Courtesy of ALEXANDER YAKOVLEV
It is easy to imagine a figure skater stretching out on a mat or an ice dancer in a butterfly pose, but the finesse of yoga is not often associated with brutal combat sports like hockey.
However, the centuries-old practice of yoga has recently found its way into the workout routines of hockey players across the continent, according to Lauren Rudick, a Canadian yoga instructor.
Following the current fitness trends in hockey, Rudick offers an ongoing fall series in Montreal called Yoga for Hockey Players. She incorporates yoga into hockey fitness regimens in 60–90 minute sessions focusing on twisted lunges that mimic movements on ice, as well as shoulder and quad stretches.
Players who perform in high-impact sports, such as hockey, can benefit from more delicate sports such as yoga because it not only improves flexibility but also aids overall well-being, said Dana Santas, founder of Radius Yoga Conditioning.
Santas has created yoga programs for many teams and players in the NHL, including the Boston Bruins and Ryan Malone of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The gentle, meditative nature of yoga puts her clients out of their comfort zone, but the practice of controlled breathing and focus brings them right back to where they need to be, Santas said. Athletes from more rigorous sports often underestimate the challenge of holding the elongated tree pose without budging, Santas said.
“It’s hard sometimes to get athletes to a yoga class,” Rudick said. “Macho athletes like hockey players often think it’s only for women or it’s a very soft exercise with mostly stretching.”
For athletes recovering from an injury, consistent yoga practice improves performance on the ice and on the yoga mat, according to James Tennant, yoga instructor and owner of Tejas Studio, 1300 S. Wabash Ave.
“More and more hockey players are realizing the benefits of yoga on their psychological state,” Rudick said. “I think when they go back on the ice they find that they are much less anxious and are consciously able to slow down their heart rate.”
Like the players Santas leads, Robert Morris University senior and former hockey goalie Jordan Bester said he understands the recent overlap between yoga and sports such as hockey and football.
“Along with being a stress reliever, it took my game to another level,” Bester said.