Since I was six years old, I’ve been doing yoga in one form or another. Over the past three years, though, my jiu-jitsu training has relegated my yoga practice to an occasional enterprise.
This isn’t abnormal for me. My yoga practice has always run in cycles. Thankfully, over the past few months I’ve been able to work more yoga into the routine, usually two or three times a week. That’s one class of hatha yoga and one or two classes of Bikram yoga — the kind you practice in an artificially hot room.
Both have real benefits. And I’m not the only one who thinks so! From Rickson Gracie to Sebastian Broche‘s Yoga For BJJ project, the old school and the new seem to concur that yoga helps with your training and your life. Nick Gregoriades of the Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood, a Roger Gracie black belt, says that he finds yoga to be “by far the most effective” additional training method.
Let me drop 10 things yoga does for your jiu-jitsu, some of which are meant to be taken more seriously than others.
1. Flexibility. This is the most obvious one. Yoga is always going to improve your ability to bend, which has a wide array of benefits. And Bikram Yoga’s 100-plus degree room ensures you’ll be warm when you begin.
To be honest, though, I find jiu-jitsu improves my flexibility for yoga just as much as the converse. The positions we find ourselves in while training are different than yoga postures, so I think these two activities are self-supporting.
2. Injury Prevention. Injury is the enemy. Although Dalton from Road House once astutely observed that “pain don’t hurt,” an injury does keep you off the mat, which is way worse than feeling pain. As a smaller person, I’ve been squashed in numerous different positions. Without the strength and flexibility I’ve built through years of yoga, instead of discomfort several of those positions would have caused time off from jiu-jitsu. Staying on one mat helps you stay on the other.
3. Healthy Habits. Making healthy choices creates a positive feedback loop. If you eat poorly, you feel badly, and you don’t train. If you don’t train, you feel badly, and avoid training. One of the benefits of jiu-jitsu is also a benefit of yoga: it encourages that positive feedback loop. We all know we should drink more water, for example. But get up for a Bikram yoga class, and that will come into stark relief. You’ll drink that water, you’ll feel better, and you’ll have more fun training jiu-jitsu later. Lather, rinse, repeat.
4. Balance. True, the best way to get good at something is to do a lot of it. I’m a huge believer in training jiu-jitsu to get good at jiu-jitsu. But so much of jiu-jitsu is about getting on top and staying there that balance shouldn’t be understated. So many yoga postures provide the balance and strength that help you avoid sweeps. The Bikram balancing series is challenging even for seasoned athletes, and I’m sure it has helped me dance out of De La Riva sweeps more than once.
5. The Ego Check. Again, this is something that jiu-jitsu is also wonderful for. We’ve all seen the young, dieseled up MMA fighter come into a jiu-jitsu gym and get submitted by the lady, the old guy, and the small guy. There is always something humbling in training.
But yoga comes with a different type of ego control. Even when I’m in my best shape, there are grandmothers who can do postures better than I can, who can hold poses longer and somehow maintain serenity while I’m dying. This keeps you mindful and humble.
It’s here that I want to quote Sebastian Broche: “The more Yoga and BJJ you practice, the more you will realize that the essence in the two is the same, and everything you learn in Yoga can be immediately applied on the mat.” It’s true!
6. Laundry. I’m the sweaty guy in the gym anyway. I bring two towels to Bikram yoga classes and when class is done, they’re both soaked. Working hard for 90 minutes in a 110 degree room makes you thirsty for a reason, and all the water has to have gone somewhere.
This leads to the World’s Toughest Laundry. I might not be able to tap you, but my laundry can beat up your laundry, or at least asphyxiate it. At least you can say to your romantic partner when they sniff your car with derision, “no, I didn’t leave a stinky gi in the car this time.”
7. Great Early Morning Training. I do 6 a.m. drilling twice a week. I am deeply grateful for the training partners I have who get up with me, because most gyms don’t have pre-work classes. Many yoga studios do, however, and it’s a tremendous way to start the day. That’s in no small part because of …
8. Mental Strength. There’s a lot to this particular intangible. Personally, I don’t find it hard to find motivation when I’m training jiu-jitsu. Someone is trying to choke me and bend my limbs the wrong way: that’s incentive enough. Yoga presents different mental challenges: the ability to stay focused, to stay calm, and to focus precisely on one’s breath. And you don’t have anyone else challenging you, so you have to find your own fortitude.
When I did a seminar with the great Rickson Gracie, he said learning breath techniques was the second-most important thing he ever did (after jiu-jitsu itself). So there you go.
9. Weight Loss. I’m not a big believer in “weight loss” in and of itself. I think we should eat healthy, train hard, and however many pounds our healthy body is, that’s just fine. But in reality, especially here in America, many peoples’ fitness goals include weight loss. Yoga is a relatively low-impact way for people carrying extra pounds to get to their goals in a steady, healthy fashion.
Also, you may have noticed: jiu-jitsu competitions have weight classes. Do absolute, but if you need to get into a particular weight class, also do yoga.
10. [Something Different]. I mean “something different” in two senses here: yoga is something different to diversify your training, but I also expect you will find benefits to yoga that are different than the items on this list. Like jiu-jitsu, there are numerous benefits to the practice that vary from person to person. What I’ve listed are the reasons I have: your list may (and should) include something different.
Yoga means union. If you’re looking to unite your jiu-jitsu training with another system, yoga might be for you.