Saturday yoga helps to center Willow Canyon players off field


A year or so later, learning has replaced laughter as the reaction to Willow Canyon football's regular Saturday yoga sessions.

Second- year coach Justin Stangler heard enough about the benefits of regular yoga to add it to the team's schedule during the 2018 summer.

'I saw a story on the Internet, and several coaches I knew had started it a few seasons before and said they were getting less pulled-muscle injuries,' Stangler said.

Sessions begin during summer conditioning and continues through the regular season. They are mandatory for varsity players Saturday mornings before film and optional for JV and freshmen.

And at first, the idea drew quizzical responses.

"Everyone (coaches, parents, players) thought I was joking and players giggled a lot and complained about not being able to stretch their bodies like that in the first few sessions,' Stangler said. 'They take it pretty serious now and have seen the benefits firsthand. They understand it is a form of injury prevention."

Amanda Lugo became the team's instructor in August through the school's contract with Chandler-based Nicole Anne Yoga.

Even with better understanding of what the lessons can do for them, yoga can seem a bit foreign at first.

"When they first started they had a little discomfort and there were some giggles, particularly with some of the more open positions," Lugo said. "As we've been working together, they've become more determined to learn the bigger moves."

She leads more than 40 players in the regular vinyasa yoga classes, and finds she does not have to completely overhaul her regular lesson plans.

"It's actually pretty similar. I tailor it more to a beginner style class," Lugo said.

Nicole Anne Yoga provides mobile services, and leading the sessions in the Wildcats' weight room helps bridge the gap Lugo said doing the yoga poses in their own space, where they usually get together makes it more comfortable for the players.

Stangler said being able to stay on campus the morning after games is very helpful, and it allows players an easy transition from the weight room to film.

'I have seen different Saturday morning options (weight room, running workouts, film only) and wanted something that would tie into morningtreatment and recovery. Players are either with our trainer (Sheena Wilson) rehabbing and/or in yoga,' Stangler said.

He said the yoga gives the players an opportunity to relax and focus on themselves without distractions from the outside world.

It also helped them stay more focused during film.

Lugo earned her certification in May and said the Wildcats have been among her favorite assignments thus far.

She has seen the benefits for players that go beyond flexibility and injury prevention — aiding their academics, and overall mental and physical health.

'I love it. I love working with kids. I love introducing them to something that provides positive mental health,' Lugo said.