Yoga for BJJ Fighters

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Do you want to improve your flexibility in order to become a better jiu jitsu fighter?

Are you ready to add yoga to your training routine?

That’s the spirit!

You’re about to get a quick breakdown of what is yoga, why do successful bjj fighters use it and how to add it to your training regimen.

 

Empty yoga studio with colorful mat and yoga brick.

What is Yoga?

BJJ fighters use yoga for its physical benefits, which revolve around the practice of stretching into holding positions. Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice, consisting of breathing control within various poses. Yoga originated in India, as a spiritual practice. The emergence of yoga began as meditation. Over the course of thousands of years, practices revolving around spirituality have emerged into lots of cultures for its mental benefits and calming effect on people. More recently in modern culture, different types of yoga focusing on more physical practices have found their way into the training regiment of athletes and active people. A person practicing yoga is referred to as a ‘yogi’.

Man Practice Yoga Rooftop Concept

What are Yoga Poses?

Yoga poses are intense stretches that often require the yogi to hold their stretch for a certain amount of time – generally 5-10 seconds. Poses are often repeated, much like the concept of exercises/reps in the gym. A yoga session would typically last for 10-15 minutes. However, an experienced yogi or athlete with good endurance/durability of muscles may see their sessions last 60-90 minutes. Poses range from basic to advanced. Beginners will gradually move to have the strength, flexibility and most importantly; endurance to perform more advanced poses. Weights can be used in yoga sessions but, generally, are not utilized. Yogi’s use their body weight within poses to enhance strength. However, BJJ yogi’s may utilize their belt as a means of a yoga strap, in order to hold their limbs into holding positions that otherwise, doing so naturally, would be very strenuous on other muscles to perform.

Why do BJJ fighters use Yoga Poses?

Don’t be fooled by the perceived image of yoga you may have. Perhaps it’s a spiritual monk beneath a Bodhi tree, or perhaps a group of middle-aged women participating in a class they’ve paid to attend. These are false perceptions, as the use of yoga for any athlete, especially fighters, is to become better and more dynamic in their chosen sport. BJJ fighters are no different. Rickson Gracie is a yoga enthusiast and instructor, who used yoga training to dominate opponents who were often bigger and stronger. Gracie explains the benefits of focusing warm-ups around the practices of yoga poses, and how they reduce the likelihood and effect of injuries. We’re all aware of the importance of a thorough warmup and cool-down. Yoga could be seen as the most thorough warm-up an athlete could practice. However, instead of stretching muscles, they are stretched is such a way that it allows blood to flow to key muscles — resulting in greater benefits. Yoga is the practice of a warm-up that enhances the key elements that a BJJ fighter needs — they rely on core body strength, stamina, and endurance, flexibility and balance. All of which are benefits of good yoga practice. Thus simply, a BJJ fighter will use yoga to improve their warm-ups and to reduce the chance of and severity of injuries and recovery…

Benefits of Yoga Poses

Yoga poses range from basic to advanced poses. Beginners to yoga should start with basic poses and progress accordingly. However, yoga is not an exact science and this is the beauty of it! It is your body to listen to, and your decision to progress into more advanced poses.

The benefits of basic yoga poses can be felt immediately – after the initial aches and pains of course! Think about it — if a BJJ fighter is able to master every yoga pose and practice them effectively, they are sure to become a much more dynamic fighter. Their flexibility, mobility of range of movement will improve. Advanced yoga poses in particular, center around core body strength. Thus, strength and balance are sure to improve.

So, let’s go into the benefits of yoga poses that help to minimize the risk of injuries…

Enhanced Flexibility and Balance

Yoga poses help to loosen muscle fibers, which in turn leads to better flexibility. Doing so helps to lengthen and stretch muscles, which coupled with weight-lifting and general gym exercise — fighters can see real improvement when bulking and thriving for bigger muscles.

Practicing yoga poses helps to increase a fighter’s range of motion. The practice of yoga centers around holding poses, which enhances a yogi’s balance. Fighters can improve their balance, as grapples and moves in BJJ often revolve around two fighters standing off, in which their endurance and balance compete against one another’s. Greater balance is achieved in yoga through yogi’s lifting their own body weight. Doing so creates better symmetry across the body, which in turn creates improved balance. Flexibility, in particular, helps to reduce the chance of injury because this is a long-term benefit of using yoga as an extremely thorough warm-up. Better flexibility is achieved through loosening muscle fibers and lengthening/stretching muscles. Although this helps to reduce the risk of injury, it also helps to prevent the severity of injuries. BJJ fighters with better flexibility are also likely to enhance their balance.

