ELDERSBURG — The air smelled of lavender as a cool breeze swept through a shaded area next to the practice fields at Liberty High School, where the varsity and junior varsity members of the Lions’ girls soccer program prepared for a yoga session Tuesday.
Patti LeConte, the program’s instructor, applied the scented oil to each girl’s hands as they sat on colorful mats and towels set up in rows on the grass. LeConte told the girls lavender aids in calming and helps people increase their communication efforts.
“I think it’s really important,” Lions senior Alanna Wray said. “I think athletes really need a space to go back to that’s not necessarily all rigorous and it’s important that we are able to have an area where we can just relax and let go.”
Danni Prietz, Liberty’s varsity coach, said this is the program’s first year implementing yoga into their weekly practices, and they do so once a week for one hour.
“You have all this time before you actually play your first game, so in reading about it and the things I pulled from it, it works on strength, flexibility, agility, balance, endurance, core, and overall strength,” Prietz said. “It’s very good for their training regimen so with all the conditioning we do prior to our first games, I thought it would be a good way to work on their core and balance in our game play, and it brings our teams together as a whole.”
The Lions started out in Child’s Pose by connecting their hips with their heels and forehead to the floor. The girls stretched their arms overhead with the palms of their hands on the ground as LeConte reminded them to connect with their breath and feel their bodies as they meditated.
After about 10 minutes, the girls moved to Downward-Facing Dog, a standing pose and mild inversion that builds strength while stretching the entire body at once. The pose is designed to be a brief “break” from the entire practice, LeConte told the teams.
LeConte has been teaching yoga to high school students for about three years and she got involved with the Lions through Rachel Campanaro, who owns Campanaro Strength and Conditioning with her husband, Nick, in Marriottsville. Campanaro, a former U.S. National Team member (ages 12-20) and former high school and collegiate All-American (Wake Forest) did training workouts with the Lions this summer.
The athletes were positioned just a short distance from the roadside along busy Md. 26, but they didn’t let any distractions keep them from their concentration as LeConte instructed them through other poses.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to watch them bring it in and transform and grow,” LeConte said. “This group of girls here, they’re special, they are awesome and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. You can just watch the expressions on their faces, the joy, the calm was coming through and that translates into body awareness, getting that length and the expansion to bring the breath and body together.
“It translates into a nice, calm presence.”
Tuesday’s practice concluded with Corpse Pose, a form of meditation typically performed at the end of a yoga session. The pose might look like one is taking a nap, but it is actually a fully conscious pose aimed at being awake, yet completely relaxed, according to The Chopra Center website.
LeConte told the girls to reflect on the benefits of the practice and connect movement with breath at the same time prior to closing out the session.
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“At the end it gives you time to reflect on your whole practice,” Wray said. “So it’s kind of like thinking to yourself and having a lot of self-thought at the end of your practice.”