What do Tim Thomas, Russell Wilson, Sarah Tueting, Tom Brady, Hope Solo, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James have in common?
Yes, they are all current or retired professional athletes but they all practice(d) yoga as part of their training regimes. In fact, the Seattle Seahawks actually made yoga and meditation mandatory for players. Russell Wilson told ESPN, “We do imagery work and talk about having that innovative mindset of being special. We talk about being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.”
Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that focuses on integrating the mind, body and spirit. Yoga is increasingly being integrated into the training programs of many athletes. Research shows that yoga has both physiological and psychological benefits, especially for high level sports players. These benefits include but are not limited to: flexibility, balance and relaxation/focus.
Yoga involves several gentle, static postures that are held for a period of time. The poses allow the muscles, spine and tendons to lengthen without the risk of injury. Injury prevention is huge for athletes. The more fluid and flexible an athlete is, the less likely they are to get injured because it helps the joints move in their full range of motion and the muscles to work efficiently. Poses don’t only work on flexibility and injury prevention, but the majority of them also require keeping a tight core.
Core-stability and balance are game changers, especially for hockey players. When battling in the corners, taking the body, puck protecting or doing anything that braces the player for contact the core tightens and acts as a grounding center for the rest of the body. Core strength is the muscular basis of balance. Additionally, a solid core can protect the back from injury during games and workouts.
As most people know, the mind and the body work interchangeably. If the mind isn’t working properly, the body cannot-and will not- perform optimally. The breathing exercises performed in yoga force the athletes to focus on long, deep breaths. The benefits of deep breathing can go back to our prehistoric roots. When experiencing stressful thoughts, like an overtime game or a big penalty kill, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response to give an extra boost to beat the perceived threat. When the body receives that extra boost of energy, the body also typically begins to take shallow and rapid breaths that lead to shortness of breath. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system releases epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and cortisol, which increase heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing reverses the stress response in the body by stimulating the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system and slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and calming the mind and body. Additionally, deep breathing is more efficient and allows more oxygen to reach cells and tissues. Oxygen plays a vital role in the recovery of muscles during and after exercise. Practicing deep breaths during yoga will increase the rate at which an athlete responds to stress positively with deep breathing and overall can increase performance.
So, how do we get our athletes doing yoga?
It’s simple- just begin with adding it into your off-ice training plans!
My team practices 30-60 minutes of intense yoga classes weekly. I consistently see improvements in their flexibility, mobility, balance and focus. But what’s more important than what I notice, is that the girls feel the changes and have a hunger to continue their practice.
The amazing thing about yoga is that anyone can do it- all ages and all fitness levels! Practicing yoga with your team doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t need to be a world-renowned instructor. A simple google of how to do a sun salutation will do the trick!
So, long story short- practice your downward dogs to move your athletes upward.
-December 12, 2017
Breanna Seibel (Simon) has played hockey since age 4. Breanna played in the New Richmond, WI youth hockey association until age 13. Prior to eighth grade, she transferred schools and attended Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault, MN where she played 5 years of hockey including winning a U19 National Championship with her team in 2011.
After graduating from Shattuck in 2011, she played collegiate hockey for Sacred Heart University and Hamline University.
Breanna currently coaches the Western Wisconsin Stars Varsity and Team Wisconsin U14 girls.
She has an undergraduate degree in Biology and will have her master’s degree in Health and Wellness Management complete summer of 2018. Look for Breanna’s weekly articles on Hockey Health.