Yoga and grappling make a great combination. Many grappling moves are actually very similar to ancient yoga poses, making yoga a perfect complementary practice! Yoga improves flexibility, strength, stamina, and mental focus, which can give you an edge over your opponent in any match. Practicing yoga stretches out your body after a match or a training session. It can relieve stiffness and pain, and can also restore balance and alignment. In addition, yoga's emphasis on breath control and mind-calming techniques will add mental power to your technique. Whether you practice wrestling, jiu-jitsu, MMA, or other grappling techniques, your skills will definitely benefit from cross-training with yoga.
Benefit Your Grappling
Yoga has many benefits that will enhance your grappling skills. Physically, you may notice:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved balance
- Stronger core muscles
- Increased leg strength
- More stamina
- Restored and revitalized energy
- Injury prevention
- Improved full-body coordination
- Symmetry and balance on both sides of the body
There are many different styles of yoga to try. If you’re looking for an intense strength-building practice, try Ashtanga, Bikram, or Vinyasa Yoga. If you’d like more emphasis on creating alignment and symmetry, try Iyengar or Anusara Yoga. Play around with different styles and teachers until you find a good fit.
Gain the Mental Edge
Yoga will improve your physical skills, but it also helps to train your brain. Deep breathing exercises (called "pranayama" in Sanskrit) increase your breathing capacity while calming your mind. Pranayama improves circulation and cardiovascular strength, but it also develops greater focus and concentration. In yoga, you learn to breathe through intense moments, finding mental relaxation even during the most difficult poses. As you bring awareness to your movement, alignment, and breath, you become more aware of the present moment. This can help you release the fears and worries about what lies ahead, allowing you to cope with the most challenging parts of your match or training.
Yoga Poses for Grappling
The following sequence will help to improve your mental focus while increasing your flexibility and stability, particularly in the hips, hamstrings, core, and shoulders. These poses can be incorporated into your warm-up and cool-down. Hold each pose for several breaths, but come out of any if you feel pinching or jarring pain. Move slowly in and out of each pose, keeping your breath smooth and even. If you’re struggling to breathe, ease up a bit. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities.
Breathing Exercise: Ocean Breath
Literally meaning "victorious," Ujjayi Pranayama (ooh-JAH-yee prah-nah-YAH-mah) is commonly known as "Ocean Breath." This breathing technique is used to help practitioners stay warm, calm, and present. Ujjai breath also calms the mind and helps to release mental tension, anxiety, and stress.
- Sit on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position, such as Easy Pose (Sukhasana).
- Inhale deeply through your mouth. Then slightly contract the back of the throat, as you do when you whisper, and exhale. Softly whisper the sound “ahhh” as you exhale. Imagine your breath is fogging up a window.
- Keep your throat contracted like this as you inhale and exhale, then gently close your mouth and continue breathing through your nose.
- Concentrate on the sound of your breath; this will soothe your mind.
- Let your inhalations fill your belly, ribs, and chest. Then completely release this air on your exhalations.
- Start by practicing Ujjayi for five minutes while you are seated. For a deeper practice, increase your time to 15 minutes.
Don’t sit flat on the floor! Sitting with your hips above the level of your knees greatly reduces the stress and strain on your hips, knees, and back. Sitting propped up will also help open your groins and bring your spine into correct alignment. Sit as high as you need to let your knees drop open easily — on a blanket, a pile of firm blankets, a bolster or block, or a meditation pillow. Experiment with various heights of support to find the one that is most appropriate for you.
Full-body Stretch: Downward-Facing Dog
One of the most recognized yoga poses in the West, Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — energizes and rejuvenates the entire body. Do not practice this pose if you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome or are in late-term pregnancy.
- Begin on your hands and knees. Point your middle fingers directly to the top edge of your mat. With your feet hip-distance apart, exhale and lift your knees off the floor. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
- Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and down towards your tailbone. Relax your head between your upper arms, but do not let it dangle.
- Hold for 5-100 breaths. Gently bend your knees with an exhalation and come back onto your hands and knees to release.
Lower-body Stretch: Bound Angle/Cobbler's Pose
Bound Angle Pose, also known as Cobbler’s Pose — Baddha Konasana (BAH-duh cone-AHS-uh-nuh) — is a seated posture that opens the hips, groins, knees, and inner thighs. It also improves circulation and blood flow throughout the body, and helps to calm the mind.
- Begin seated with your spine straight and your legs extended in front of you on the mat.
- Bend your knees and draw your heels in toward your pelvis. Press the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop open to the sides.
- Clasp your big toes with the first two fingers of both hands. Press the outer edges of your feet firmly together and into the floor.
- Sit up straight. Extend through the length of your entire spine through the crown of your head.
- Gaze softly straight ahead, or at the tip of your nose.
- Hold the pose for up to five minutes. To release the pose, first let go of your toes. Then gently lift your knees and extend your legs once again along the floor.
Upper-body Stretch: Eagle Arms
Bringing your arms into the upper-body portion of Eagle Pose — Garudasana (gahr-ooo-DAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the shoulders and back. Practicing the arms-only variation of this pose is calming and soothing.
- Sit on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position, such as Easy Pose (Sukhasana) [link].
- Extend your arms straight out in front of your body. Drop your left arm under your right.
Bend your elbows, and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them). Then lift your elbows and reach your fingertips toward the ceiling.
- If your palms don’t touch quite yet, press the backs of your hands together, instead.
- Hold for up to one minute, focusing on your breath and keeping your gaze fixed and soft. To release, unwind gently and repeat on the opposite side.
Seated Twist: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
This seated spinal twist — Ardha Matsyendrasana (ARD-uh MAHT-see-ehn-DRAHS-uh-nuh) — helps to keep the spine, hips, and shoulder joints limber and flexible. It provides relief from fatigue and back pain, and calms the mind.
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket with your legs extended in front of you. Bend both knees, placing the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Drop your left knee to the floor. Tuck your left foot under your right leg and rest your left foot alongside your right buttock.
Inhaling, raise your left arm overhead. Exhaling, twist to the right against the inside of your right thigh. Place your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Keep your forearm raised, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling.
- To deepen the pose, lower your forearm and clasp your left knee. Reach behind your body and rest your right hand on the floor behind you.
- Spiral your torso around your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head. Look over your right shoulder.
- Hold for up to one minute. To release, exhale and unwind your torso. Come back to center and extend both legs in front of you. Repeat the twist for the same length of time on the opposite side.
Surrender to Yoga
Practicing yoga can be a valuable tool for training and fighting. A consistent and dedicated yoga practice will help you gain noticeable results, both physically and mentally. Even five minutes of yoga per day will quickly add up, providing a powerful boost to your grappling!