I have been interested in taking yoga classes for a long time, but with monthly gym membership fees and jiu jitsu team dues, it was very difficult for me to justify taking on another membership fee. I anticipated it helping my flexibility, an incredibly valuable for grappling (jiu jitsu), and it was an area of my game where I was very weak. My flexibility was “average” at best, and I rarely had the discipline to stretch as much as I should.
Luckily, my current gym offers free yoga classes — so I started taking a class once a week. I thought the major advantage of yoga was going to be my increased flexibility, but in fact my flexibility did not increase as dramatically as I thought it would — instead I found value in other aspects.
1.) Increased strength in compromising positions – this was by far the greatest benefit for my Jiu Jitsu game. The challenge yoga imposes on the muscles in twisting positions are completely unfamiliar in most traditional (linear) workouts. This type of muscle development is incredible for passes and exploding into side mount escapes. These are the two direct application improvements I’ve found from practicing yoga. Additionally, I’m more confident in sit outs and going for fireman-style takedowns.
2.) Balance – this is very similar to the first point, but the effects were so noticeable that I feel I need to call this out again (and in a slightly different way.) Balancing your body in odd positions in yoga is very similar to the positions people put you in during sweeps (especially when you are passing standing up.) My yoga practice allows me to prolong my ability to balance throughout a longer portion of the sweep. This buys me more time to recover my base, or even just frustrate my opponent until the give up on that particular sweep.
3.) Mental and breath control – this was a huge surprise to me. The first few times I went to yoga I was amazed at how restricted my breathing was. I am in good cardio shape, but I think the stresses of work had subconsciously kept me from taking full, relaxed breaths at rest. This carried over to Jiu Jitsu I’m sure, especially when fighting off chokes or when enduring heavy side controls. Yoga’s focus on breath control has helped increase my lung capacity as well as improved my discipline of breath. This is particularly critical during choke defenses and bottom side control. You’d be surprised how many people give up on chokes (that would probably end up fully sinking in) if you can manage the calmest rhythmic breathing possible during the beginning phases of the choke. This breath control and mental discipline has helped me immensely when in shitty positions.
If you’re even remotely interested in yoga — do it! I can tell you from experience that it’s definitely worth the time. Just remember to go in with an open mind — because the benefits you uncover may be in different areas than you originally think. But the benefits will be there nonetheless!