Enhanced Core Strength

The foundation of performing yoga poses revolve around lifting your own body weight with the core of your body absorbing the pressure. Good balance goes hand-in-hand with the strength that is developed at the core of the body. The improvement to a BJJ fighter’s core strength by doing this can be experienced almost instantly. Core strength is incredibly important to a BJJ fighter; to be able to dominate their opponent and withstand any grapples and attacks. BJJ fighters with better core strength than their opponent are more likely to stay flat-footed in defense and stay on their feet, not being knocked down and pounced upon. Fighters with this advantage are more likely to win. This brings us back to the main advantage: minimizing the risk of injury — a BJJ fighter with better core strength will have better posture, and be less prone to back pain. Strong core muscles are at the heart of good health and fitness and enable BJJ fighters in particularly to stand upright. It is of course when guarding and other unbalanced attacks that injuries are most likely to occur. When it comes to recovery time and severity of injuries — the stronger the muscles, the faster and better the recovery. All of which stem from the core.

Mind & Emotions

Slightly off the topic of physicality, is the ‘practice of the mind’. This is how yoga originated, and whether a BJJ-yogi cares for this side of yoga benefits or not, they are still very likely to gain the mental benefits. This can often be confused as ‘meditation’ because the practice and benefits are very similar, but this is another reason why athletes have adopted this into their training. The importance of breathing techniques is at the heart of yoga poses, which helps to center the body, mind, and brain in order to function more efficiently. The cerebral cortex areas within the brain are activated during this. What this results in, is a calmer state of body and mind, and the senses of the mind are sharpened. BJJ fighters who practice yoga poses are likely to have improved focus on thoughts and emotions because of this. Many BJJ fighters would explain that mental strength is just as important, if not more important than the power one has within the body. Mental toughness is incredibly important for a BJJ fighter to have during fights, recovery and even training — whilst constantly evaluating their progression. The practice of yoga poses help to train the mind to stay calm in intense situations — which is necessary for fights. Yoga itself helps to connect the mind and body. Better focus results in stronger mental clarity, something that is also very important in decision-making. This attribute can be the difference of injury; one mistimed attack or perhaps a careless lunge. BJJ fighters who are calmer and process their thoughts clearer, as well as their emotions even in the most intense of fighting situations, are less likely to make mistakes. This is a result of effective yoga sessions.

Faster Recovery Time

Recovery time: although we’ve touched on this, let’s go into a bit more detail… Yoga poses help to reduce a BJJ fighter’s likelihood of injury. Of course, they are still bound to occur. BJJ fighters accept this as an inevitability, and positive-minded fighters will focus more on going through an efficient recovery rather than focusing on the injury. The healthier and more fine-tuned the body’s muscles are, the better they perform in recovery. Loosening of muscles helps improve recovery time. A more flexible grappler will have easier time recovering from an injury, because of the ability to loosen up.. Yoga is also fantastic for the mind & emotions as discussed above, which a BJJ fighter may argue is actually more important during a recovery period than the actual physical re-progression of bones and muscles. To delve further into the Science of yoga poses — the stretching that occurs doing yoga increases blood flow to muscles. Doing this helps to keep your body and its muscles healthy, strong and durable! All of which aid in a faster and healthier recovery.

The Best Yoga Poses

Ranging from basic to advanced, beginners should start with simple-to-perform yoga poses within short yoga sessions. Even if you consider yourself already flexible, dynamic fighter — I promise that you will struggle if you don’t have any or much experience with yoga. Following a few light and simple sessions, you will want to gradually move to try more advanced poses. If you feel your body struggle, try again. If the result is the same, stop and don’t try again until your next session. Your body will take time to adjust to the intense stretches of advanced yoga poses. The strength, flexibility, and endurance to perform these poses will be earned. Luckily, as a BJJ fighter — you will already possess these attributes, therefore you should be able to progress to the advanced poses and master yoga faster than the average person. That said, be careful and be patient.

