In 2018, an Australian meditation teacher named Jonni Pollard collaborated with Golf Digest on a pseudo-experiment investigating the benefits of meditation for golfers. The premise seems fairly quaint now: Three players were tested in a series of skill challenges over a summer day, with Pollard guiding them through intermittent meditation sessions to see how it influenced their performance.
The results of the day, all captured on video, were generally positive. As one of the golfers, I saw nominal improvements in distance and putting. More important, I grew more comfortable with my middling golf swing being dissected on camera for mass consumption. The experience reinforced my belief that meditation helps—not just in putting an important drive in the fairway, but in managing the stress of everyday life.
Which brings us to today, one of the most stressful periods in many of our lives, rife with uncertainty about a spreading virus and the myriad disruptions that have come with it. Never mind quieting your mind over a golf shot, how does one remain calm when the ground under our feet has never felt so precarious? Struggling with that question along with everyone else, I reached back out to Pollard for his thoughts on how meditation can help our coronavirus anxiety, and why even reluctant meditators might be open to the practice now.
Reached in Australia where he is holed up with his family, Pollard and I spoke at length on the topic, so I’ve edited the conversation for clarity.
Our first conversation about meditation was through the prism of playing better golf, but this is a much broader and more daunting challenge. So tell me why you think mediation can be so useful during this uncertain period.
Well, there’s an enormous amount of evidence, both objective evidence through science as well as subjective evidence from meditators who report a profound transformation in both their psychological and physiological states as a result of meditating. Many report acute levels of stress and anxiety beforehand, and then upon learning mediation they report an almost immediate subsiding of the frenetic nature of the mind. That gives rise to a greater coherence and self awareness. As meditators, we’re able to recognize when fear and anxiety emerge, and have sufficient space within ourselves to make a choice to not react to and engage with it.
So in other words, even if meditation doesn’t immediately quell your anxiety, it at least helps you to recognize when that anxiety is taking over.
Right. You can say, “That’s the anxiety talking.” We want to talk about anxiety as if it’s something that flows through us, but is not part of us. It’s like a virus, and we want it out of our system as quickly as possible.
And what about when everyone’s anxiety is on high? You could argue this is the most anxious period in a lot of people’s lives.
I’d say that it’s our social responsibility to learn how to manage it. And the most powerful way to learn how to manage it is to understand what it is. What we’re seeking is to break the cycle of behavior of feeling like we’re being trapped, because that feeling of being trapped perpetuates the anxiety.
And what would you say to those people who just say, “It’s not for me?”
I’ll just say, “You know where I am.” We never want to be evangelists or force it down people’s throats. They’ll come to it when they’re ready. Because here’s this thing that is so powerful and effective. Many of the people who are resisters who are dragged to us, after three or four days, they’re converts.
You’ll also have people who will say, “I tried it and it’s not working.” Or “I’m not any good at it.”
Some of it takes time. It’s like going to a doctor in a condition and he says, “Take these twice a day for three weeks.” You don’t say to the doctor, “I’ll call you in two days and if it’s not working I’m going to stop taking it.” Meditation requires that you show up every day. You do it and slowly, incrementally it builds. But the reality is you will notice it. It’s profound.
I also remember you saying there’s not an end point. Some of the value is in the process of doing, which starts on Day 1.
From the moment you start, research shows the body experiences a profound psychological transformation. The brain starts to rewire itself in days. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated, the body becomes flooded with endorphins, and the production of cortisol is reduced. And the immune system, arguably the most important thing to talk about during this time, is boosted by reducing stress in the system.
OK, so if you’ve succeeded in getting people to accept this a worthwhile endeavor, their first step should be … ?
To download the 1 Giant Mind Learn Meditation app (Editor’s Note: 1 Giant Mind app is Pollard’s app. I’ve used it and it’s very good, but there are dozens of other good meditation apps, many of which are also geared toward people who’ve never meditated before). It’s a program created for people who need a very simple but very powerful instruction. It gives you a total understanding of how to practice meditation and removes all the misconceptions around it.
And what would you recommend in terms of best practices, especially given this crazy time when people are all at home?
The recommendation is once a day, but if you can twice a day, particularly during this period, is best. Take your time to do it. So when you get up in the morning, before you check your emergency alerts and all the alarmist emails that are pouring out of your inbox, just take your time to meditate. We need to set ourselves up for success, and mediation is creating a greater reserve of awareness. Even when your adrenaline starts pumping, you have a choice to stop in the moment and decide how you want to react. This is the gift that meditation gives us: that extra real estate inside of our minds.
RELATED VIDEO: HOW MEDITATION AFFECTS GOLFERS