When you think of winter sports, you might think ice hockey. In my house, hockey has been something my sons and husband have participated in since they were toddlers. To be a proficient hockey player you need to have sturdy legs for skating, a strong core for balancing and keen eye-hand coordination. Yoga practice can help with these fundamental skills all proficient hockey players need.
Yoga is practiced by top players like Ryan O’Reilly, centerman for the St. Luis Blues, and defenseman of the Washington Capitals, Paul LeDue. Vancouver Canucks goalie, Ryan Miller, reported practicing yoga in order to help his posture recover from position-specific work during the season, which improves his alignment and posture (Woodley, Kevin, 2017. https://www.nhl.com/news/carey-price-among-nhl-goalies-using-yoga-as-workout/c-287538764).
Strong Legs are a Must.
A few favorite poses that help hockey players develop strong legs are Chair, Extended Side Angle, and Goddess. Chair Pose (Utkatasana) clearly works the muscles of the arms and legs, but it also stimulates the diaphragm and heart. Other benefits include:
- Strengthens the ankles, thighs, calves, and spine
- Stretches shoulders and chest
- Stimulates the abdominal organs, diaphragm and heart
- Reduces the tendency for flat feet
Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) is a great pose for hockey players. They are often having to lunge either forwards or sideways. Hockey players are continuously looking for opportunities to situate their bodies in the best possible position for passing and receiving the puck or for preparing to turn the puck over as these defensemen are demonstrating in the picture to the left.
Benefits of Extended Side Angle pose are:
- Strengthens and stretches the legs, knees and ankles
- Stretches the groins, spine, waist, chest and lungs, and shoulders
- Stimulates abdominal organs
- Increases stamina
Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana) is helpful for building strong legs as well as opening the hips. Range of motion is very important to a hockey player, so limber hips is very beneficial. A player’s stride will depend on how big his/her range of motion is. The longer the stride, the more likely he will advance to the puck before an opponent whose stride is shorter. This goalie is demonstrating a pose that is similar to Utkata Konasana as he prepares to catch a puck that is aimed at his “4 hole.”
Other benefits of Goddess Pose are:
- Opens the hips, legs and chest
- Strengthens the legs, calves, abs, and knees
- Stimulates the uro-genital system and pelvic floor
- Strengthens and stretches the shoulder joint
Hockey players need a strong core. “When a player is battling on the puck, taking the body, starting or stopping, they require their core muscles to brace/contract and be strong and stable, thereby allowing the legs and upper body to be more efficient at doing their job.”(Pickles, Mike. 2017. https://thecoachessite.com/core-strength-ice-hockey-performance/).
Core Strengthening and Conditioning.
- Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors and spine
- Stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and prostate glands, and intestines
- Helps relieve stress
- Improves balance and digestion
- Stretches your hamstrings
- Improves confidence
Sometimes hockey players find themselves on their stomachs on the ice. They actually practice a drill called “superman” where they skate a few strides and purposely dive onto the ice. In the drill they practice getting back to their feet quickly and start advancing. Plank pose is very beneficial in this situation. Players who are on their stomachs (prone position) need a strong core to push themselves first into Plank, then to standing. Benefits of Plank pose (Phalakasana) include:
- Strengthens entire core
- Increases muscle definition
- Strengthens the arms, wrists and spine
- Tones the abdomen
- Increases metabolism
- Reduces back pain
- Improves posture and balance
- Enhances bone and joint health
- Boosts mood and relieves stress
Improving Hand-Eye Coordination.
Hockey players need to be able to track the puck, know where it is in the present moment as well as anticipate where it will be in the next moment. Hand-eye coordination is essential for passing and receiving a moving puck, or for stopping the puck from going into your net if you are the goalie! If a hockey player is unskilled in this regard, s/he is more likely to “turn-over” the puck to the opposing team and cause her/his team to go on the defensive.
Yoga is about balancing the body, mind and spirit. One of the ways we achieve this is by practicing poses on both sides of the body. By alternating between the right and left hemispheres of the body we allow the brain to become equanimous, or calm and composed. In yoga we are continually enhancing our proprioception, our ability to understand where we are in “time and space,” which ultimately helps us be proficient with hand-eye coordination.
Drishti, or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. In poses such as Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) we use the longest finger as a drishti, to focus our attention. Hockey players who regularly practice yoga learn to use their drishti to improve attention and stay focused on the play, in the moment. When we are mindful of the moment, we can more successfully respond to it, increasing our chances of playing calmly and with our fullest abilities engaged.