An individual seeking to become a complete martial athlete cannot afford to leave the ancient practice of yoga out of his/her training regimen. No other exercise addresses and develops as many physical AND mental attributes as yoga does. If you think that yoga is only for new age hippies or human pretzels, think again!! If BJJ black belts such as Rickson Gracie and Wallid Ismail train in yoga, you owe it to yourself to rethink what yoga is all about.
For BJJ practitioners, the most crucial physical link between yoga and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is their emphasis on ground work. ALL yoga poses (handstands, seated poses, standing poses) emphasize the body’s relationship to the ground. All strength related exercises in yoga put the practitioner in direct resistance to the pull of gravity. Sound easy? Sure, if you’re just standing around on both legs, gravity is a piece of cake. Now try standing on the balls of your feet, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, and hold that pose for 10 controlled breaths. That’s yoga!
More importantly, the mechanics for most of the poses found in yoga almost directly resemble the physical movements found in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve found, from personal experience, that yoga’s “crow” pose (hands on the floor, with your knees planted behind your triceps for support) has helped my transition from side-mount to knee-on-belly tremendously. Next time you bench press 250 lb., ask yourself how that’s going to help your mount escape. If you’re not sure, I’m willing to bet that there’s a pose in yoga that will.
Finally, yoga prepares you mentally for the rigors of BJJ sparring and competition because it teaches you how to mentally relax while holding physically compromising positions. There are poses in yoga that are meant to arouse specific emotional responses, be it anger, fear, or frustration.
Regardless of what you might feel, and how intensely you feel it, the practice of yoga teaches you not only to endure such emotions, but also encourages you to EXPERIENCE them. When you experience your physical and mental limits at their extremes, yet respond with a calm and clear attitude… getting mounted by a 260 lb. sparring partner or competitor won’t be as fearsome as it used to be. That is the true benefit of yoga. Each pose, each practice session, is an opportunity to face your internal, resisting opponent. Each breath and each moment is a personal challenge that we can experience and overcome.
It’s quite unfortunate that, for the majority of the population, when the word “yoga” comes up in conversation, one immediately envisions a half-naked Indian man, dressed only in a loin cloth, with his feet behind his head, chanting “ohm”, smiling the widest, most masochistic grin imaginable. Or, even worse, one envisions a group of individuals, seated in full-lotus position, trying to get in touch with their inner dolphin.
But there is more to this art. Much more. Drop the weights, leave the running shoes, the gloves, and the gi at home for just one hour every Saturday, and open yourself… to yourself. Empty your cup. This is the first challenge of the path to yoga.