This summer at Bangkok BJJ, we started a new program of Yoga classes with a very good friend of mine from California, Ms. Minyoung Kim. It's made a huge impact for those that have taken up the challenge to complement their jiu-jitsu training with Yoga. I will be the first to tell you it kicked my ass and continues to challenge me, leaving me very humble each time. What's great is that she's hell-bent on catering her Yoga classes for the BJJ practitioner. So much so that she's begun taking private jiu-jitsu lessons just to better understand the movements and apply her new found knowledge to her instruction. So while recognizing how fortunate we are to have her here, I asked her if she would be interested in writing a series of articles documenting her experience as a newbie to BJJ but through the perspective of a yoga-instructor. Thankfully she agreed and this first part is a basic introduction. She will continue to delve into the some of the topics she writes here but in more detail. It'll be exciting to see how things develop. Enjoy, Luke

First Impressions

     Hello BJJ-Asia readers! It’s great to be here with everyone and thanks to Luke for the opportunity to share my experiences. Just to give a bit of background, my journey with yoga first started in 2008 after a scooter accident left me hospitalized for a month with severely lacerated knee (down to the bone), fractured right patella and hairline fracture in the left hand. I was teaching English on a small island of the South coast of South Korea and unluckily for me, the doctors had little to offer in the way of rehabilitation. Although acupuncture dramatically improved the range of motion in the knee joint, it wasn’t until I walked into my first yoga class that the real healing began. Anyone who has had a serious injury understands how humbling the recovery process is. Not only has yoga healed my knee, it’s also whipped me into the best shape I’ve ever been in my entire life. After 400 hours of various teaching training workshops, 200 of which were under senior instructor and author, Mark Stephens, I am now the yoga instructor for Bangkok BJJ.

     Having had no prior experience with BJJ, what fascinated me the most about my first observation class was the direct correlation that the warm up exercises had with yoga. The drills that take place before any activity are indicative of what kinds of movements are required for that activity. The Hindu Push Ups look almost identical to the transition from Downward Facing Dog to Up Dog. The BJJ Bridge, with the exception of the foot placement, was the yoga Bridge.

     As the class progressed it became more and more apparent that a regular yoga practice could bring tremendous benefits to the BJJ student.  Right away it was apparent that the hips served as a crucial base for movement. I also noticed repetitive lateral movement and twisting in the body, especially in watching the movements of the hip escape. The movements of BJJ are complex in that it requires the body to move throughout various planes of movement and space and in different relations to gravity. If we look at the movements of a sprinter, most of the momentum is propelled linearly – the sprinter moves in a straight line from point A to B, in an upright position, using the same repetitive actions in their arms and legs. The movements involved with grappling are so much more complicated in that there is so much more variation in the types of movements and the planes in which they occur. So many of these elements involved in BJJ are also present in yoga; the focus on the hips, lateral movement and twisting, the importance of core strength (core including the front and back body), the list goes on and on. 

     Yoga is widely known for improving flexibility, but the benefits of yoga are far greater than just being able to touch your toes. Yoga can strengthen and condition your body, prevent injuries and help your body recuperate faster. Because so much of the movements of BJJ are focused on joint manipulation, it goes without saying that greater range of movement would vastly improve the abilities of all BJJ fighters. Men are chronically tight in the hip flexors and shoulders, two critical area of focus in BJJ and also the focus of the vast majority of yoga poses. Where BJJ focuses on pulling into the center, yoga emphasizes creating movement out through the center. Yoga can be the yin to the yang of BJJ.

     Being new to the BJJ world, I’d like to ask those of you who do practice yoga, what benefits (if any) have you gained that directly translate to BJJ? To all those who are still yoga virgins, I highly encourage you to take a class (preferably at Bangkok BJJ) and then send in some feedback so that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences. 

Thanks for reading, Namaste.


Ben W. said...

Great article and I hope just the beginning of many more to come.

I have been training BJJ for close to 6 years now and have training some Yoga on and off.

It is definitely something that I aspire to incorporate into my daily routine, but at the moment lack the necessary discipline.

