On Hockey and Yoga

Yesterday I talked a bunch about middle age, pain, yoga and sports, and I might have mentioned hockey in there somewhere.

Well, hockey and I have had a weird relationship. I played as a kid, and I wasn’t very good at it. This was the 70s, when 11 year-olds played full contact, and I’m not particularly fond of being hit. I hit my adolescent growth spurt pretty late, and I’m not naturally a particularly big guy to begin with, so, long story short, I quit when I was 12.

Near 20 years later, a co-worker was looking for players for his Friday night shinny and I thought, “What the heck, I’ll try getting back into the game.” Which I did, and from hating the game so much I quit, I went on to fall in love with the game to the point that you will pry my stick from my cold, dead hands.

In doing so, I relearned old skills, rediscovered the camaraderie of the locker room and bench, and the fun of team sports. The best part was, most of the problems of being a skinny, undersized kid who fears being hit no longer applied. We were all done growing. It was (sort of) non contact, besides which I had spent the past decade getting hit (a lot) in various ring sports. Believe me, a body check in the corner hurts a lot less than a fist or foot in the face.

However, while having overcome the obstacles of youth, I re-entered hockey facing the obstacles of encroaching middle age. Decreasing mobility. Back problems. Lowered strength, sedentary lifestyle and job, and less gym time. Increased risk of injury from all of the above, and slower recovery time from both exercise and injuries.

As I touched on before, the solution to these problems came in the form of yoga. Specifically, Bikram Hot Yoga. For most of my life I felt as a good many of you probably do, yoga is for women, and hippies, and women hippies. Then I got talked into a Bikram class and found out that, yeah…no, hot yoga is definitely not for the faint of heart.

I learned to bend and stretch in ways I never before thought possible. For the first time in 30 years, I could touch my toes. I strengthened my core and stopped pulling leg and groin muscles. Muscle recovery was quicker, the stiffness from a hard game faded faster.

I suffered the heat, the sweat and the gasping for air. I wore a heart rate monitor and discovered that yoga can be an aerobic exercise that burns over a thousand calories in a single class. Yes, you read that right.

I finally discovered a form of resistance exercise that I can stand. Yes, you also read that right. Yoga may not be weightlifting, but it is a form of resistance exercise, and you will gain strength and muscle mass doing it. I gained 10 pounds in the first year.

My focus and determination increased. While I have never been the best or most talented hockey player, guys started inviting me to their league or tournament teams. The single minded determination to survive in the Bikram hot box became the single minded determination to GET THAT PUCK. This makes me kind of a pain in the ass to play against, and guys want me on their team just so they won’t have to play against me. Just this past Sunday, the white team goalie saw me put on my black jersey and muttered, “Oh, great.”

And in case you think that, well, “That’s just your story Andrew,” think again. As I dove deeper into yoga, I learned that serious, high level hockey players were turning to yoga. Did you know that Mark Messier, you know, hall of famer, second all time in NHL games played, also does yoga? How about Mark Recchi, the oldest player to score in a Stanley Cup final? He considers that practicing hot yoga in the summers extended his career by several years.

And it’s not just hockey. There are top level professionals in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, golf, tennis, etc. practicing yoga.

It really isn’t just for women and hippies, and hippy women.

Cross posted at medium.com.