How Yoga Can Help with BJJ
Did you know that flexibility is important in Brazilian Jui Jitsu (BJJ)? If the answer is yes, and you practice BJJ, then what are you doing to increase your flexibility?
Did you know that yoga can be extremely useful for those who practice BJJ?
Did you know that many MMA fighters actually have their own yoga practice?
BJJ takes a lot of hard work, strength, balance, and breath control. When you add flexibility on top of this, you can get an idea of just how intense and in depth the sport is.
How can a BJJ practitioner enhance their training? What can they do to increase their flexibility and stability?
How can yoga help with this practice? Can it enhance your performance?
5 Benefits of Yoga for BJJ
Yoga offers many benefits for a BJJ practice. Yoga is great for mindfulness and relaxation and can even help you get a better sleep. Yoga also decreases stress (which can be tough on the body) and helps to relieve anxiety and depression. These are just some of the reasons why yoga can be very helpful in any physical practice, but what makes yoga so useful for BJJ?
1. Flexibility- When practicing BJJ, flexibility is important. Being flexible not only keeps your joints protected and safe, but it can help to have higher kicks and better mobility. Many positions in BJJ involve deep, intense stretches, and if you are not prepared or ready when it comes to flexibility, you will be much more likely to get hurt. In yoga, there are a lot of options and modifications for if a stretch is too intense, but in BJJ, when you are stretched into a hold, you have less control over how deep you are going and how you can get out of it. Imagine being forced into a position quickly that your body can not handle. This is where the tearing of ligaments, muscles, and tendons can happen, and injuries in any sport can keep you from participating while you heal. Yoga trains the body to be more flexible by having you practice holding poses and keeping you in a stretch for longer periods of time. This can prepare your body to be able to withstand a lot more in BJJ.
2. Balance and Stability- Balance is important in BJJ to keep you upright and out of a hold. If you do not have good balance or stability, it will be much easier to knock you down faster. Yoga is very helpful in learning stability since many standing poses involve working with balance. Anytime you are on one foot in yoga, you are practicing stability. Through techniques of learning how to focus your line of sight and understanding how to keep your feet rooted down and in place, yoga will quickly teach you how to be more balanced. This is very helpful for BJJ and will assist you in staying on your feet and in control.
3. Strength- In order to practice BJJ, you have to have a good amount of strength, especially when it comes to your core and the muscles of your limbs. Yoga teaches strength and muscle control through holding poses and maintaining proper stance while in them. Yoga can increase muscle tone and keep you in shape.
4. Endurance- Many yoga poses promote endurance. Endurance is necessary in BJJ to keep up with your opponent and to continue getting out there to spar. Stamina is important when sparring. Through breath work and mindfulness, yoga can actually lower your heart rate and help improve your focus.
5. Breath control- Holding your breath during BJJ can prevent you from being able to properly keep up with your movements. Breathing with the diaphragm is important during BJJ, and yoga can teach breath control through breathing exercises. There are many different breathing exercises that yoga can teach you, and the more you learn, the better control you will have over your breathing.
List of Ten MMA Fighters Who do Yoga
Did you know that even some famous MMA and BJJ fighters do yoga? Since yoga can be so helpful in preparing for BJJ, and MMA in general, many professional MMA fighters have chosen to do it as part of their practice. Let’s take a look at ten fighters who include (or included) yoga in their routine:
1. Rita Phogat- Rita Phogat, an MMA fighter from India, uses yoga and meditation to promote good mental health.
2. Rickson Gracie- Rickson Gracie, a former BJJ fighter, is a huge yoga fan. He actually promotes using yoga techniques, especially when it comes to breath and diaphragmatic exercises.
3. Diego Sanchez- Diego Sanchez is a professional MMA fighter who enjoys doing yoga as well. Not only does he use it to increase his MMA abilities, but he does yoga on his own time.
4. Renato Sobral (Babalu)- Yoga is just one of the many physical activities that Babalu enjoys. Before he retired, he would use yoga as part of his routine as well.
5. Ricco Rodrigues- This fighter is semi-retired, but he has been said to use yoga back in the day as well.
6. Conor McGregor- Finding the practice useful, this MMA fighter claims to do yoga to this day.
7. Ido Portal- Yoga is just one of the many physical routines that Portal has. He has actually created the “Ido Portal Method” which uses techniques from martial arts, dance, yoga, and gymnastics.
8. Jason Saggo- Not only does Jason Saggo practice yoga, but he actually teaches it now. He became such a huge fan of the practice that he actually went to India to study and receive his yoga teacher certification.
9. Phil Migliaresei- This MMA fighter is a huge yoga fan. He first learned yoga around the age of eight. Having studied ashtanga yoga, which he loved, he went to India to continue studying so he could teach the practice.
