Last summer Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas spent part of his offseason training learning about the downward dog and warrior positions as well as the butterfly.
The centuries-old study of yoga, which is part philosophical and part physical, has found its way into the workout routines of many top athletes. Yoga is becoming more accepted as part of an athlete’s training, and that includes hockey players.
Thomas spent a considerable part of his offseason working with Dana Edison, who uses yoga to train professional athletes as part of her business, Radius Yoga Conditioning. Thomas and Edison worked twice a week for about 75 minutes each day during the early part of the offseason. Thomas says the yoga workouts were vigorous and that after five minutes he was covered in sweat.
“People don’t really realize how hard of a workout yoga really is,” he says. “It’s not just stretching and sitting on the floor.”
“I work them really hard and there are times when they are cursing me, but by the end of it they love it,” Edison adds.
Edison says professional athletes have long used yoga techniques as part of their training. None other than Mark Messier told ESPN The Magazine that he used meditation and yoga to help him later in his career, but Edison says athletes are using yoga today in a different way.
“Yoga as a means of corrective exercise and as a specific compliment to what they’re already doing is a new application,” she says.
Edison focuses on yoga that is specific to each sport. She says her yoga workout pays off in several areas, including functional strength, the correction of the body’s imbalances, injury prevention and mental preparation. Part of her work with any athlete includes an hourlong physical assessment, which includes a discussion with their trainer to find the athlete’s weak areas. Watching Thomas she learned that his left trapezius muscle was shorter and tighter than his right, which created an imbalance and affected the movement with his catching glove.
Thomas, who is from Flint, Mich., says the workouts with Edison helped him improve his flexibility. He feels the improvement can be seen in his improved play this season, play that won him a spot in this year’s NHL All-Star game.
“I think it’s helped my flexibility in the butterfly,” he says, “It’s opened my hips up a little bit. And it helped me mentally in the way that I knew I had prepared as much as I could [last] summer.”
For U.S. Olympian Sarah Tueting, playing goalie was a time when she could turn her mind off and concentrate on one thing – stopping the puck. When she retired from the sport in 2002, she missed that feeling.
“For me, it’s what I miss about hockey and it’s what I found in yoga,” she says, “a place where I can be most fully present without the mind getting in the way.”
Tueting was in net for the U.S. Women’s team gold-medal run at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, but she then retired from the game after winning silver at Salt Lake City in 2002. She says she took the occasional yoga class when she was still playing, but wishes she’d known the broader benefits of yoga during her playing days.
“Goalies live in their head,” Tueting says. “Being able to hold these poses has a lot to do with focus. If I was playing, absolutely I would have benefited [from yoga].”
Teena Murray, the strength and conditioning coach for the USA Hockey Women’s National program, also sees the benefits of yoga for hockey players. She has made yoga a part of the current women’s team’s training regimen.
“What we do is definitely use it in our warm-ups, and in some of our post-workout stretching we use some of the poses,” says Murray, who is the director of Olympic Sports Performance at the University of Louisville. “We mainly use it as a regeneration tool on an off day.
Murray has personally used bikram yoga, which takes place in a room heated to more than 100 degrees, for about five years. She says yoga has value for her as a cleansing tool, but for the players she says it helps them stay in tune with their bodies on a day when they are not working out. She says the practice of yoga certainly has value for goalies, whom it helps with concentration and focus, but also can help skaters with increased mobility, balance and relaxation.
Even athletes who have used yoga in their training acknowledge there can be resistance from those who think yoga means lying on the floor and chanting. Edison says she usually waits until athletes see the physical benefits of yoga before incorporating breathing work.
“I don’t necessarily position that right at the beginning with most players because I don’t want to scare them away,” she says. “The breathing is a key component of the workout. Anytime you’re stressed out someone will say to you ‘take a deep breath.’ ”
Despite the misconceptions, Tueting says yoga should be a part of any serious athlete’s training.
“I think you might run into resistance, because people at that level know their bodies so well. I could see people being so anal about their own particular world of training they might not be open to it,” she says.
