Just breathe: Summer yoga classes a big hit for football, other athletes

Mark Wilson
Stephenville High School and Junior High School student-athletes completed the second of seven weekly summer yoga classes on Thursday, conducted by Kerri Tomaski of Soul Feet Studios and assisted by Wendy Woodall. Approximately 130 signed up for the classes, including about 70 football players.

Yoga can be many things to different people, but Stephenville’s football players are hoping it can lead to better athletic performances.

Thursday marked the second of seven weekly yoga classes this summer at Stephenville High School, taught by Kerri Tomaski, owner/operator of Soul Feet Studios.

Tomaski, assisted by Wendy Woodall, has approximately 130 students signed up for the classes featuring “vinyasa flow” style yoga. 

Of those, there were about 70 high school and junior high football players, and SHS head football coach Greg Winder was optimistic that it could provide positive benefits. He learned that some of the football players were doing it on their own, so he researched the benefits of yoga.

“The University of Stanford football team does it,” Winder said. “There was nothing negative said about yoga. We’re going to see how this goes. 

“This is a good opportunity for us to give it a shot and see what we think about it. They’re going to have to stick with it, and let the process work. It’s definitely new to them.”

Other football programs, including the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL, are using yoga to supplement their training programs.

Winder explained that yoga helps build strength in the body’s core, and can provide increased hip flexibility as well.

“It’s all about breathing. It’s all mental,” Winder said. “It works your whole body. We highly encouraged it for the football team. We got more than we expected (signed up). I think if things go well, we’ll have more.”

The voluntary yoga classes aren’t just for the football players. Athletes from other sports, including the girls programs, participated.

“It’s just not for football,” Winder said. “It’s for all athletes — basketball, volleyball.”

Zane Walker, an SHS football player who will be a junior this fall, attended a football camp in Austin in February and yoga was recommended. His parents then contacted Tomaski, whose yoga studio is at 1350 W. Washington Street in Stephenville. That led to setting up the summer classes at SHS with Winder’s blessing. 

Walker, an inside linebacker who started last season as a sophomore, said his yoga experience has helped with his flexibility, and “being able to open my hips up.”

The process of increasing hip flexibility loosens that part of his core and allows him to “run faster and do explosive tackles,” Walker said. “It’s a great thing. We lift four days and week, and being able to relax and stretch is always good. I’ll probably keep on doing it.”

Senior Cole Pettit, a cornerback and safety for the Yellow Jackets who will be starting for the second straight year this fall, also seemed enthusiastic about yoga’s benefits.

“In football your muscles get really tight,” Pettit said. “This gets you more flexible and loosens your hips up. For football, that’s really important to have explosive hips.”

Pettit said that Tarleton State University’s football program utilizes yoga as well.  

Tomaski said the first week’s class focused on breathing techniques designed to bring more oxygen into the body. This week they students moved on to “lengthening and strengthening the spine,” she said.

Upcoming classes will tackle hip flexibility as well as balance and other key points.

Tomaski said yoga helps teach young athletes to have more body awareness in sports.

“Kids in general don’t have a lot of body awareness,” she said.

Tomaski said that the classes serve as a “softening” tool to balance out the “hardening” that naturally develops with the weight lifting football players do to increase strength.

“I really think it’s important to have that balance,” Tomaski said. “I think they will gain more flexibility and mobility, and that will reflect in a decrease in injuries.”