August 27, 2003. Salubrious

By: Jeff Shelley

My friends know I have a special affinity with saying "salubrious," an odd but powerful little word with tremendous depth. To quote the "American Heritage Dictionary," the word means 'conducive or favorable to health or well-being; wholesome, healthful'. Salubrious is remarkably versatile and can be applied to many things: the golf swing; dinner that night; one's physical and mental condition; your love life - just about anything having to do with body and soul. To really recognize another person's interest, and to offer them a glimpse of your sunny - and in my case, idiosyncratic - personality, replying with a hearty "salubrious" does the trick. Especially when the message is sincere.

Shortly after 9/11, my "salubrious" responses waned considerably, and I began injecting terser answers to the "How ya' doings?" Some sort of denial defense mechanism made me trot out hoary chestnuts like "cool," "groovy," "swell" and "bitchin'." These terms fit my mood at the time, and I'd snap them off like duck-hooks into the deep woods. But, ultimately, these responses were cop-outs.

For months following that horrific event - so graphically depicted on the TV screen - there was a visceral pit in my stomach. 9/11 made me feel like millions of other Americans temporarily felt. Jaded. Scared. The axis of humanity seriously off-center. I gravitated toward the lowest common denominator, and often dipped into the dustbin of old clichés when interracting with people. It took this word guy awhile to restore that old vigor and originality.

Thankfully, I found an activity that pushed me out of the doldrums, and adopted what millions of other Americans have done since September 11, 2001. I took up yoga.

I'd done yoga in the 1960s and 1980s and experienced its benefits after each lesson. An hour and a half spent twisting my body proved invigorating and surprisingly strengthening. I've been told that yoga's contortion of the vital organs cleanses the body of impurities. (The first urination after a class is particularly telling.)

My only qualm with the yoga of yesteryear was the payment of $7 at the end of a class. It seemed like yoga's post-practice glow was overshadowed by the prompt exchange of dollars. The class times also changed frequently, another negative. Yoga's economic protocol ultimately sent me back to the gym, where I resumed toning muscles by shoving Nautilus weights around.

Everything changed with September 11. Shortly after that rueful day, I heard about a new yoga studio near my house that offered annual memberships. What a concept! The membership is good for any class - upwards of five or six a day - seven days a week. Lots of times to go and different disciplines to pursue, and all without reaching into your wallet after every class. This was a no-brainer.

As we yogis say, I was back on the mat.

Unless you've done yoga, it's hard to describe the discipline's benefits to your golf game. Looser limbs lead to longer, freer-flowing moves through the ball. I don't care what type of yoga is practiced - and there are multitudes of them - the suppleness derived from a coordinated series of stretching, twisting and strengthening poses is astonishingly salubrious for the golf swing.

Another helpful yoga nuance is breathing. During a skins match at the club, when a good shot or putt is needed for a validation, yoga-style breathing helps. The primary technique, a locomotive back-of-the-throat sound called "Ujai," is a great relaxant. Your playing partners might look at you weird for breathing like Darth Vader, but who cares if it helps execute the shot?

Another yoga plus is improved balance. Standing on one foot in the Eagle Pose - with the other wrapped around the calf of the standing leg while your arms interlace - for 20 or 30 seconds is not easy. These kinds of poses require concentration, strength and relaxation through breathing. But the effort is worth it, and developing that sense of "grounding" is vital to a well-balanced golf stance and swing.

My 53 years have generated several chronic physical conditions that yoga specifically ameliorates. Lower back, touchy knees, a tricky right wrist, and a worthless ankle are my sore spots. Though the back still comes and goes, primarily because of my unsalubrious job sitting in a chair before a keyboard for hours on end, my sacro area is better because of yoga. And the other areas have improved, too. Yoga has spurred me to work religiously on my "core," the area of the tummy meant to bear the weight of the spine and prevent back problems.

Finally, the spiritual aspect of yoga is meaningful. I'm not devoted to the vague metaphysical stuff adored by some yogis, but I don't mind chanting "Om," or turning off my brain during a session's quiet time as a form of meditation. I also don't mind uttering "Namaste" at the end of the class as a gesture of appreciation for my instructor, for the good I just did my body, and for the sense of community enjoyed with fellow classmates. This is the real healing time. I devote three to five hours a week to yoga, and figure that if it helps change reality for awhile, it's damned salubrious.

I'm not alone. Yoga practitioners nearly outnumber golfers in America - 20 million vs. 25 million at last count. Yoga is one of the fastest-growing activities in this country.

But golf won't take the back seat to anything for me. Queerly, this odd Dutch-Scottish game is in tune with the Om of Eastern philosophies. Somehow, the ancient Hindu practice of yoga enhances the physical and spiritual play of golf, and gives it a keener focus.

Namaste. Here's to many salubrious swings.