We’ve constructed a carefully thought-out list of the most comprehensive yoga poses for BJJ fighters to include in their warm-ups. The below list combined target all body areas and muscles, so be sure to practice as many of them as you can! So, let’s move on to the best yoga poses for improving BJJ and stretching — to improve performance and minimize the risk of injury, particularly while rolling:

Cobra Pose
Man doing cobra pose on exercise mat in gym

We start with a very important pose. This is a simple back bending and chest opening pose.

This pose is particularly good with encouraging good posture. However, this can cause stress to the lumbar spine if not executed with the correct technique or if performed for too long. Doing so could possibly lead to straining the area. When Cobra’s are threatened, they expand their hoods — hence, “Cobra Pose”. The human equivalent is to expand the chest, raising the upper body and neck upwards. Let’s go into more detail…

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Lay down on the mat on your stomach-side, with your legs stretched out.
  • Tuck your elbows in and place your hands slightly in-front of you, with your fingers apart and facing forward.
  • Using the strength from your shoulders to draw them behind you, slowly push your upper body up and expand your chest to look forward. Your stomach should still be as close to the floor as possible.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.

Although this list isn’t in order, you may wish to use the Cobra Pose and then lead it into this one…

Child’s Pose
Group of young sporty afro american and caucasian people practicing yoga lesson stretching in Child exercise, Balasana pose, working out, indoor, studio, close up. Healthy lifestyle concept

This is another basic pose, commonly referred to as the ‘resting’ pose of yoga. This is another good pose to start your workouts with. It is great to release lower back stress. This is also helpful in gently stretching the hips, thighs, and ankles. We recommend the Child’s Pose for both warm-ups and cool-downs.

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Kneel on the mat and sit with your back straight.
  • Slowly lean forward, pressing your chest into your thighs.
  • (you may see this pose as being similar to the Turtle position)
  • Once your forehead is pressed against the mat, tuck your arms in by your side.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.

Again, this doesn’t have to be in order, but you’ll see why the next pose on our list should follow the Child’s Pose…

Downward Facing Dog
Man performing Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog Pose

Arguably the most basic, but the most important pose in yoga. The Downward Facing Dog is certainly the most popular and heard-of yoga pose. This will stretch most key muscle areas in your body — shoulders, back, and legs. Although the pose is basic, it may actually feel difficult to achieve in your first yoga sessions. It is however, easily mastered with patience.

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Begin in the resting Child’s Pose (prior to having extentiated your neck/upper body forwards).
  • Use your flat palms to lift your torso upwards.
  • Use your toes to raise your knees and the arch of your back upwards.
  • After creating as much length as possible in your torso, bend your knees/hamstring back to create a complete reverse-V shape with your body.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.
Knees to Chest Pose
Young sporty woman practicing yoga, doing Knees to Chest exercise, Apanasana pose, working out, wearing sportswear, grey pants and top, indoor full length, yoga studio

A very basic pose, but be careful of lower back strain. Although this can be used as part of a warm-up, this is one to perform as recovery as part of a thorough cool-down. This is another yoga pose that is great for lower back relief — to be used as a prevention mechanism. Because of this, you may wish to use this pose after performing the Cobra Pose, as it is good for countering the stress of backbends. This is because performing backbends may place some stress on the lumbar spine. And again, the Knees to Chest Pose is another pose great for cool-downs as well as in your warm-up.

How to

  • Lay on the mat, flat on your back.
  • Slowly tuck your knees into your chest, wrapping your arms around them once in position. It is important to exhale whilst doing this
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.

A simple one, right?!

Pigeon Pose
Indian yogi doing king pigeon yoga pose in gym. Man practicing advanced yoga. Yogi concept. Side view.

This is a fantastic pose for rolling, and is very useful for improving your guard. The hip is stretched and results in better rotation and flexibility.

How to

Put yourself in a loose plank position.

  • Slowly tuck and bend your left leg inwards, behind your right forearm, resting the back of your foot on the mat.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.
  • Repeat this with your right leg.

This pose is very similar to the next one on our list…

Lizard Stretch
Young attractive woman practicing yoga at home, stretching in Utthan Pristhasana exercise, Lizard pose, working out, wearing white clothes, indoor full length, living room, near sofa

This is another great pose for stretching the hip, as well as your hamstrings, and quadriceps. The Lizard Stretch pose improves the flexibility and its plank-esque stance is fantastic for strengthening right at the core!

