How To Use Yoga For BJJ

Over the last few years, world-class BJJ practitioners are being increasingly drawn to yoga as a means of better conditioning their body. If you ask anyone that practices both yoga and BJJ, they will likely tell you how closely related both art forms are, and how well they compliment one another. BJJ is a physically gruelling and injury prone martial art, and considering flexibility has proven to help prevent injuries – yoga is a great way to improve flexibility and prevent injury. Injuries to varying degrees are a consistent part of BJJ, to the point where they are almost unavoidable. By paying attention to your body and focusing on sensitive areas you can recover quicker and even prevent certain injuries.

As you progress in BJJ you will discover both your physical and mental weaknesses, then you can evaluate where improvement needs to be. Yoga often covers every aspect of BJJ, therefore if flexibility in your hips is something you struggle with – there are exercises that will help you to improve your mobility. Likewise, if you struggle with focus or your breathing, yoga (again) is fantastic for that too.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a commonly used generic term for a collection of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines which originated in India. It is an extremely complex and diverse exercise which has been used globally for thousands of years. The yoga most commonly practised in the west is usually some derivative of ‘Hatha’ yoga. There’s many different types of yoga practices for example, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram and more which often fall under the umbrella term of ‘Hatha Yoga’.

However for new people wanting to get into Yoga, don’t stress about all the different types. Just find a video online which suits you. There’s a wide variety of videos to choose from (linked further down in the article) when it comes to practicing yoga at home. If one video doesn’t fit to your ability, try another. You can begin to attend yoga classes, however with the current situation – at home is your only option – and it’s probably the best place to start anyway, as you can go at your own pace.

Why is Yoga Good for BJJ?

3rd-degree Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and fitness expert Nicolas Gregoriades states in an article for Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood that, “Of all the additional systems and methods I’ve used to improve my jiu jitsu ability, I consider yoga to be by far the most effective. So much so, that I’ve eliminated almost all other supplemental training from my regime. This includes, kettle-bell training, Olympic lifting, swimming and rock climbing. I’m not claiming these aren’t great ways to improve your jiu-jitsu. I’m saying that, at this point, I get a far bigger return investing my limited time into the practice of yoga.”

When it comes to BJJ, physical and mental strength, flexibility and balance are the core aspects. To be able to be at the top of your game, you need to have mastered all areas. Flexibility and balance are often the two that catch people out, as you can be a great fighter but your ability is restricted when it comes to particular things such as rubber guard.

Strength is all well and good, but you can’t always out-muscle your opponent, if you lack in other areas. You need a good amount of strength, balance and flexibility to be able to beat your opponents. Yoga is good for BJJ because it forces you to hold a certain posture/position for an extended amount of time, building not only balance but muscle endurance also.

However, the main thing I recommend for BJJ practitioners wanting to increase flexibility is yoga, as I find that is what limits most grapplers.

Yoga is known as a more spiritual form of exercise, but it’s great in lots of ways. Yoga also helps with better breath control and physical awareness as you tune in your breathing with your mind, body, and soul, ensuring everything is in sync – making you in full control. This control is useful when it comes to BJJ as you can remain more focused and relaxed when in a seemingly stressful situation. Breath control also helps you to ration out your breathing during rolling. Instead of going hot at it in the first minute and burning yourself out, you learn to manage your breathing equally throughout the round, creating greater focus and control as a result.

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. Yoga works on both sides of the body, so even if you avoid using your weaker side in BJJ class, yoga will ensure your weaker side subconsciously gets stronger. 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.

yoga for BJJ
Anthony Bourdain medalling at the New York Spring Open 2016

“I’m Too Old to Start..”

A typical misconception of both yoga and BJJ is age. The age factor is the common excuse not to do something. There is the saying that goes: “You are never too late to learn something new.” And that’s the truth, as you can see from people like Anthony Bourdain above. The same goes for BJJ and the same goes for yoga.

Yoga poses do require flexibility. Therefore, during your first yoga class you probably won’t be able to touch your toes, but if you stick with it, you’ll notice a gradual improvement, and eventually difficult poses will soon become possible. Yoga enables you to hold a certain position and endure the pain without losing concentration – and that can help any fighter.

Most yoga poses are controlled from the core, therefore delivering great relief for the back (something a lot of BJJ fighters struggle with). Strengthening your core and abdominal area is essential if you want to keep your back safe during training.

For anyone unsure of the effects yoga can have, check out this article where a BJJ practitioner documents his yoga experience after three weeks.

Yoga Videos for at Home Training

While there are numerous styles and methods to practice, you only need to find the one that works for you. It might take some time to find what you like, and to get comfortable and familiar with yoga but the benefits are definitely worth it. Focus on finding something that suits you and your purpose. Keep in mind that you won’t see results overnight. Just like Jiu Jitsu and most things in life, with yoga you will get out what you put in.

Yoga for BJJ is a great website that provides a collection of videos specifically for Jiu Jitsu practitioners. There are free videos available on their YouTube channel that you can try out before you decide to commit to paying for their website subscription.

Personally this is one of my favourite yoga for BJJ videos and it tailors to all experience levels.

Some other useful links:

Tom Merrick
Yoga with Adriene
Breathe & Flow

Lucy Wynne

Twenty-one, from Stoke-on-Trent now living in Manchester. I'm an avid writer, music lover and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) enthusiast. I began training BJJ in Southampton when at university, and I've trained ever since. #OSS

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