“I think everybody can benefit from meditation. Hands down that should be part of everybody’s training, I think. It helps you let go of the negative thoughts, and if you’re thinking about a past goal you’re just going to get scored on again.”
Tueting, who has studied yoga in India, says the spiritual aspect of yoga where the mind and body feel truly connected is the same sense that athlete feel when they are “in the zone.”
“If you have a practice that allows you to continually visit that place, it will come back easier on the hockey rink,” she says.
Thomas is also sold on yoga, and says he plans to use it again next offseason.
“Definitely with the season I’ve had I don’t think I’m going to switch too much.”
Photos - Getty Images, NESN, USA Hockey
Bending And Stretching Your Way To Better Hockey
Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, features 26 postures that are designed to promote strength and flexibility, and improve circulation, digestion, mental health and general well being. These postures are best performed after the athlete is warm, i.e., post-practice and in a room that is relatively warm (105 degrees with 40 percent humidity) to provide an environment that promotes flexibility.
Here are several Bikram Yoga poses designed to help hockey players with their core strength, flexibility and concentration.
(Thanks to members of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program for demonstrating these poses.)
Standing Hands-To-Feet Pose (Pada-Hasthasana)
Your feet should be close together with the toes and heels touching. Bend your knees and use all five fingers to reach around and “scoop” up the heels from behind. Slowly begin to press the stomach to the thighs, chest to the knees, and face to the shins. If you can achieve the face on the shins, slowly start to straighten the knees until they are straight. The final position is your head touching your toes.
Purpose: This pose stretches the hamstrings, gluts and lower/middle/upper back.
Eagle Pose (Garurasana)
Your feet should be close together. Swing your arms up overhead, swing back down crossing the right under the left and twisting at the wrist so that your hands join in prayer position with the thumbs towards the face. Pull downward to stretch the shoulder/scapulae, bend down on both knees. Pick up the right leg and cross it high over the thigh and continue to wrap the lower right leg around the lower left leg until all five toes are visible on the other side of the left leg. Continue to straighten the spine and sit as low as possible. Repeat on the
Purpose: This pose compresses and opens all major joints in the body, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.
Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Janushirasana)
Stand with your feet together, bend over and pick up your right foot with all 10 fingers interlocked. Your standing leg must remain straight (locked). If standing leg is locked, slowly begin to extend left leg forward until also in a locked position. Only if both legs are locked, bring your forehead to knee and elbows below the calf muscle. Repeat on the left leg.
Purpose: This pose is aimed at strengthening of hamstring and quadricep muscles, improves flexibility of sciatic nerves.
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Lie on your stomach with chin on floor. Place your arms under your body with your palms facing down. Straighten your right leg and lift to a 45-degree angle; repeat left leg. Turn your head downward placing mouth on floor, squeeze both legs together and straighten and lift both legs simultaneously.
Purpose: This pose strengthens the lower and middle back, can relieve pain from slipped or herniated discs, scoliosis, sciaitica and arthritis. Also helps with carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow.
Full Locust Pose (Poorna-Salabhasana)
Lie on your stomach with your chin forward, and tighten your leg muscles such that toes are pointed, knees straight, hips contracted. Simultaneously lift both legs and both arms up off the floor like an airplane. The higher the better.
Purpose: This pose strengthens middle back, gluts, and hamstrings. It is helpful in treating scoliosis, kyphosis, spondylosis, and slipped discs.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Lie on stomach. Grasp feet from the inside, two inches below the toes. Lift head and legs simultaneously using leg and back strength to make the body look like a teardrop from the side.
Purpose: This pose opens the rib cage, front side stretching. It’s good for your digestive system.
Half Tortoise Pose (Ardha-Kurmasana)
Kneeling down with your hips on your feet, stretch up with both arms, place hands in prayer position. Slowly bend forward trying to keep the hips on the heels, while eventually getting the forehead on the floor, pinky fingers on the floor, arms extended forward maximally.
Purpose: This pose stretches your neck and shoulders; lengthens spine, increases blood flow to the brain.
Yoga Photos - Dave Reginek