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Why Yoga is the Perfect Complement to Your Martial Arts Training

by Elaine Clara Mah

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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 to relaxation, but yoga can be so much more! Yoga can complement your martial arts sessions and may even enhance them if you give it a chance.

Yoga Brings Mental Clarity

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.

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.

Yoga is Not Just About Flexibility

yoga and 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. Long-term practice will help you gain flexibility but it doesn’t mean that without it, you can’t start the practice at all.

The very reason you should add yoga to 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.”

Yoga Increases Strength

Yoga enables martial artists to become stronger

Image credit: Yoga.whxgjd.com

When I first started yoga, I too, was of the opinion that yoga is for the flexible. 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 require 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?

I found that this core strength became useful in so many other sports. I took up rock climbing one day and found it to be relatively easy and my instructor thought I was an experienced climber! 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 strengthen your practice overall.

Yoga Secures Your Joints

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! When asked what is it they think flexibility means, many of my students immediately say that they think of pretzel-shaped yoga poses.

Yes, extreme flexibility means you will be able to bend to impossible angles. But flexibility has a more subtle form. In yoga, being flexible, the lengthening of your torso and muscles also means 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!

Yoga Enhances Balance

yoga enhances balance

The test of balance is presented in small, mundane tasks of life. Whether we sail through or get defeated depends on how strongly we hold our core. We carry our center with us in both, the moves of martial arts and in flowing through Ashtanga Vinyasa.

For instance, in Ashtanga Yoga, Surya Namaskars, the flow from Chaturanga Dandasana (The four-limbed staff pose) to Adho Mukhasavasana (Downward Facing Dog) and from there to Urdhva Mukhasavasana (Upwards Facing Dog), requires a substantial amount of balance. The balancing poses of yoga such as the Eagle Pose or the Tree pose teach the skill of balancing at every step.

Martial art demands the practitioner to maintain their center while throwing challenging moves at the opponent. The perpetual motion and the dynamic environment call for a deep sense of understanding of space and action, as well as mastery of the core and strength.

Yoga Improves Focus And Concentration

yoga improves focus

One of the elemental aspects of yoga lays its virtuosity to focus. Body moves, breath, gaze, and body locks, the practitioner is expected to walk on an edge of a razor.

The alignment of the body needs to be in line with many other aspects, for a yogi to become adept. Also, the constant rhythmic fashion of breathing brings awareness to oneself and increases focus time even more.

Martial arts, on the other hand, requires the practitioner to gather their chi, and draw the attention inwards to face a critical situation where even a slight miss can throw the performer back during combat. Without focus and awareness, performing any of the two would create only unnecessary ripples with no real-time impact. This is why focus is key for both yoga and martial arts.

Yoga Brings Breathing to Your Practice

Yoga offers great breathing techniques

Image credit: Breakingmuscle.com

Yoga’s greatest secret to well-being is 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 are less governed by our emotions. This is vital to any practice as well as in our daily lives.

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 are included within the practice can help to deepen the breathing and synchronize the breath to movements.

Complement your martial arts training with a side of yoga. Be on your way to becoming an even better martial artist by reserving your spot at one of our martial arts and yoga holidays today!

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