “The Golfer who cannot keep his eyes on the ball”, one main concern of which is to explore how end-gaining, the determined desire to get the ball where you want it, and our inability to stay aware and in control of how we are approaching the act of hitting the ball (what F M Alexander calls misuse of the self) – how these two reinforce each other in a vicious circle in which neither can be prevented before the other one is. If things don’t go well, we tend then to become more and more drawn in to trying harder and harder to get rid of an even more focused-upon ‘defect’.
With the Alexander Technique we break into this tightening spiral by, first, preventing our reacting. A round of golf – seventy or so moments of precise and often powerful co-ordinated movement in which you hope for a fluent expression of technique and in which there are libraries-full of possibilities for minute errors to be identified and cured: this is a great opportunity, and possible quicksand, for the Alexander Technique with its discipline of staying whole, and staying with the next step. This is the basic psychology, if you like, but it comes back to the body and here I want you to work with your golf balls – the rounded heads of the thigh bones, the femurs, which fit into the deep sockets of the pelvis. It is of course only about 3/5 of a sphere, as it becomes the angled neck of the femur which then becomes the long shaft which eventually expands into the rounded condyles which help form the knee joint. This joint at the top of the femur is the place where you are designed to lift your leg, as in walking, or lean forward, as in beginning to get up from sitting down, or to lean forward and let your legs fold, as in bending to pick something up. It is a joint which combines stability with freedom and range of movement, through its physical ball and socket structure, and all the ligaments and muscles and cartilage which surround and connect the actual bones. In the Alexander Technique we work a lot with the head and also with the feet – our relationships up, and down, with the ground. In between are these big significant joints which, if we live with them, will help to keep us alert and responsive. But so many people don’t know about this golf ball and its pivotal role in movement, usually because the thousand other golf balls, the tasks we try so hard to do well, absorb out attention. Useful self-monitoring is helped by a clear understanding of the anatomy of movement. You ‘see’ the golf balls within and the golf ball without. You gain some clarity, connecting self to task.

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