How To

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Begin somewhere in-between a plank position and the Downward Facing Dog pose.
  • Rest your arms/hands down in-front of you, tucked in narrow to meet the alignment of our shoulders.
  • Slowly stretch your left leg in-front of you into a forward squat motion. Your forward-facing foot should be at the side of your hands and your knee should be pointed upward.
  • You may wish to hold this as it is. You may use this moment to stretch your other leg by using your left hand to pull your foot up. You can also stretch your forward-facing leg to stretch out your hamstring.
  • Hold your preferred pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.
  • Repeat this with your right leg.

Make sure you’ve practiced a few of the above poses before moving onto the next one we’re going to show you…

Backbend / Camel Pose
Couple practicing yoga standing in Ushtrasana position or Camel pose

The scale of basic to advanced poses is on a spectrum, but we may have passed the line to advanced with this, if we haven’t already with the Pigeon Pose… Backbends are useful for front body stretches and to loosen and stretch the upper back. Muscles around the hips and quadriceps are also subject to positive stretching in this pose. Don’t forget to refer to the Child’s Pose and Knees to Chest Pose, as these are good for countering the effects of backbend poses. The Backbend has a few variations. More advanced backbends involve a reverse stretch. As well as stretching the back, this is a very intense stretch of the chest and shoulders. Be careful to ensure execution of this pose is achieved correctly — but enjoy the benefits of it being done so! You may have to have mastered a few more basic poses to be able to perform this one without facing pain, fatigue, and ultimately failure of trying to do so. Again, if you find it difficult — try again. If you still find it difficult, wait until your next yoga session to try it again. The below instructions are based on the Camel Pose, which is essentially the basic backbend…

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Kneel on your yoga mat and straighten your back. Your knees should align with your shoulders and your arms should be loose by your side.
  • Curl your toes to rest them beneath your foot.
  • Place your hands on your lower back and slowly stretch your upper body and neck behind you.
  • Slowly release your hands and place them on the back of your heels.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.
Two Knee Spinal Twist

Don’t be fooled by the mention of “knee” — this pose stretches out your hips and upper body, both front, and back of it. This is another pose useful in your cool-downs as well as a means of warming up. This is because the twist motion performed in a holding position is a very good tension-reliever.

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Lay flat on your back and stretch your arms out to either side of you.
  • Slowly lift your right knee into your chest, placing your foot at the left side of your left knee.
  • Rest your left hand on your right knee, and slowly push your right knee and leg down to your left until they touch the ground — or as close to the ground as possible.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.
  • Repeat this with your left knee/leg.
Plough/Plow Pose
Handsome Indian young man in white pants practicing yoga, fitness or pilates on mat on green grass in park, plow pose, halasana, full length

This pose stretches the back, spine, and shoulders. To achieve more advanced poses for better guarding, practicing this pose is essential. This is considered to be a more advanced yoga pose, in the sense that one is advised to have built some durability for yoga poses.

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Lay back on the ground.
  • Slowly bring your knees into your chest.
  • Place your hands on your lower back. Slowly lift your legs and lower back into the air above you, stretching your legs and toes as straight as possible. Your upper upper back, shoulders, neck and head should be flat on your ground — this is where your weight is being held from.
  • Get yourself into the most balanced position possible.
  • Whilst keeping your legs straight, very slowly bring your legs down as far as they cane come. Ideally your toes will come down to the ground behind you.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.

Squat and Shoulder Stretch

Pretty girl with darker bronze tan in black yoga pants doing squats to strengthen her booty muscles. She trains outside in nature ambient on the hot concrete.

Hips and shoulders. You may wish to use a Yoga Strap or Belt for this one too. Although this may not look or be considered to be the most advanced pose — it’s important to have built up a good amount of flexibility over the course of some previous yoga sessions.

How to

Focus on your breathing
Follow the below instructions but adjust them to your comfortability

  • Standing straight, position your feet to be pointed slightly to the side, and lift your arms above your head whilst holding your belt/strap.
  • Slowly bend your knees, bringing your legs down to the floor in a squat-like fashion.
  • Slowly bring your arms down behind you as far as possible. Bring them in towards your body.
  • Hold your pose whilst breathing slowly. Do this for 10-20 seconds depending on how comfortable you feel.
  • Slowly bring yourself back to the resting position, in a reverse motion to how you lifted your upper body.

