Yoga is an ancient fitness system that has been used for many years to improve the flexibility of elite athletes and to supplement traditional stretching techniques. Many, many pro athletes, from NFL players to ultra-marathoners, practice yoga to enhance their on-field abilities and improve their recovery time and well-being off the field. LeBron James, Ray Lewis, and Evan Longoria are just a few who come to mind. Many college, and even high school, sports teams are now adding yoga in to their regular fitness regimen.
According to WebMD, "In one study, people improved their flexibility by up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga". All athletes tend to be strong in certain areas, such as the legs and arms, depending on the nature of their sport. However, all the repetitive motion can build up tension and limit flexibility in some joints and large muscles. Martial arts students, in particular, tend to be very tight thru the chest and shoulders. Having adequate range of motion in the shoulder joint is key in preventing injuries to more than just the shoulder itself. You can avoid neck and upper chest injuries as well.
In addition to preventing injury, yoga can offer the martial artist a myriad of benefits, such as:
• Higher kicks
• Faster strikes
• Smoother throws
• Safer falls
• Stronger stances
Yoga is the #1 complementary exercise that every. single. martial arts student should be doing to enhance their tae kwon do or juijitsu or karate or MMA practice!
Flexibility: Flexibility is the key to moving properly & preventing injury. It will allow you to move into position more quickly, with less effort, all the while reducing the risk of harm. A supple spine and flexible hips will give you more fluidity, speed & power.
Strength: Our bodies are naturally imbalanced and chronic overuse is common in all types of exercise. Yoga triggers muscles all over the body and works them equally as we hold the poses. It also trains the body to function as a unit, rather than separate parts.
Alignment: The more misaligned our bodies are, the harder they have to work in EVERYTHING, even our everyday tasks. A stronger, aligned body is crucial for economy of movement. It will increase speed, balance your center of gravity and reduce injuries.
Body Awareness & Control: All forms of martial arts are FAST! There is no time to check in with the body. Yoga helps to magnify the connection between the brain and body. This will help to control flailing limbs (in grappling), reduce unnecessary counter-motion and improve judgement of distance. All of this will improve your martial arts techniques!
Breath Control: Controlling your breath will help improve your endurance, balance, stamina, power and recovery time. It also helps us relax our muscles & mind. In yoga, we exhale with exertion, just as we do in martial arts. The slower pace of yoga allows us to focus on this breath and control it.
Focus: Yoga helps to slow down the mind. When we can slow our minds, we can see and hear more. We make better choices. Obviously, this can have a major impact on our overall lives. As for martial arts, it will help you make quicker, smarter decisions in the moment, whether sparring, grappling or just executing a form.
The most important thing to remember with yoga is this: IT IS NOT MARTIAL ARTS. We do not "push thru" a pose. Yoga is about listening to your body and giving it what it needs. You can do a hand stand? Great! Is it what your body needs to improve it's aches & pains? No. We look for sensation, not pain. We can always step out, reset and move into a pose again, all the while being kind to our bodies. When we breathe, our muscles will relax and sink deeper into poses, allowing us to expand our practice over time.
So, give yoga a try. I promise, it WILL enhance your martial arts practice, in more than one way!