SOUTHINGTON — The Southington football players are in their lines, waiting to be put through the paces.
Sweat glistens on legs, arms. There’s little pause here.
“Alright, again. Inhale, get your head up, up off the floor, pressing down into those feet, pushing your knees away from your chest, reaching your chest toward your chin.”
A long count. Hold the position, hold it, hold it.
OK, exhale, release.
Relax? Guess again.
“Alright, I lied. Once more.”
The instructor giving the marching orders, directing in a steady, stately way in front of the lines of players — who are straining more than just a little — is not head football coach Mike Drury. It’s Kelsey Finkle, a 27-year-old instructor of yoga from Wallingford.
Finkle works at Bend Yoga in Milford. It also looks like she’ll be working with the defending state Class LL champion Southington Blue Knights on a regular basis this fall.
Giving the idea a test run, Drury had Finkle swing by Southington High on Sunday. For an hour, she subjected Drury and the 20 or so players who showed up in the Southington wrestling room to some of the beginning maneuvers of vinyasa yoga, which blends movement and breathing.
“Alright, place your right foot on the ground and point your right knee up. Take your left foot and cross it over in a figure four. If you can, grab behind your right thigh, pulling your right thigh toward you. Keep both feet active, making sure that left knee is pressing away from you and your right thigh is pulling toward you. Keep your shoulders on the ground if possible.”
Some groans. Slight, but distinct, groans.
Yet the guys dug it. They left that subterranean lair feeling better than when they entered.
“It’s very comparable,” said incoming junior quarterback Jasen Rose, sizing up the yoga to traditional methods of team conditioning. “It’s more stretching, working the body more than usual. At the beginning it was tight, but at the end it felt real good.”
Reported junior receiver Jake Kligerman, “I feel very loose right now.”
Loose and mellow. And that, of course, is the point of yoga: to marry up the mind and body and put them in a calm, fluid place.
This ancient art of meditation and stretching is increasingly finding a contemporary audience among athletes, in particular, football players. It’s considered an ideal means to improve functional strength, balance, flexibility, power, breathing technique, visualization skill and focus.
It’s also a means of helping the body recover from the bumps and bruises of game night.
“I don’t know if you guys have heard, but the [Dallas] Cowboys are starting to do yoga. Tom Brady does yoga. The Seahawks won with yoga,” Finkle told the Blue Knights as they bent and stretched under her direction.
“Practicing the physical poses, breathing properly, it’s so beneficial. Integrating your body, your mind: It helps with focus, balance, staying clam in intense moments.”
Drury began thinking about yoga for his football team after doing it with coach Derek Dion’s Southington wrestling team during the winter.
He didn’t have to look far for an instructor. Finkle is the girlfriend of Andrew Sperl, the former Lyman Hall All-Stater who was Drury’s fellow linebacker and roommate from their days at Marist College.
“It was definitely something I was looking to get into,” Drury said. “I did it during wrestling season and kind of got into it and decided to research it. A lot of college teams are doing it. My college, Marist, is doing it. The Seahawks did it last year.
“They’ll like this stuff,” Drury added after hitting the mats with his players Sunday. “This is something we’re looking to get into hopefully on a regular basis during the season for flexibility, injury prevention, their focus.”
Early reports indicate it won’t be a hard sell.
“It was fantastic. You really feel much different, much better at the end,” said senior lineman Matt Steeves. “You know your flexibility and balance are getting better every time you do it.”
Steeves, who goes 6-foot-3, 320 pounds (according to last year’s roster), had done yoga prior to Sunday. The exercises, though, were not as rigorous as the ones Finkle foisted upon he and his teammates.
Would he be willing to come in every weekend after a game, following up victory with a strong dose of vinyasa?
“Absolutely,” the big man said.
“It’d be a great way to recover, get the flexibility up again and make sure our bodies are feeling great the next day.”
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