The minor hockey season is in full swing with players skating away on the ice and scoring on their opposing teams, but their practice time bothon and off the ice still continues, with some off ice training which for some teams includes yoga.
Hockey players doing yoga may seem like a strange concept but the yoga moves help the players perform better on the ice in a number ofdifferent ways.
Amy Komarniski, yoga instructor at Blyss Hot Yoga said yoga is good for hockey players as it increases flexibility and strengthens their muscles.
“It helps to open up the tight joints and undo some of the repetitive use strain that happens from consistent skating and strengthens some ofthe weaker muscles that don’t get as much attention,” Komarniski said. “It gives them better balance and a real sense of focus on the ice.”
She said muscles prone to tightness in hockey players are the hip flexors because when the players get older they are getting hit more oftenwhich can be jarring on the joints.
“Your joints become unstable, you’re moving around on two thin blades, the likelihood of a fall, a potential fall into the boards or into anotherplayer is pretty high,” Komarniski said.
She said yoga helps to strengthen and stabilize the hips, shoulders and core – giving players the ability to withstand hitting the boards andfalling on the ice with a lower risk of injury.
When the players are in their yoga poses they are also gaining balance to strengthen and stretch their muscles.
Doing these poses will benefit them when they are on the ice because when playing hockey they can’t avoid some natural imbalance.
“It helps to correct that making them better hockey players physically,” Komarniski said.
There is also the mental piece to yoga which helps players on ice as well.
Komarniski said the mental focus and clarity of yoga techniques helps the players during stressful games.
While in the game players can face a great deal of competing stimulation. Yoga can help teach the athletes to hone in and focus on what theyare doing.
“It is something that is necessary for the balancing poses (in yoga) and gives them some mental acuity on the ice that they can then turn into asharper game,” Komarniski said.
The players like to come in as teams to do yoga with the youngest team being at the dynamite level, but she added there are no age restrictionsto yoga because the poses are modified accordingly.
“It’s a great team builder and the younger you start the better benefits you’re going to see because you aren’t putting your body at risk forinjury for all of those years leading up,” Komarniski said. “It’s only going to strengthen your physical game.”
The feedback she has gotten from the players have been awesome as she said she doesn’t know a single player who has tried yoga who doesn’twant to continue doing it.
“Most players are shocked at how much they actually enjoy it,” Komarniski said. “I’ve never had a hockey group of boys or girls who didn’t begfor more.”
The athletes like it because it is fun and at their age it is more than just opening their hips and taking deep breaths.
“There are kids who love it because they are doing it with their friends and that’s how they will be most successful continuing,” Komarniski said.
At her practice she teaches the players power yoga that lends itself well to athletes and is athletic in nature.
She describes this yoga as not being long held slow poses but instead she said the players are dripping with sweat afterwards.
“It is physically challenging and it constantly moves,” Komarniski said. “It challenges them both physically as well as mentally.”
Some of the moves include what they call the yoga burpee and a flow series called vinyasa.
She said there are a lot of arm balances which the players find a lot of fun and trains their core as well.
“You have to engage your core to hold those poses but they don’t even know they are doing core training because it just feels fun,” Komarniskisaid.
She said there are a lot of hip openers which are uncomfortable but the positions help the players develop the mental ability to withstandpressure.
The natural reaction is to want to come out of the pose but by teaching them to stay in an uncomfortable position and work their way throughit, it becomes easier and a technique they take onto the ice.
“It’s uncomfortable, you have pressure, you’re up against the boards, you want to get away from that scenario,” Komarniski said. “Butsometimes what you need to do is dig in and stay there.”
This can help hockey players be more confident in getting the puck and dealing with the pressure as sometimes they just want to toss the puckaway because the pressure is hard to deal with.
This may be ironic to the fans watching the players on the ice but Komarniski said the players may wait the whole hockey game just to touchthe puck but once they get the puck they just want to get rid of it due to the pressure.
“We talk to them in the yoga sessions about game scenarios, we do a series of exercises specific to hockey and the over used muscles ofhockey,” Komarniski said.