Useful Yoga Accessories

We’ve touched on some accessories and I’m sure you’ve realised how essential some accessories are.

Yoga would be incredibly uncomfortable on hard or even soft floor without support of any kind.

By not using accessories, a yogi would be more prone to injuries and severe discomfort.

The most useful yoga accessories are:

  • Yoga Strap
  • Yoga Mat
  • Bolster
The Original Stretch Out Strap with Exercise Book by OPTP

Yoga straps help to support strenuous positions and to help hold positions in place. They are great to help you distribute your body weight in certain positions. You’ll be able to add and remove strain in positions very effectively, whereas without one you may not be able to! You may use your Gi Strap, it’s completely up to you. However, yoga straps are very affordable and worth investing in. Why? Yoga straps and designed to stretch! Whereas Gi Straps are not. You may also see the value of professionalism by leaving your Gi Strap clean and unhindered.

Pros

  • Made in USA
  • You can take it with you anywhere
  • The loops allow you to have great grip
  • A book with various stretches included

Cons

  • No elasticity – does not stretch
  • Depending on the batch your strap might have poor stiching
YAWHO Yoga Mat Fitness Mat

A pretty obvious one, but let us quickly explain why you should invest in a high-quality mat and never settle for anything else…
If you use a $5-10 value paper-thin mat, then you may as well just use the hard ground. There will not be enough material, or enough quality material to add a layer between your brittle bones and the hard surface. Discomfort and pressure on bones will occur if these types of mats are used. You’ll want a durable, thick (or at least supportive) yoga mat that can support your weight and not put pressure on the bones of your feet, knees, back and so on.

Pros

  • Marked angles to help you focus on yoga poses more accurately
  • Sturdy
  • Cool colors
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to carry

Cons

  • Might be too short for you if you’re really tall
  • Slippery surface, might not work for hot yoga
Gaiam Yoga Bolster Rectangular Meditation Pillow

Bolsters are fantastic props and incredibly useful. They massively enhance comfort when performing certain yoga poses, particularly for when you’re just starting out! They also help to prevent injuries in the sense that they help to support strenuous holding positions.
Bolsters are similar to yoga blocks but are more flexible, allowing for more comfortable use, particularly on the spine. You’ll want a bolster that isn’t too light and soft, but not too thick to block your flexibility to get into certain positions. Instead, you’ll want the Goldilocks of yoga bolsters.

Pros

  • Soft material
  • Long enough for most yogis
  • Supporting stuffing
  • Removable and washable cover

Cons

  • Some buyers report a mishaped, lumpy product

Other Accessories

The above are the basics but complete-necessities. Be sure to have a designated yoga towel, but I’m sure you already have a training towel. A blanket is a useful accessory, as this can be used as a head rest and can be folded or unfolded to support how horizontal you wish to be. Be sure to have a sports bottle(hydroflask is my favorite because it keeps the water cold for a long time even if I’m doing the hot yoga, and boy does it get hot then..) with you at all times, of course… all in your yoga bag! That’s right, invest in a yoga bag to store all your accessories. By doing so you’ll never run out of the door to train at 19:03, quickly gathering anything you see in sight — you’ll have a pre-prepared yoga bag with all your needs. Lots of yogi’s have forgotten a key accessory and have subjected themselves to discomfiting pressure on their bones and perhaps even injury, don’t be one of them.

Conclusion

Yoga poses are intense stretches of holding positions. BJJ fighters can use yoga as a warm-up, and to improve their fightings skills, as there are both physical and mental benefits of yoga. The main benefits for BJJ fighter to gain from yoga are improved flexibility, balance, core strength, mobility, range, stamina, and endurance. Fighters can apply these improvements to better their fighting ability. The mental benefits are especially important for fighters, in order to tune their mental strength, clarity and endurance. However, back to the physical side of yoga… the main benefits of yoga poses for BJJ fighters that trump all revolve around reducing injury. Practicing yoga poses help the prevention of injury, the severity of injury should they occur and recovery time. Yoga poses range on a spectrum of basic to advanced, and beginners to yoga should be patient with their progression. Some poses are required to be mastered in order to perform similar but more advanced poses. BJJ fighters who master advanced yoga poses are likely to become more dynamic and successful fighters.

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