When Carson Deal first heard the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys hockey team would be doing yoga last season, he didn’t have very high expectations.
“I thought it was kind of weird and didn’t know anything about it,” said Deal, a junior forward on this year’s team. “I thought it was going to be really easy.”
But this year, now that both the L/D-C boys and girls are practicing yoga once a week at the Litchfield Civic Arena with Kateri Kormann, a yoga instructor from Litchfield’s Open Sole Yoga, Deal has changed his tune.
“It seems like it’s gotten way harder and I think we took it a little more serious this year,” Deal said. “She’s kicked our butt this year. It’s not easy.”
“They found the first couple weeks challenging,” Kormann said diplomatically.
L/D-C boys head hockey coach Chris Olson said that Deal’s preconceptions about yoga were fairly common among his players.
“I do think that there’s a perception of yoga that it’s simply standing around stretching,” Olson said. “Holding some of those poses is very challenging. After the first couple times, a lot of the guys were saying, ‘Holy cow, I’m a little sore.’”
Yoga has become a more accepted and encouraged practice across the hockey world over the past few years; in 2008, USA Hockey Women’s National program started including yoga as part of the team’s training regimen and numerous NHL teams have incorporated yoga into their training routines and even hired on-staff yoga instructors, according to USA Hockey Magazine.
Kormann’s focus with the hockey players has been strengthening the skaters’ cores — their quadriceps, glutes, abdominals, hamstrings and hips — to help the Dragons increase their flexibility and help prevent injury.
“She does a lot of drills specifically for hockey,” Deal said. “She knows what she’s doing.”
Since his team began practicing yoga every week, Olson has seen subtle but meaningful improvements in his team’s overall fitness.
“I think the guys’ flexibility is improving,” Olson said. “… Even after some of our workouts we’re not as sore — I think we’re able to recover more quickly.”
Before the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, L/D-C head girls coach Hannah Impola became interested in getting the girls team into yoga after her brother, who played hockey at St. Thomas University, lauded the practice’s benefits; and, in a fortuitous turn, it just so happened that Olson had begun conversations with Kormann about weekly yoga sessions right around that time.
Impola has also seen the benefits of weekly yoga on her players.
“We’ve really had the fewest injuries of any year that I’ve coached,” Impola said, noting that although she can’t attribute that entirely to yoga, she does believe it’s helped. “(Kateri) is always talking about knowing your body and they seem to have good control over their bodies. Knowing their body in yoga leads them to have better control of their body on the ice.”
Senior defender Kalley Spreiter said that the yoga has helped her both physically and mentally — once she got over her initial misconceptions.
“At first it was kind of weird. We were all just laughing about it, the thought of yoga,” Spreiter said. “I think it actually helps — it relaxes you and helps with your balance.”
“It stretches us out pretty well and now we’re starting to see the difference,” said senior forward Kennedy Sommerfeld. “… We’re starting to get a little looser, we’re a little more flexible, stronger maybe a little bit.”
Not only are the players starting to see the physical benefits, but working with Kormann has also altered their perceptions about yoga.
“It’s actually something that our whole team looks forward to now,” Deal said.
On Jan. 14, the boys’ post-practice yoga session took place in a room that, once the players had removed their socks and begun stretching, smelled rather pungent.
When asked how he and his teammates handle the ripe room, Deal laughed.
“We get used to it — we can’t smell it,” he said. “I bet Kateri does.”