Four Big Ways Yoga Will Improve Your Martial Arts
Yoga | By Olivia Leonie 2018
Yoga is an ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice that’s rooted in Indian philosophy. But you don't have to subscribe to the spiritual aspects of yoga to incorporate it into your weekly routine. Yoga is practiced by people of all beliefs, ages, and fitness abilities for relaxation, mental clarity, rehabilitation, and as a complement to other sports and activities.
Many trainers and fitness professionals today see yoga as an essential part of functional training. More and more athletes are adding yoga to their regimen to help boost the physiological and psychological aspects of athletic performance. In other words, yoga is the perfect accompaniment to a rigorous martial arts regime, so read on to find out how you can benefit from practicing this ancient art.
Flexibility is arguably one of the most important physical benefits that yoga will bring to your martial arts. A common misconception is that yoga is only for flexible people. Of course, many yoga poses call for flexibility, but you don’t need to be flexible to start practicing. Yoga develops your flexibility gently over time by stretching the muscles, tendons, and fascia.
A nimble, flexible body will allow you to use the full range of motion when performing certain movements. In kickboxing, this could mean throwing head kicks with ease, while in jiu-jitsu flexibility is great for guard retention.
Being flexible will also drastically reduce your chance of injuring your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Anyone who has practiced martial arts knows that stiff and tight hips, hamstrings and shoulders are a common complaint. If left unstretched, these areas (and adjoining ones) become prone to strains, tears, and other injuries.
2. Faster Recovery Through Activation of the PNS
Our body is home to two nervous system responses - sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for the “fight or flight” response -- it raises adrenaline, cortisol, blood pressure and heart rate. While these responses are essential for peak performance in a fight, over-activation can lead to an adrenaline dump or the inability to relax and think clearly.
In between rounds or matches, athletes can benefit greatly from activation of the parasympathetic response, which slows the heart, lowers blood pressure and allow the body to relax and the mind to regroup after a stressful event. Activation of the PNS means that athletes can expect a quicker “recovery” in between rounds of sparring rounds or in a fight, leading a better performance when it’s time to go.
It can also mean better day-to-day recovery after training. Traditionally, recovery from sports has been measured from a localized perspective (e.g. whether the muscles are swollen, sore, or injured), though the scope is now expanding. Trainers and coaches are starting to understand the importance of examining other physiological measurements, such as resting heart rate (RHR), and heart rate variability (HRV) among others. Incorporating yoga will allow the nervous system to recover more successfully, which is just as important as muscular recovery.
3. Awareness and Control Of The Breath
Breathing is the most essential automatic function our body carries out, but how often have you stopped to check just how well you were doing it? Many of us are guilty of taking shallow, rapid breaths as we scurry about our busy days -- especially when we’re anxious. Restricted breathing means less oxygen in our body, which in turn means reduced energy levels and mental clarity. Every cell in our body requires oxygen to function properly, especially when they’re under the stress of exercise.
Yoga places a huge amount of importance on synchronizing breath with movements, drawing stark similarities with martial arts. For example, exhaling forcefully while throwing strikes or executing a breakfall is important for defensive measures, as the sharp contraction of the abdominals and diaphragm shields your internal organs, and prevents the wind from being knocked out of you. Offensively, the exhalation strengthens the body’s kinetic chain leading to a stronger strike.
Learning breath control and awareness by practicing yogic breathing techniques such as Nadi Sodhana or Ujjayi Pranayama can also boost your performance. Diaphragmatic breathing helps stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic response. Also, by simply being aware of our breath, we activate areas of the cerebral cortex that allow us to relax and decrease emotional responses, leading to a calmer state of mind, faster cognitive processing, and better decision-making.
4. Core Strength & Balance
It’s no secret that yogis possess amazingly strong cores. If you’ve ever seen a properly executed arm balance, you’ll know just how much control and strength is required. Many yoga postures and sequences focus on slow, controlled movements, that can only be carried out with a strong and stable core.
It goes without saying that core strength is fundamental to martial arts. Strong punches and kicks depend on it, good balance depends on it and it also means better posture and a healthier spine. Jiu-jitsu and wrestling can really take a toll on your back, so it’s important to have strong muscles stabilizing, aligning and protecting the spine.
Yoga At Bali MMA
We have a variety of yoga classes that run from Monday to Saturday. Morning classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday provide a vigorous vinyasa-based workout, while on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday you can expect a slower-paced, flexibility-based practice that focuses on breathing and relaxation. So jump in if you’re looking to get more flexible, improve your recovery, gain mental clarity and develop core strength.