Ironically, I didn’t fully comprehend how amazing yoga is for BJJ practitioners until I was no longer training BJJ. When I started my yoga teacher training, I hadn’t trained BJJ regularly for about four years. However, as I continued to learn about the kinesthetics of yoga and how the movements impact the body, I kept thinking about BJJ.
I started teaching yoga for a combat athletes’ class at my former BJJ gym. Within a few weeks, I saw that yoga and BJJ go together like you and your favorite battle buddy. Here are just a few reasons why yoga and BJJ are the perfect pair.
Yoga Improves Breath Control
Yoga is all about the connection between breath and movement. Throughout the flow — the movement from pose to pose — the goal is to be aware of the breath and move when the breath moves. On an inhale you move into one pose, then on the exhale you transition. Breath is also essential when holding a yoga pose. You take long, deep breaths to maintain the pose, even as it gets difficult to do so.
Yoga teaches you how to harness the breath to power movement and to use the breath to alleviate discomfort. These skills are essential for a good BJJ game. When you’re stuck in a disadvantageous position, you can use breath to help you explode out. When you’re stuck and you can’t figure out how to reverse the position, you pause and breathe instead of struggling.
Learning about this connection will help you move with your breath while you roll, generating power and ease at the same time.
Yoga also uses techniques called breathwork to teach you how to breathe deeper and control the flow of the breath. Using breathwork techniques while rolling can help you access more breath, which will improve your cardio and prevent you from getting winded as easily.
Yoga Improves Flexibility
When you’re rolling, you’re getting all bent up all the time, stretching your muscles to the max. If you’re not naturally flexible or your muscles are really tight, this can lead to injuries like muscle tears or joint hyperextensions. Lack of flexibility, especially in the hips and hamstrings, can also impact which techniques you can perform proficiently and effectively.
Yoga flows are the perfect solution to progressively increasing flexibility. Moving through dynamic parts of a yoga flow, like sun salutations, creates heat in the body, which makes it easier for the muscles to stretch. Once the body is warmed up, you hold poses that stretch the muscles. Yoga flows are structured so that each pose builds on the last one, so you’re progressively stretching the muscles more and more.
As you continue to practice yoga, moving through the same dynamic flows and holding the same poses, your muscles will gradually lengthen, increasing flexibility and improving your ability to perform techniques safely.
Yoga Improves Your Mental Focus and Mental Toughness
BJJ is just as mental as it is physical, and the mental aspect of BJJ is arguably the toughest skill to develop. Luckily, yoga teaches you to hone your mind while moving your body.
Each yoga class starts with a meditation that teaches you how to empty your mind before movement, allowing you to focus on the activity in which you are engaged. Throughout a yoga practice, you’ll continually bring your focus back to your breath, which teaches you to be fully present in your body, allowing your mind to remain focused on the movements.
Yoga doesn’t directly develop the skills you’ll need on the mat, but it does prepare your body and mind to practice BJJ. Better breath control and capacity means you won’t get winded or gas as easily. Better flexibility means more range in your techniques and better defense when you’re bent like a pretzel. Better mental focus means you’ll be able to be present, calm, and clear as you execute your game the way you want to.
So, though yoga and BJJ don’t seem like they’d go together, they’re actually perfect training partners.
Robin Zabiegalksi i is a writer and editor from Vermont. Her work has been published in several digital media publications and literary magazines. She’s been training BJJ for several years and she is a 2 stripe blue belt, currently training at Combat Fitness MMA in Winooski Vermont. When she’s not writing or training, she can be found playing with her toddler, hiking or snowboarding depending on the season, or bingeing her latest TV obsession.