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Mind over matter

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Treadmill. Stationary bike.  Bench-pressing and weight-lifting.  While those are important parts of the training routine, Mike Komisarek and Christopher Higgins have learned that the brain is right up there with the brawn.

The pair are finishing up their second summer training at Institute 3E at home on Long Island.  The Huntington, NY facility not only aims to prepare athletes physically but mentally as well.

They first found out about the institute through their friend Eric Nystrom, a Calgary Flames prospect and fellow Long Island native.  It was quite the change for Higgins, but he hasn’t looked back since.

Christopher Higgins has been building up both his physical and mental strength this summer at Institute 3E.

“I used to over-train and work out too hard,” admitted Higgins.  “I hadn’t ever done yoga extensively or any meditation or mental training before.  Those are three things they go over a lot and I really saw immediate results from it.”

It’s given just as much of a boost to Komisarek, whose style of play is anything but tranquil.

“The whole change of approach towards training has really stuck with me,” said the 6-foot-4 defenseman, who was second among NHL rearguards with 248 hits last season. “In the past, I’d work out six days a week and come into camp tired.  Now I feel better mentally.  I feel rejuvenated.”

While the immediate results are a good sign, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for what lies ahead.  When a person first joins the institute, they sign a contract which outlines their goals under the Institute 3E concept of “Be. Do. Have.”  According to founder Jon DiFlorio, it’s one thing to want and do, but it’s another thing to be committed to one’s desires.

“You always hear people talking about wanting that fabulous body, with six-pack abs and looking great in that bikini,” said DiFlorio. “They might work out and try to get there but often they’re still the unfocused, sometimes lazy person.  When it comes to creating a plan, you have to be that person every day.”

DiFlorio says mental preparation is an integral part of an athlete’s training.  He became aware of its significance when he came up with the idea for Institute 3E.

“I didn’t think I could do it alone.  I was wondering how I was going to raise the money and once that was done how it could become a success.  When I heard myself saying these things, I realized how important the mental aspect was.”

That’s led to a bigger focus on regeneration this summer, with Komisarek and Higgins doing muscle release therapy and acupuncture once a week, treatments that weren’t on the agenda last year.  They also work with mental conditioning coach Gary Parks, who preaches mind over matter.

“He helps with what you think about before games, in between shifts, and to be focused and sharp every time you’re on the ice because people judge you and you want to put your best performance and best effort out there with each shift,” explained Higgins.

The Canadiens winger’s contract is based on three words that describe his goals: connected, dynamic and free.  Connected means the 24-year-old wants to be a leader on the team.  Dynamic reflects the type of player he wants to be, a go-to guy who is used in all situations and a threat each time he steps on to the ice.  Free is about having and playing with confidence and just having fun with each shift.

Mike Komisarek has benefited from the increased focus on yoga and meditation.

Komisarek is following a four-word plan that relates to his role as one of the Habs’ top defensemen, often matched up against the opposing team’s top lines: responsible, persistent, calm and faithful.  Responsible not only refers to his play in his own end, but also to working and playing hard. An example of persistent is staying on his man and the pass.  Calm is not allowing himself to get worked up.  Faithful is about enjoying each day and each moment.

They train five days a week at the institute, with Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays dedicated to physical training and skating and Tuesdays and Thursdays focusing on yoga, meditation and treatments.

Hockey players and yoga/meditation might not seem like an obvious combination, especially for big guys like Komisarek, but for both he and Higgins, it’s been a key factor to their success.  They try and keep it up during the season, usually on off days, but not those before a gameday.

“I’d never done yoga before.  You don’t really see too many 240-pound guys doing it,” said Komisarek with a laugh. “I used to get really worked up before games but the yoga and meditation have really helped.”

Higgins also isn’t short on praise of the progam.

“Meditation has really helped me, especially before the games,” he said.  “I was always a nervous wreck before a game.  It’s really calmed me down and made me a lot more confident in my abilities and my skills, that I could succeed every night and play well every night.”

With the 2007-08 season just around the corner, it won’t be long before Canadiens fans will get to witness that success firsthand.

Heather Engel is a writer for

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