To the uninitiated, yoga and martial arts might look like polar opposites. The former is a peaceful, gentle practice and the latter is most often combat-oriented. Martial artists and martial arts enthusiasts might see things a little differently, though. Many of the basic tenants that yoga brings to the people who study it are the same qualities that martial arts supplies, like promoting a strong connection between the mind and body, encouraging discipline, and emphasizing the mind/body connection. In fact, the meditation that Shaolin monks have been practicing since they first began developing Kung Fu isn’t that far from what yogis have been doing for centuries.
The connection between yoga and martial arts doesn’t stop there, either. Yoga is increasingly being embraced as an ideal form of cross-training for martial arts. More and more martial artists are including some basic yoga workouts in their weekly schedules and they’re seeing benefits in both their performance and their recovery.
So if you’ve been curious about how yoga can benefit your own martial arts training, let’s take a look at five key areas in which yoga can up your game. You won’t even need to invest in any near gear to try it out. You can use martial arts supplies like mats and karate belts (which are a great substitute for yoga straps) to get you started.
It will improve your breathing.
When it comes to training, most martial arts supplies at least some basic instruction about the ways in which proper and disciplined training can both make your attacks more powerful and help to shield you from the damage of counter-attack. Yoga’s focus on breath is on a whole other level, though, with its emphasis on conscious breathing and connecting each move to the breath. Adding yogic breathing to your routine can make you a more focused, more powerful, and a safer martial artist.
It will improve your focus.
Yoga’s encouragement of focus doesn’t end with the breath, either. Yoga is as much about training your mind as it is about your training your body, and any good yoga practice will stress the importance of being mindful and focused throughout each move and moment in each session. Of course, martial arts supplies a certain amount of this type of training, too. The mind is almost as important to most martial arts as it is to yoga. But any martial artist who is looking to improve their mental clarity or change up the ways in which their brain is challenged in their training will benefit from adding yoga to their routine.
It will make your core (even) stronger.
If you’ve done any level of training, chances are that you already have a strong core thanks to the abdominal exercises and core-related challenges that martial arts supplies. Yoga’s distinct focus of developing stability from the ground up through balance poses like the mountain and tree and core strength-promoting poses like the boat and plank has the power to make your core even more solid, though. So if you’re looking to add more power to your strikes, make your grappling more forceful, and make yourself more protected against attacks to your torso, yoga’s core-heavy sequences could be just what you need.
It can improve your flexibility.
Yoga is perhaps best known in fitness circles for its ability to improve flexibility, and that benefit can translate to martial arts, too. If you’re looking to improve the range of motion in your joints beyond the kind of flexibility training that warmups in martial arts supplies, yoga might be exactly what you need. As Mike Yap, a mixed martial artist and yogi wrote for Mind Body Green in 2013, “The various stances and positions are designed to stretch the muscles, add fluidity back to the joints, and improve flexibility in general. Having this increase in flexibility will improve: (1) your torque while throwing punches, (2) your Jean-Claude Van Damme-style high kicks, and (3) submissions in Brazilian jiujitsu.”
It can keep you healthier and safer in your martial arts training.
When you combine all of the above benefits of adding yoga to your routine, you’re looking at a package that will also help to keep you more fit, healthier, and injury-free in your training and competitions. Yoga’s emphasis on balancing flexibility with stability is particularly helpful for anyone who is putting their body against the strain and challenges of martial arts – especially anyone who is facing the unpredictable nature of sparring and competition. “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,” Elaine Clara Mah wrote for Book Martial Arts in 2016. “Secure joints will help you stand firm and strong in your martial arts practice and also help keep those pesky injuries away!”
So grab your mat, your martial arts supplies and give yoga for martial arts a shot!