The secret to New York Apple Core hockey club's success? Yoga.
It’s Monday afternoon at the Brewster Ice Arena, and the members of the New York Apple Core hockey team are getting ready to practice. At this practice, though, there are no sticks, no pucks, no pads and no skates. At this practice, there are yoga mats and blocks.
Last fall, the Apple Core, a Brewster-based premiere college development team, began weekly sessions with Kathy Daigneault of Tula Yoga for Wellness. Daigneault opened Tula in the summer of 2021 after practicing yoga for thirty years and teaching for the past seven.
“Yoga for athletes was an area I wanted to explore more, learn more about and really start to apply,” said Daigneault, who is a certified Yoga Alliance instructor. “For all athletes, it’s a mental game. That’s the difference between yoga and doing a physical workout; a physical workout is just that - physical. With yoga, I bring into it breathing and the mind. There’s always a way to grab something that I teach that is useful, purposeful and meaningful for you as you continue your athletic career.”
In her work with Apple Core, Daigneault trains a team of 19-20 year old men who have finished high school and are spending a year focusing on improving their chances of getting recruited to play hockey at the next level. During this year, their job is to play hockey. Daigneault’s job is to help them develop a yoga practice off the ice that will ultimately improve their on-ice performance.
“When you’re working with young men in their 20’s, there is this intensity,” Daigneault said. “They’re playing a game that is so fast paced. Here, yoga requires them to slow down.” Daigneault has been pleasantly surprised at the players’ willingness to incorporate yoga into their cross training. “They have been incredibly receptive. They’re open to learning new things, open to challenging themselves,” Daigneault said.
Matt Grogan, Apple Core’s head goalie coach, said that yoga has become an absolute must not only for his goalies, but also for all the camps and training clinics he runs.
“It’s super important for goalies to be strong with their body weight,” Grogan said. “A lot of goalies aren’t good at going down and getting back up. Goalies need to have good foot, ankle and hand strength. Having to hold yourself up, incorporating breathing to get max performance…it all keeps tying together.”
Grogan said the feedback from his goalies has been very positive. “This year we had three really good goalies who love doing it. Sometimes they’d ask for more. Some of the other players have started asking if they could join.” Grogan added that Daigneault stays in communication with the goalies throughout the week and even comes to the team’s games. “She doesn’t have to do that and I know the goalies see it,” Grogan said.
For Apple Core's yoga classes, Daigneault breaks the class into three parts: physical poses, breath work and mindfulness. The poses, Daigneault said, help with flexibility, agility and balance, and help to offset overuse in the body. With breathing, the players learn techniques to build endurance. “Especially in hockey, you can get winded on the ice,” Daigneault explained. Last, Daigneault uses positive affirmation and visualizations to help the players strengthen their mind-body connection.
Beyond working with the Apple Core team, Daigneault said she works with a range of other athletes, including tennis players, soccer players and dancers. No matter the sport, the goal is to use yoga to ultimately improve their athletic performance. “I start with the parts of the body that are overused and then I take my knowledge of yoga and work from there. It’s a matter of checking in - how are you feeling today? What’s going on with your bodies? That’s always a question I ask at the beginning.”
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