The Art of the Choke

Written by David Sapolis

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Nothing can cause your stroke to tighten up more than erratic breathing. Earlier, when discussing the Center of Mass, I referred to what is known as CENTERING. So what is it, and is it fatal? Centering is a breathing technique designed to produce physical balance and mental focus. "Centered" is a confident state that you can achieve immediately before and during competition that lets you know with certainty that you are mentally and physically ready to perform your task. So how does one become "centered"? Achieving "Dead Stroke" means that you are literally playing "out of your head". This means that you have shifted your focus to the external task of pocketing the balls on the table. The internal is in perfect harmony with the external. Shooting the balls into the pockets is an external task, and when you’re in Dead Punch, it stays external.

When we make a position error, or if we make a blunder such as a miscue, we have an internal reaction. This reaction is either anger, frustration, regret, or any combination of the three. When we internalize the task, we tend to cross the wires. Once we have located our Center of Mass, we will notice a change in our breathing pattern as we become balanced. Shooting pool requires that we perform Weight Transfers periodically. . No two shots are the same, but if we concentrate on our center of mass, or become conscious of our center of mass, we can FEEL THE SAME WAY for every shot.

This can be achieved by becoming conscious of your breathing. Become conscious of how the air comes in and goes out of your body. Become conscious as to how far you direct the air into your body, and become conscious of the speed of the air. There are several breathing techniques out there, but I will concentrate on this technique that transfers beautifully to pool. Go back to the chair and once again guide yourself through the process of locating your center of mass. Once you have located it, become conscious of the air entering and exiting your body. Knowing that air is brought into the body by inhaling, we must also realize that once the air is brought into the lungs, oxygen is sent through the bloodstream. The oxygen is carried through the bloodstream and eventually the brain is supplied with that oxygen. Shallow tense breathing supplies limited oxygen to the bloodstream and a limited amount to the brain. Marathon runners experience what is called a "runner’s high", which is primarily caused by the oxygen that is being transferred through the bloodstream and eventually the brain (creating a euphoric state caused by the production of endorphins). Common sense would tell us that quite simply, more oxygen = less tension. More oxygen = better thinking. Less oxygen = more tension and horrible thinking. So let’s find a way to transfer this Runner’s high to the pool table.

As I said before, I could spend pages explaining different breathing techniques, which would be helpful and quite informative, but I’m sure you’d skip it and move on to something else. What I will do though is tell you how to link together three links in the chain. By that I mean linking together your Center of Mass and your Breathing to achieve Centering. Your Center of Mass should be the point that we direct our breathing. Scratching your head yet? It’s a rather simple procedure. Get down in your stance and become aware of your center of mass. When that is accomplished, become aware of your breathing as well. Upon inhaling, inhale until you can feel the air in your center of mass. Exhale slowly and evenly (naturally) and feel the air leaving your center of mass. DO NOT FORCE THE AIR IN AND OUT OF YOUR BODY. Very slow, deep breaths will suffice. Allow the air to come in through your nose, and out through your nose. Practice this while you are at the table, and practice this while you are away from the table. This IS the key to playing in "The Zone". This is what you can concentrate in while the other guy is shooting (and you’re in the chair). Many of us just sit helplessly watching the other guy clear the table, as we cringe and slump further in our seat with the pocketing of every ball. We usually sit there and think bad thoughts. WE can eliminate that from your game starting today. We can now sit in the chair concentrating on our breathing, knowing that we will be ready when we get back behind the cue ball. (Many of us beat the hell out of ourselves while the other guy is shooting, then after serving up a self inflicted mental bashing, head back out to the table to continue our disaster). Utilizing this method serves a dual purpose: while sitting in the chair and being aware of our center of mass and our breathing, we tend to sit with good posture, therefore eliminating slouching. I strongly suggest that from this day forward, you become acutely aware of the position of your ears in relation to your shoulders. Body language is a funny thing. If I see a pool player with his head drooping and his shoulders sagging, I bet he’s losing, or well on his way to getting there. When the ears are in line with level shoulders, the body becomes erect and the neck straightens out. This loosens up the tension that the drooping head had placed upon the muscles of the neck. The oxygen in the blood is flowing freely (not blocked off by tension) allowing more of it to be sent to the brain, which is where we need it most. This will assist your game in areas such as clear thinking, free body movement, fluidity of stroke, concentration/focus. The main thing is that you do not "look" like a loser. If you stand like a winner, you’ll feel like a winner, and I bet that you will end up a winner!

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About The Author: Blackjack David Sapolis played professional pool for 20 years in The United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

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