Especially if you've never done it before, the thought of "yoga" might conjure images of long-haired, new-age hippies contorting themselves into strange positions while incense trails billow about the room. Indeed, you may even scoff at the idea of integrating yoga practice into your training regime.
However, many jiu jitsu athletes - many high-level performance athletes in general - have found yoga to be incredibly beneficial to their training. Here are five reasons why:
Flexibility - Whether or not you're a 10th Planet nut - and a fan of all guards rubbery - increased flexibility is immensely important to your jiu jitsu training as it improves your range of movement. This is important not only for techniques that you might employ, such as berimbolo, or other inverted positions, but also those that your partner/opponent employs. Greater flexibility will help keep you from hobbling home like a 90 year old after he/she folds you like an accordion.
Balance - A lot of yoga movements, even those that may look pretty easy, require a significant amount of balance, especially those in which you move slowly from one form into another. The more you do yoga, the more your balance improves. This directly translates into your jiu jitsu "base", allowing you to maintain greater composure and control over your body, particularly your center of balance. Of course, this helps most in preventing your opponent from sweeping you or taking you down, but it can help in your passing game as well (think the Flamingo pass).
Muscle Endurance - Increased muscle endurance isn't restricted to the realm of strength training. Because yoga consists of a lot of balancing, slow movements, and holding positions for long periods of time, it is extremely useful in increasing your muscle endurance. Indeed, because yoga involves eccentric contraction of the muscles, while strength training primarily involves concentric muscle contraction, it develops endurance in a distinct and - if you already supplement your jiu jitsu with a regular strength training - complementary way.
Respiration - A lot of yoga styles - think Vinyasa - require that you pair your breathing with the movement of your body. Because breathing is such an unconscious bodily function, we often take it for granted during increased physical movement. Few deny that cardiovascular training is important for keeping you from getting out-of-breath during jiu jitsu, by strengthening your heart, lungs and circulatory system, but the kind of breathing involved in yoga also helps, by developing a lower respiratory rate, strengthening the diaphragm, and training you to employ conscious breathing techniques.
Mindfulness - Mindfulness isn't just some feely-good yogi term. At its root, mindfulness is the "basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us." Sound familiar? This is definitely something that we exercise during regular jiu jitsu training. Yoga also helps to develop this, and combined yoga and jiu jitsu training can accelerate our ability to be mindful, whether we're on the home mat or the competition arena.
Hopefully this article has given you some valuable insight into how yoga might benefit your jiu jitsu training.
Train on. Oss... and Namaste.