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Yoga for Hockey Players

Kelly, the Capitals yoga instructor, shares some of the many benefits of yoga for athletes.

by Scarlet Caps @ScarletCaps / http://www.washingtoncapitals.com

Hey Scarlet Caps! My name is Kelly, the Caps yoga instructor. It's been three years since I first started working with the team and this year we'd like to bring yoga to you, our awesome Scarlet Caps fans.

 

Starting this month, I'll write a monthly blog about various yoga-related themes, including poses to address problem areas like tight hips; yoga for stress relief; and tips to master certain poses. 

Then in November, we're inviting you to some Caps-inspired yoga classes, including one on Nov. 10 on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Caps practice facility…how cool is that (pun intended!)?! 

Let's start by taking a closer look at the benefits of yoga for professional hockey players and how it works with the Caps in particular. 

I work under Mark Nemish, the Strength and Conditioning Coach, and in consultation with the Head Athletic Trainer, Greg Smith. We meet in the weight room, which is carpeted and spacious, for sessions that range from 30-45 minutes. 

There's always music, usually a combination of classic rock and country with some Top 40 thrown in there. 

Why Yoga 
Yoga complements other aspects of the team's conditioning program, which includes strength training, plyometrics and healthy eating. For an athlete, the main benefits of yoga include optimizing structural efficiency, improving stability and range of motion and building physical and mental resilience. 
 
1. Optimizing Structural Efficiency: Most of us have musculo-skeletal imbalances in our bodies as a result of habitual patterns of movement; if you're right-handed, it's likely that your right arm is stronger than your left one, for example. Hockey players, who shoot the puck from the left or right side, are no exception. 

 If left unchecked, these imbalances can create structural inefficiencies, forcing parts of the body to work harder than they need to in order to compensate. Not only does this waste critical energy (that could instead be channeled into athletic performance), it also increases the risk of injury, either because the overworked parts of the body break down under the strain of the workload, or because the underused parts of the body simply fail when they're called up for duty. Yoga identifies and corrects these imbalances at their source, helping an athlete achieve optimal alignment and balance. In other words, yoga helps the body function as efficiently as it was designed, which is critical to achieving peak athletic performance. 
  
2. Improving Stability and Range of Motion: In practicing yoga, hockey players use their muscles in unfamiliar ways-think down dog-which helps improve strength and stability, especially of secondary muscle groups. And by easing stiffness and releasing tension in muscles, ligaments and other connective tissue, yoga keeps the body (and mind) open and loose. The result is improved stability and better range of motion, which lowers the risk of injury and supports more efficient performance. 

 3. Building Resilience: Hockey is an intense physical sport so there's no getting around the fact that injuries are going to happen in the NHL. But if your body is stable, balanced and open, recovery from injury will be quicker than the time it takes to repair a weak, stiff, functionally inefficient one. 

 And there's something else yoga cultivates: mental focus and resilience. It requires more concentration than you might imagine to move through the poses with awareness and clarity about what you're choosing to do, or not, from one moment to the next. Over time, this strengthens the "mental muscle" that players and teams need to perform-and achieve-at an elite level. 

A Word About Safety 
The key to a successful and safe yoga practice for anyone at any skill level, including professional athletes, is to take it slow and respect your body. The idea is to skillfully create openness and ease, release tension and build a structurally strong and stable body, not get hurt by pushing too hard too fast. I say to the guys all the time: if you can't breathe deeply in a pose, you've gone too far so dial it back. 

 Over time, with safe and steady practice, yoga can help an elite athlete develop healthy alignment and balance, improved stability and increased resilience. That translates into better performance, fewer wear and tear injuries and faster rehab when injuries do occur in the rough and tumble world of the NHL. 

 Thanks for reading and I hope to see you in one of our upcoming yoga classes…Let's Go Caps!

-Kelly

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