By Guest Blogger: Elaine
I recently taught a yoga class to a group of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters at the local gym. This group of 4 men and 2 women had just finished a class prior to mine and were interested in a relaxing yoga class to unwind. Having taught martial arts practitioners in the past, I found that it was a common misconception among these MMA fighters that yoga was just a way for relaxation, but yoga can be so much more! Yoga can complement your martial arts sessions and may even enhance it if you give it a chance.
1. Yoga Brings Mental Clarity
When it comes down to it, what matters most to yoga is the practice of the mind. Everything that yoga does from the practice of poses to the practice of breath is to ultimately master the mind. Yoga seeks to connect body, mind, and soul through breath. Each movement is connected to the practitioner’s breath, which means that in order to truly practice yoga, the mind must be clear and focused. A consistent yoga practice will teach you to quiet your mind. When on the mat, the focus is on the breath as you use it to move seamlessly in and out of poses. A strong mental clarity is important in martial arts, especially for mixed martial artists engaging in a fight in the ring. A clear focus when so much is going on around will help an MMA fighter overpower his opponent with ease.
2. Yoga is Not Just About Flexibility
When asked, most people would say that they couldn’t do yoga because they didn’t have the flexibility. Their perception of yoga as a sport only for the flexible perhaps stems from the many images on the Internet of yogis holding a pose that seemed almost impossible. It is true that yoga and flexibility go hand in hand. But flexibility is not a pre-requisite to yoga. The very reason you should add yoga into your martial arts practice is to build flexibility over time. Aside from having the ability to perform high kicks and submissions, flexibility helps safeguard you from possible injury during your practice. As the saying goes “I bend so I don’t break.”
3. Yoga Increases Strength
When I first started yoga, I was quite naturally flexible so executing poses came quite easily to me. However, over the weeks and months, I injured my lower back and wrist. I was tired and aching all the time. I then realized that I depended too much on my flexibility to get into poses rather than strength.
With that realization, I began to work on the other important base of yoga – core strength. As a yoga teacher, my advice to my students has always been to work from the ground up. Create a strong base and then go from there. Although many of the fancy yoga poses you see online requires flexibility, the most essential part of executing them still comes from core strength. You can’t lift your body off the mat if you didn’t have the strength, now can you? In martial arts, the use of your core will help you nail stronger punches and kicks. The core is also the center of many movements that you make in martial arts, so strengthening it will help your practice overall.
4. Yoga Secures Your Joints
While you don’t have to be flexible to start yoga, the flexibility that you inevitably gain from it will do you wonders! In yoga, being flexible, the lengthening of your torso and muscles also mean the lengthening of your joints. This exercise keeps your joints lubricated and keeps your joints strong and durable. Secure joints will help you stand firm and strong in your martial arts practice and also help keep those pesky injuries away!
5. Yoga Brings Breathing to Your Practice
Yoga’s greatest secret to well-being its focus on the breath. Like many yoga teachers, I always remind my students to breathe consciously. At first, many are confused by the idea of conscious breath. But breathing is such a natural state of being that many of us often forget that we are breathing constantly! By simply being aware of our breathing, we activate areas of our brain in the cerebral cortex. Stimulating the cerebral cortex relaxes and balances our emotions, which would mean that we would enter a calmer state and less governed by our emotions. Our calmer selves make better decisions and are able to process information better than our angrier or sadder selves.
Any experienced martial artist will tell you that a calm and focused mind is necessary when engaging in a fight. When the mind is calm, its senses are sharpened. And the only way to achieve a calm mind is through the control of your breath. Yogic breathing techniques like Nadi Sodhana or Ujjayi Pranayama that is included within the practice can help to deepen the breath and synchronizing the breath to movements.
About the Author
Elaine is a contributor writer for BookMartialArts. She is a passionate yogi and a rookie yoga teacher whose favorite pose is the Adho Mukha Svanasana. She teaches yoga to people of all walks of life, backgrounds and professional careers, including martial artists!