5 Ways Yoga Can Improve Your BJJ Game

Here are ways yoga can improve your BJJ game by helping you step up your grappling technique and mental focus to enhance your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) instructor demonstrates ground fighting arm to student.

Are you looking to step up your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) game? You may be effectively training and dieting to be in the best physical shape possible. But if you want to be cutting edge in your grappling game, mental focus, and overall technique, add yoga to your training routine. 

Yoga can help improve your Jiu-Jitsu practice immensely. Here are five ways in which yoga can enhance your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game:

  • Breathing
  • Flexibility
  • Alignment
  • Endurance Strength
  • Recovery

Yoga for BJJ

Yoga is a disciplined philosophy that allows the practitioner to develop a deeper connection to him/herself. One becomes more aware of their physical, emotional, and spiritual being through devoted yogic exercises. The elements of yoga will help the BJJ athlete to focus more on applying the proper holds and techniques in this grappling sport.

Breathing (Pranayama)

In yoga, breathing (called pranayama) is the foundation of most practices. Whether it is a moving yoga sequence or a meditation practice, breathing is essential for mental focus and concentration. Pranayama refers to “breath control” and it serves the yogi in various ways. 

While moving from pose to pose in a yoga sequence, the breath offers efficient blood and oxygen flow throughout the body. Breath in meditative practices acts as a focal point for the practitioner to clear and steady the mind. Both of these are just as important for the BJJ athlete. 

Breath is essential for fluid body movement as well as mindful focus and concentration.

Pranayama Exercises for BJJ

Here are a few breathing exercises that will benefit the Jiu-Jitsu athlete.

Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi (oo-JAH-yee) is a style of breathing that means “Victorious Breath.” This is a method of breathing that creates greater expansion in the lungs and provides energy to the yogi. While keeping your mouth closed, you are breathing in and out of your nose, but you are using the muscles of your throat to produce the breathing effort. 

You will create a sound that resembles ocean waves crashing along the beach. It is a mindful way of breathing that produces a steady and consistent flow of oxygen to your lungs.

Source: Ventuno Yoga

Nadi Shodhana

This breathing technique purifies the mind and body and helps with creating a sense of calm. Nadi (NAH-dee) means “channel” while Shodhana (SHO-dah-nah) means “Purification.” To practice, you gently block your right nostril, and inhale through the open left nostril. 

Hold your breath for a moment by blocking the left nostril. Release the right nostril and exhale. Next, inhale through the open right nostril, hold your breath briefly by blocking your right nostril. Release the left nostril and exhale.

This is considered one round of breath. Continue for several more breathing rounds. You will notice a sense of calm and ease as you perform this exercise. It is ideal to practice Nadi Shodhana in a quiet seated position.

Source: Banyan Botanicals

Flexibility

One reason why some people start a yoga practice is to improve their overall flexibility. This is quite helpful in BJJ. Having flexible muscles and limber joints will help you move effectively through grappling postures. Here are a few yoga poses that can improve your technique.

Yoga Poses for Flexibility

High Lunge Pose

This yoga posture helps to release tight hip flexors and also targets the upper thighs and psoas area of the abdominal system. Start by standing tall with your feet together. Step your left foot back until you are in a wide-stance lunge. (You will remain on the back set of toes with your heel lifted.) 

Gently bring your left knee to the ground and raise both arms overhead. Lunge deeply by bringing your pelvis a bit closer to the ground. You will feel the lengthening effect of the pose through your hip flexors and upper thighs. Hold the posture for at least 20 breaths. Be sure to perform the pose on the other side.

Bound Side Angle Pose

This position helps with balance, hip release, chest expansion, and shoulder flexibility. Start in a standing position with your feet together. Step your left foot back into a wide lunge. Turn your back heel to the floor. 

Bend your right knee to 90 degrees. Your torso will face the left side of the room. Extend your arms horizontally over your legs. 

Next, rotate your arms so your right arm reaches down to your inner right thigh. Extend your left arm straight up into the air. Finally, bring your left arm down behind you toward your lower back. 

If you are able, reach your right arm underneath your right leg and reach up to clasp the fingers of your left hand. This will create a bind. (This is not necessary if you are new to the pose.) Hold your variation of the posture for at least 20 breaths, then perform the posture on the other side.

Plow Pose

Because there may be significant floorwork in your BJJ practice, this yoga posture may be helpful in gaining some flexibility in your back and strength in your core system. Start in a seated position. Make sure you have plenty of room behind you. 

You will then roll onto your back, hugging your knees toward your chest. Keep rolling until you are able to send your legs and feet over your head to touch the ground behind you with your toes. You can support your back body with your hands as you hold this posture. 

