The benefits of yoga are well known to all. You can develop flexibility, stabilize your muscles, control your breath and more. But how exactly do these benefits translate into helping your jiu-jitsu game?
Flexibility in itself is a huge benefit in BJJ. A lot of jiu-jitsu athletes focus on developing strength and explosiveness, which is important, but often this kind of training is overdone and can leave the practitioner quite stiff. This stiffness makes it much harder to escape submissions and stay in uncomfortable positions. Regardless of what level your jiu-jitsu, there will always be someone that will put you in a bad position. For example, being caught in something like a kimura or americana can really test your flexibility. Often, more flexibility would give you a few extra seconds to execute the necessary escape.
Developing this kind of flexibility doesn’t happen overnight. Just like technique in jiu-jitsu, flexibility in yoga takes a lot of focus and hard work. But once you develop this, you will feel the gradual improvement in your jiu-jitsu game. Not only will you be able to resist submissions a lot more easily, you will feel your mobility improve. You will become more agile because along with this flexibility, you will also develop strength - a type of yoga-specific strength that will help every facet of your game.
For those of you who have never done yoga before but have seen it, those awkward looking positions are no joke. Holding them for several minutes will develop both your flexibility and muscle stability. In jiu-jitsu, we often must hold awkward positions for an extended period of time. This includes submissions like lapel chokes and triangles. Yoga will help with all of these positions. The more intense the positions you do in yoga, the more intensely you will be able to hold positions in BJJ. It will all come gradually but naturally.
Now, one thing that people really overlook in yoga is the mastery of breath control. In fact, that is the biggest focus in yoga, more than flexibility. Breathing is seen as the root of all the other benefits of yoga. Without proper breathing, you will not be able to concentrate, go deeply into your stretches, or hold the awkward positions.
There are several different breaths that are used in yoga. Proper breathing also helps control your heart rate and will slow down the rate of how you tire. The same thing applies to jiu-jitsu, especially in tournaments. The athletes that can better manage their breathing will find themselves tiring much later into the tournament or the match than those who do not. As you train more in yoga, your breath control will become more natural and you won’t even have to think about it – which is the goal.
Rickson Gracie is the most popular example in BJJ of an athlete that combines his yoga practice with jiu-jitsu. The most famous technique that he uses is when he exhales completely and is able to move his stomach around beneath his abs - you can actually see it happening. This is only one of many things that Rickson can do to show his mastery of strategic breathing. However, you don’t have to be Rickson to learn how to control your breath. Try committing to yoga for a period of time and see what it does for you and your game.