by Shannon Penfound, Staff Writer and Event Coordinator, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, instructor Alain Robin, Carey Price, Travis Moen (Photo by Bikram Yoga DIX30)
Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, instructor Alain Robin, Carey Price, Travis Moen (Photo by Bikram Yoga DIX30)

 

WINNIPEG, MB. — Believe it or not, your favourite hockey player might practice yoga.

Yoga is a great way to balance the physical and mental aspects of fitness and is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of active stretching for elite athletes. Male athletes, in particular, are starting to appreciate the benefits that yoga has to offer.

There are many different styles of yoga. Bikram & Moksha yoga are more militaristic in their style and execution. Both offer a solid physical workout, while calming the mind and focusing on stretching & relaxing particular muscle groups. On the other hand, styles such as Yin yoga are much more focused on breathing techniques and deep stretching, often holding poses for 3-5 minutes at a time. Overall, yoga is an extremely adaptable form of physical activity which can be easily incorporated into your fitness lifestyle. Just ask some of the following NHLers:

Ryan O’Reilly, of the Colorado Avalanche, claims to be an avid yogi, practicing (at minimum) 20 minutes of yoga before every hockey game.

Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post
Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post

O’Reilly began this practice at the young age of 16. This year, O’Reilly was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the player deemed the most sportsmanly in the league. Aside from receiving this award, O’Reilly had a great season with an NHL career-high 64 points. and managed to spend only two minutes in the penalty box in 87 games. Not convinced that yoga may have played a part in his success this year? Let’s take a look at another current NHL’er.

Ryan Getzlaf, captain of the Anaheim Ducks, regularly practices yoga. Getzlaf tends to focus less on the ‘spiritual’ aspects, and concentrates more on the physical & mental benefits that yoga has to offer in order to keep him flexible and game-ready. Getzlaf finished this past season with 87 points in 77 games, with a career-high 31 goals. He also helped Canada bring home a gold medal in Sochi.

Joe Thornton, captain of the San Jose Sharks, loves Bikram yoga. At 35, Thornton has certainly paid his dues on the ice, claiming the Sharks’ top spot for career assists, sitting nicely at 567. Thornton is also one of only three NHLers to accomplish back-to-back 90-assist seasons. The others? Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

Recently, a photo appeared on the Detroit Red Wings twitter feed showing their prospects taking in a yoga session post-development camp. Clearly, the Wings understand the benefits of this particular physical and mental practice, and the club promotes the use of yoga to its future stars.

Via Detroit Red Wings Twitter
Via Detroit Red Wings Twitter

But what about our Habs? Not surprisingly, a few big names on the team have been known to partake in yoga sessions. As seen above, Canadiens favourites Carey Price, Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, and Travis Moen, posed for a photo after a Bikram practice in 2012. In fact, Prust recently posted to his Twitter account that he was heading to a Bikram yoga session in Toronto, showing that the Montreal enforcer still practices regularly.

Price just came off of (what I would say) was his best season to date, boasting a .927 save percentage (third in the league) and an Olympic gold medal. Eller, though shaky at times during the regular season, still managed to lead all forwards in points over the playoffs, and trailed only defenseman P.K. Subban. Despite a season full of ups and downs, Eller still managed to keep a calm head about him and just inked a four year deal with the Habs.

Now, this isn’t to say that yoga is the only reason for these players’ various successes in the league, though the mental and physical benefits of yoga should not be underscored. What yoga can encourage is mental strength, something that I believe is extremely important for elite athletes due to the pressures and expectations placed upon them.

Additionally, various studies have shown that yoga can decrease anxiety, which can lead to a more focused mind. This is ideal for any elite athlete, and allows for the athlete to concentrate fully on his responsibilities on the ice. Yoga also helps with flexibility, and can help to soothe sore, aching muscles following a particularly physical game. Considering the amount of wear and tear that NHL players receive during a season, it really comes as no surprise that a few key players would adapt yoga into their fitness regimes in order to reap the various benefits.

It is obvious that the NHL, and its players, have adopted yoga into their fitness regimes. Though it is a beneficial physical addition, yoga also strengthens and calms the mind, giving athletes the potential to increase their productivity on the ice. So, what do you say? Maybe it’s time to unroll the mat and give yoga a chance. You would be in good company.