Among the benefits for BJJ that I gained from my short Ashtanga practice were:

- Improved postural alignment, which on the one hand counterbalances uneven muscular strains (always pulling with your right hand; more pulling than pushing etc.) and on the other hand strengthens the ability to posture, which is crucial in BJJ.
Developing power from the core and along the spine is a common trait in both activities.

- Loosening of the shoulders, hips and freeing the movement of the spine, helping with recovery and injury prevention.

- The big one for me is coordinating movement with breeth, which is very important in Yoga and helps tremendously in BJJ. It helps achieving more efficient, smoother movement, thus conserving energy and leaving less space.
It also keeps you more relaxed in bad spots, such as under the opponents pressure in side control. It also helps make your top control heavier, as relaxation makes the opponent carry more weight.

These are just some thoughts from the top of my head.

Thankd again and looking forward to read more.


Minyoung said...

Thanks for the feedback Ben! I'm glad you enjoyed the article, it was my first attempt at writing for a blog and I have to admit, it was a bit nerve wracking.

The part you wrote about linking breath to movement was really insightful, I liked what you said increased efficiency in movement and "leaving less space." It's interesting to see how the same concepts are applied in different ways.

Keep up the Ashtanga practice! For those who may not be familiar with the term, Ashtanga yoga is a highly physical, rigorous type of yoga that will challenge even the most seasoned athletes.

Thanks again for your feedback Ben, it was great to hear your perspective. Keep the comments coming. Have a great week and keep an eye out for the next article!!

Anonymous said...

Great info!

While i was training in tiger muay thai in Phuket, i always did yoga prior to BJJ training. It wasn't easy, but it was a great warm-up session and i believe it helps to strengthen your overall core muscles and improves balance (something that all BJJers must develop!!). On top of that, stamina and endurance will also be improved should one decide to take up Yoga.

Basically, I am all for Yoga and highly encourage any BJJers to take it. Oh, did Ms. Kim also mentioned flexibility?? LOL.. ;-p


PS: i had pretty bad backache and tried certain Yoga moves but to no avail. That was, until i tried the backbridge (as shared by Matt Furey. I suppose that's still within the yoga context??)and it worked miracles!!!

jana said...

Benefits of Yoga for BJJ:
1. Flexibility - for the more difficult guards (eg. rubber guard, reverse guard)
2. Balance - you become almost impossible to sweep

I've been practicing Vinyasa yoga on and off for awhile now and after reading this article, I'm definitely going to make yoga a regular thing :)

loco said...

I started doing Hot Yoga about the same time I started doing BJJ back in '05. All I can say is that Yoga really complements my BJJ.

As an older BJJ pratictioner, Yoga also helped strengthen my OLD knees and ankles. hehehe


Minyoung said...

Wow, such great responses!
@ LTK: Do you remember which backbend it was that helped your back? Was it the bridge pose, where your feet are planted on the ground, hips lifted and weight on shoulders with arms clasped beneath you?
@ Jana: Thanks for being specific about which guards you've noticed improvement with. We all need a little push sometimes to get back on the train, keep up with the yoga!
@ Loco: I applaud you for keeping up with the yoga, it only gets better with age. Yoga can really help keep the joints juicy, especially important for those of us with a couple more years under our belts. We have a couple of more seasoned veterans at our gym and they've all commented on how much better they feel after just one yoga class. It's never too late to start!

It's very humbling to get all these positive and insightful replies. Please keep sending your comments/questions as they are a tremendous help to everyone reading, especially myself. Keeping reading, next article coming soon!

Anonymous said...

Hey minyoung!

Well, imagine a gymnast doing the back flip. Initially he/she will need to bend his/her back backwards with both arms supporting right?? But instead of the arms, you're using your head. So both feet on the ground and u lift and bend backwards with your head (a tripod like position). And u just rock (lifting your heels of course)back and forth or hold the position for as long as you can. Ultimate goal is to bend your neck/head backwards till your nose touches the ground, without the support of shoulders and hands. don't know if I explained well enough, sorry. But try youtube it, the backbridge. It certainly got rid of my backaches!!