As any serious Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner will tell you, you have to constantly look for ways to improve your overall physical strength and wellness. It’s an absolute must if you plan on improving your grappling game. BJJ is a physically grueling and injury prone mixed martial art. BJJ experts often pursue cutting edge and off the beaten path training routine to keep their body primed and optimal.
Over the last few years, world-class BJJ practitioners are being increasingly drawn to yoga as a means of better conditioning their body. Elite practitioners like Vitor Belfort, Rickson Gracie, and BJ Penn, among a few, all practice yoga or some form of it in their training. And for good reason!
Originally founded in India, yoga is a complex physical and mental discipline that has been proven to have profoundly beneficial effects on the human body. The form of yoga that is primarily practiced in health clubs, gyms, and fitness centers across the Western World, is a derivative of Hatha yoga.
The Hatha yoga umbrella encompasses Bikram, Ashtanga, and Iyengar, all sub-categories of yoga that feature varied techniques and approaches to the art.
Hatha yoga, or simply ‘yoga’ as we commonly know it, mainly focuses on asanas, a term used to describe a broad and varied range of different physical positions and postures that are held over the course of a single yoga session. These movements, combined with specialized and synchronized breathing, are referred to collectively as vinyasa.
5 Ways Yoga Can Improve Your Jiu Jitsu
Now that we understand the basics of yoga, let’s explain very simply how it can greatly improve your rolls on the mat. If you ask anyone that has practiced both yoga and BJJ, they will immediately tell you that the two art forms almost seem like they were made for each other.
Both arts are heavily rooted and intermixed with ancient Indian and Buddhist practices. In the list below we’ve broken down the top 5 benefits of yoga that are available to a BJJ practitioner. You will quickly realize why yoga for BJJ improvement is highly effective.
Improved Balance and Strength
When it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, physical strength and balance are extremely important. However, BJJ doesn’t require just the traditional and isolated weight lifter’s strength. It demands a tremendous functional strength along with balance. If you recall those grueling rolls when you get swept by someone half your size and put in a horrible position, you probably realized that you cannot simply outmuscle your opponents! You need a good amount of both strength and balance to best your opponents.
Yoga is all about improving one’s strength and balance. And it does so in a manner that is extremely effective to a BJJ practitioner. Yoga forces anyone doing it to slowly focus on solitary muscle groups, synchronizing the mind and body together. The results you get out of it are just amazing! You learn extremely refined movement control, backed by vastly improved strength, balance, and mental focus that you cannot attain with most other training methods.
With yoga forcing a person to hold a certain posture for extended periods of time, it also builds muscle endurance quite a bit! In BJJ you need to be able to hold on to a position, choke, or joint lock for prolonged periods. This is why both strength and mental synchrony are extremely important!
Traditional weight lifting and other endurance exercises are not able to train the muscles and mind together in such a way. Yoga practitioners requires this very same muscle control, balance, and mental synchronicity used in BJJ training, and for that, they are totally right for each other!
It goes without saying that flexibility is increasingly important for your BJJ! You can certainly be a good BJJ practitioner without the best flexibility, but you probably will have a hard time reaching the upper class of the art. The very best BJJ experts in the world are as flexible as they are strong.
Yoga can greatly help in this regard, as many of the postures and poses push your flexibility to the limit. By holding some of these difficult yoga poses, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons stretch ever so slowly. The more you do it, the more your body gets accustomed to it, allowing you to approach these same poses later with a slightly improved flexibility.
With BJJ requiring complex leg wraps, hip rolls, and other dynamic movements, the benefits of yoga in this regard are huge! Yoga for BJJ flexibility improvements can yield excellent results after just a couple of weeks of practicing both disciplines in tandem together. This is a great tool if you want to achieve a great deal of flexibility and hip mobility!
A Sharper and Focused Mind
Yoga forces a person to not just control their own body with a much greater efficiency, but it also requires a person to have tremendous focus and steadied breathing patterns. Combining all these aspects together requires a very calm, still, and focused mind.
If at any point you break your concentration, it is likely that you will lose your yoga pose and fail at that particular movement task. This parallels BJJ exactly. If you lose your mental focus in a match, that’s when you get passed and smashed!
Muscle strength and BJJ technique are obviously essential in excelling at the discipline, however, if your mental focus is weak, then you won’t make it very far with the art. Holding a choke-hold or arm-lock during the heat of battle requires tremendous mental sharpness and clarity, something yoga is able to help vastly improve!
Better Breath Control and Physical Awareness
Breath control is an extremely important aspect for both yoga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Both disciplines require a tremendous amount of muscle control and breath control.
The better your breath work, the steadier your air supply remains. This become extremely important especially during those tense grappling matches! If you remember being a beginner at BJJ, getting you first Gi, excited for your first roll, and finding out you can’t even last the full match, you know exactly what we’re talking about!
With breath work being a fundamental aspect of yoga, it can help to vastly improve a BJJ practitioner’s breathing techniques. While training to get better at this usually only takes a couple of weeks, it will take a long-term commitment to breath work training to see lasting results and huge improvements.
Through breath work comes physical focus. Mindful breathing takes a mental sharpness and focus that can only be attained through training. If you can slow your breathing and change your breath intake depending on the situation, then you will ultimately have better physical awareness regarding your energy levels and the rate at which you are burning energy.
One of the most common mistakes for a beginner is going full blast during the first minute of your roll and burning out your gas tank! This is why proper breathing techniques becomes increasingly important. Improving this skillset can be done through yoga and it will ultimately make you a much better BJJ practitioner.
If you do not have enough physical awareness to know how much energy you are burning, then you really have no way of properly pacing yourself during a fight. This in itself is why yoga should be a fundamental part of any BJJ training regimen.
Improved Physical Imbalances
We all have our own personal physical imbalances, mostly due to genetics and lifestyle habits. Yoga is really great in this regard, as so much of it focuses on functional whole-body strength working in unison.
You cannot be particularly good at yoga unless you are able to slowly bring your different body parts into balance and unison. This definitely helps smooth out any physical imbalances that you may have. If there’s one thing that Jiu Jitsu points out is to point out your physical imbalance and weaknesses.
BJJ can show you how weak your core is, how weak your lower back is, or point out how much weaker your left leg is compared to your right.
To be good at BJJ you need to ensure that your whole body works well together, as physical imbalances between limbs can make it much harder to hold on to locks, chokes, and other crucial techniques.
Physical imbalances are much more common than you think. Unless you are ambidextrous, it’s likely that you are much stronger on one side than the other. There’s a reason why people are much better at passing someone’s guard from one end over the other.
If you are able to somehow train your body to become more balanced, your guard passing and guard passing defenses will be top tier in your Jiu Jitsu game.