As you are able, engage your core muscles and extend your legs as you hold the position for at least 10 breaths. Finish by rolling out of the position and resting on your back.

Alignment

A man in a gray hoodie doing Warrior 2 pose on a blue yoga mat outdoors.

Mastering alignment in some yoga poses will help with dynamic holds and leverage in BJJ. One style of yoga practice is called Iyengar Yoga which emphasizes alignment in the body. 

It is the awareness of spinal lengthening, joint over joint leverage, and muscle engagement. A good yoga pose to practice to be aware of good alignment in the legs is Warrior 2 Pose.

Yoga Pose for Alignment

Warrior 2 Pose

Begin this posture in a standing position. Step your left foot back and turn your heel to the ground until you are in a wide-legged stance. Be sure to bend your knee to 90 degrees. 

For proper alignment, stack your knee joint over your ankle joint. Make sure your right knee and toes are pointing directly forward. Your back leg will be straight with the outside edge of your foot rooted into the ground. 

Make sure you feel an equal amount of weight and pressure in both feet for good balance. Tuck your tailbone under to help align your pelvis and engage your lower abs. With your torso facing the left side of the room, extend your arms over your legs. 

They should be parallel to the floor. Gaze over your right hand. Hold the position with engaged muscles for at least 10 breaths. Perform the posture on the other side.

Endurance Strength

One needs sufficient core strength and stability for strong standing positions, taking down opponents, and leverage for effective grappling and other holding positions. 

Yoga Poses for Endurance Strength

In Ashtanga Yoga, there is a sequence of poses that is often performed to bridge a set of poses on one side of the body with the other side. It is called a vinyasa or yoga flow. Here is a typical yoga flow that taps into the endurance strength qualities that translate well into the BJJ arena.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Flow (Plank Pose, Boat Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, Upward-Facing Down, Downward Facing Dog)

Start this Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga flow in Plank Pose or a high push-up position. Bend your elbows as you lower your chest down toward the floor (Chaturanga Dandasana). Then, press your hands into the floor to lift only your chest and hips away from the ground. 

Your heart and gaze will be forward, your legs extended straight back behind you. (Keep the tops of your feet flat to the ground.) You are essentially in a backbend position (Upward-Facing Dog).

Next, tuck your toes, bend your knees, then lift your hips into the air. You will form an inverted V-shape with your body. Press firmly into the ground with your hands to maintain energy and strength in your arms, chest, and shoulders. 

You can keep a slight bend in your knees to allow for a fully extended torso (Downward-Facing Dog). Hold this last pose for at least 5 breaths. You can move through the flow as many times as you’d like. 

You will notice that this fluid set of movements effectively targets just about every part of your body in this dynamic body flow.

Source: Well+Good

Boat Pose

To build good endurance strength in your core, you can practice Boat Pose. Start in a seated position. Lean back to lift your feet off the ground. 

Hold onto your bent knees to help lengthen your spine. Flex your feet to energize your legs and keep your shins parallel to the floor. You will form a V-shape with your body in this position. 

Inhale to fill your lungs. As you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles. Hold  the posture and take at least 10 breaths to build strength in your abdominal region.

Recovery

After any type of training, rest for recovery is important. The body needs appropriate rest and nourishment to remain healthy and strong. Rest also reduces the risk of injury when training or actively engaging in BJJ. 

A particular style of yoga, called Yin Yoga, is designed to help recover certain body parts. Yin Yoga postures target the connective and fascial tissue in the body that gets bound up from overuse or injury. 

Holding specific postures for a significant amount of time allows these connective tissues to release so that the yogi or BJJ athlete can maintain mobility, flexibility, and endurance.

Yoga Pose for Recovery

A man doing a yoga recovery pose on a purple yoga mat outdoors.

Pigeon Pose

This yoga posture is a very good way to open up tight hips, knees, inner thighs, and lower back. Come to your hands and knees to begin this posture. Slide your right knee toward your right wrist. 

Angle the lower portion of your right leg so your foot is pointing toward the left side of your mat. (Your leg may be about 45 degrees.) Using your left knee and toes, crawl your left leg directly back until you feel the lengthening in your left hip flexor. Carefully drape your torso over your bent left leg. 

You may use props like blankets or pillows to help support this posture. This idea is to be able to relax in stillness with no muscle engagement in this Yin Yoga Posture for 5 to 7 minutes. This allows the connective tissue and muscles to stretch and release effectively. 

Since you are holding this posture for a long time, use your breathing techniques here to help relax your mind and your body. Be sure to practice this pose on the other side.

 

These are a few ways to add yoga to your BJJ training regime. Perform some or all of these yoga exercises over the course of a week to notice changes in your flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, and concentration. As you continue your yoga practice consistently, your BJJ performance will improve immensely.

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