You’ve probably heard about the fundamental benefits of yoga such as; improving flexibility and mobility, developing strength and balance as well as encouraging relaxation. These are all great in itself but yoga has so much more to offer, especially to a BJJ practitioner. Whatever your belt or rank, incorporating a yoga routine into your training and workout schedule can have a profound impact.
Yoga is one of the best ways to compliment your training, as it can positively affect every aspect of your game. As you progress through your BJJ journey you will discover your physical and mental strengths and weaknesses. Jiu Jitsu gives you an opportunity to work through them and allows you to grow through that experience. While Jiu Jitsu has likely exposed your physical limitations already, yoga can help you realise what your body is capable of doing and will allow you to push through those limits.
I started practicing yoga at home two years ago. It appealed to me as the ideal introvert workout with a perfect combination of comfy clothes, no social pressure and the ability to control and set my own pace. This was a year before I started training BJJ, and I’ve come a long way both physically and socially. It wasn’t until I started training Jiu Jitsu in tandem with practicing yoga that I discovered interchangeable ideas and other benefits that have positively influenced both of my practices.
Focusing on your breath
We’ve all rolled with that guy who gasses out in the first two minutes of a roll and you spend the next four listening, while they huff and they puff and they attempt to blow your guard down. Let’s face it we have all been that guy as well. Breathing deserves its own article about benefits and techniques but I want to emphasize two key points.
Focusing on your breath encourages mindfulness and awareness, which is great during a roll and life in general. Learning how to breathe properly by taking deep breaths through your nose and your diaphragm as well as how to breathe in different positions can have immediate improvements for your stamina and endurance during training.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Jiu Jitsu is often described as a form of meditation. It’s very hard to think about something else when you have someone twice your size on top of you trying to work a submission. One of the things we first start to learn in BJJ is becoming aware of our actions and reactions.
Yoga is traditionally a way to prepare your body for meditating. The concentration and focus required to properly do so is in itself a mental exercise. Whether you practice meditation or not, training your mind to focus on the task in front of you is an incredibly valuable skill.
Injury Prevention and Recovery
Injuries to varying degrees are a consistent part of BJJ, to the point where they are almost unavoidable. Despite these risk factors, BJJ has a decent reputation within martial arts for longevity. Most often once something comes up, it never really goes away, but the effort we put into recovery can influence how we hold up in the long run. Consider yoga as a form of active recovery. By paying attention to your body and focusing on sensitive areas you can recover quicker and even prevent certain injuries.
Like most people starting anything new, I had no idea what I was getting into. There are so many different terms and styles, it was rather daunting. After some research (aka looking at infographics on Pinterest), I slowly was able to distinguish between them and I began to explore and find the styles that I like. There are several fundamental differences which define the various yoga styles, here are some of the more common ones;
The oldest form is Hatha, which most if not all other forms derive from this one. Hatha is slow paced and requires minimal movement between poses.
Vinyasa and Flow are forms which connect different poses through movement. Ashtanga is more traditionally structured compared too other Vinyasa forms. This style is heavily linked to breathing while working the flow of the sequence over one to two hours. It can be rather challenging to start but beginners are gradually introduced to the system so they can learn at their own pace.
Yin is a very gentle form in which poses are held for long periods of time, slowly increasing the depth in which the poses are held. Restoration and healing is stressed in this form.
Iyengar yoga is similar to Ashtanga but it emphasises key differences in the poses and holds to those alignment variations rigidly. It is highly structured in favour of a strong focus on details and instruction is group based, with students taking breaks to learn from the teacher in between poses.
Bikram yoga is performed as a short sequence in a heated room with high humidity. The goal is to practice the sequence twice through over 90 minutes whilst sweating. Hot yoga is similar in that it utilises a hot humid environment, but the sequence can be more dynamic or even improvisational.
How to get started
The easiest place to start is to check out yoga classes available in your area. If you can’t find a studio dedicated to yoga check out classes at a gym or local community centres. Some BJJ clubs offer yoga classes, if yours doesn’t see if you could start something similar or even find a few friends who might like to try a class with you. Don’t be afraid to explore or try the online resources I have linked below before you commit to a place. Take your time to find something that is right for you.
If you don’t want to pay for classes on top of training, don’t have the time to go out of your way to a studio, or are a fellow introvert and prefer less social spaces there are plenty of resources available so you can practice at home.
All you need to do is find a space for your mat where you can practice with minimal distractions. If you need blocks for stability you can use books, a chair or you could be like my boyfriend who uses me to balance when he joins me on the mat. Also, instead of a strap you can use your belt to help maintain good posture while you stretch.
*If you do decide to practice at home be somewhat careful with certain positions especially if you have existing injuries. Don’t force your body into a position if it’s painful. Take your time to find where you are comfortable and slowly work from there.
Here are some great online resources to start with. These are only a few suggestions out of the thousands of yoga channels online.
Yoga for BJJ - https://www.yogaforbjj.net/
The name really says it all. This is a great collection of videos specifically for Jiu Jitsu practitioners. It is a subscription based website that offers a 14-day free trial. There are also some videos available for free on their Youtube channel if you’d like to try it before committing.
Yoga with Adriene - http://yogawithadriene.com/
Adriene’s videos are what got me into yoga. I recommend her to everyone starting out. She has a great range of videos that target specific areas including yoga for small spaces, yoga for sleep and yoga for working out. Her annual 30 day challenges are a great place to start. You can watch the videos on her Youtube channel, or on her new website.
Tom Merrick - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU0DZhN-8KFLYO6beSaYljg
Tom’s Youtube channel documents his own journey of flexibility and mobility. He posts videos of his own routines with simple but highly effective stretching. Tom was able to progress from barely touching his toes to being able to do front and middle splits.
Finding time to dedicate to yoga is crucial, the same with developing any habit. Setting intention into your practice is much like going to class to train rather than going to class to show up. The beauty of yoga is you can control where you start and how you progress from there. If you can wake up at five am every morning to do an hour of yoga, that’s amazing. If you only manage a quick 10 minutes before class starts, or even two minutes before you go to sleep that’s great too. Any introduction of stretching to your daily routine will have a positive effect.
While there are numerous styles and methods to practice you only need to find the one that works for you. It might take some time to find what you like, get comfortable and familiar with yoga but remember that yoga is your journey. Focus on finding something that suits you and your purpose. Keep in mind that you won’t see results overnight. Just like Jiu Jitsu and most things in life, with yoga you will get out what you put in.
"I'm just a nerd who likes books, games and guillotines. Trying to figure things out and share my musings along the way."