10. Jonathan Brookins- After having struggles with his mental health, Jonathan Brookins decided to take a break from fighting. He then traveled to India to study yoga where he studied to become an instructor. Through yoga, he found himself.
How Often Should You Do Yoga for BJJ?
Having an ongoing yoga practice is important, but how often should you actually do yoga for BJJ?
A good recommendation is to have a shorter practice, around fifteen to twenty minutes, daily. This way, you can do yoga each day but not have to worry about it taking too much time. However, if that just isn’t feasible for you, practicing at least two to three times a week can be very beneficial. Should you do yoga right before rolling? Some gentle yoga as a warm up can be helpful, but it is recommended to wait until after to practice yoga as part of your cool down. When doing intense stretching right before any workout, you are more likely to pull a muscle. If you practice right after rolling, you can stretch out sore muscles and allow your body to relax and reset.
7 of the Most Common Injuries in BJJ
Many injuries can happen during BJJ. Some are more common than others, but there are many ways to get hurt if you aren’t careful or prepared. Practicing and training is very important so that you know what you are doing and can keep yourself safe.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common injuries in BJJ.
1. Muscles, tendons, ligaments- These three important parts of our body can be pulled or even torn quite often in BJJ. Without proper preparation and training, it is easy to tear something if you over-extend.
4. Nerves- Yes, this is pretty cringe-worthy, but nerves can be damaged in BJJ too. Just like muscles, if you pull a nerve too far in the wrong direction, it can tear. Nerve damage can be very serious and can cause a lot of pain.
5. Back and neck- Think about the strain on the neck in a choke hold. Think about the amount of hyperextension that the back endures during a roll. Imagine what would happen if your body was not ready to be stretched that way. The back and neck can easily be hurt if you are not careful while sparring. This can be incredibly dangerous so it is important to be well trained and prepared.
6. Head- One study found a group of seven hundred and ninety-one people who practiced BJJ. The results showed that about 25% of practitioners had reported a concussion at some point. These are only the concussions that had actually been diagnosed/ reported. (Spano, et al.) If you are being tossed around quite a bit, you can imagine how easy it would be to hurt your head in some way. For this reason, being extra careful during a sparring session is recommended. This is also why it is so important to know what you are doing and to properly practice and prepare yourself for any fight.
7. Joints- Joints are only supposed to rotate in very specific ways. A ball and socket joint (such as your hips and shoulders) allows full rotation of the bones whereas a hinge joint (such as your knuckles or elbows) are only supposed to move back and forth.
Other Common Injuries from BJJ
In addition to the above, one study even found that some of the most commonly reported injuries in BJJ were skin infections, injured fingers and toes, and the hands and feet in general.
Damaged bones of the fingers and toes can be due to getting caught in clothing or being bent the wrong way. There were many other injuries reported as well ranging the entire body. This just goes to show why it is so important your time preparing any sport you do. (McDonald et al.)
Best Yoga Poses to Prevent Injury in BJJ
Knees to Chest Pose- In BJJ, you will find yourself on your back with your knees against your chest often. This is why it is good to practice knees to chest pose. This is done by laying on your back with your knees pulled into your chest, and your arms wrapped around your thighs. Hold here and breathe, gently stretching out the hamstrings. Feel free to roll side to side if you’d like to massage the back muscles.
Cobra Pose- For a nice stretch in the back, try cobra pose. Start on your stomach with your hands flat on the ground by your sides and your elbows tucked in. As you inhale, lift with your back muscles, only coming up as far as you can using your core strength here. Keep the spine long and take a few deep breaths here, looking up to the sky.
Squat Pose- Squat pose is great for stretching and strengthening the hips, thighs, and core. You can do this pose by stepping the feet a bit more than hip-width apart with the toes pointed away from you. From here, keep your spine long and your core activated as you begin to bend into the knees, sitting back. You can bring your hands together with your elbows between your knees for stability here if you’d like. Hold for a few breaths and then come back up on an inhale.
Bridge Pose- Bridge pose strengthens the core, hips, glutes, and thighs. To do bridge pose, start on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. From here, bring your arms down by the sides and inhale to lift the hips up, making sure to keep the pressure out of the head and neck, on the exhale, you can bring your hands together beneath the hips if you choose to. Having the hands together can be helpful in holding you up. Stay here for a few breaths or you can hold for longer if you choose to. The longer you hold the pose, the more you are giving your back and glutes a stretch while strengthening the core and thighs. When you are ready to come back out of the pose, carefully bring the hips back down on an exhale. If you have trouble holding this pose, feel free to use a yoga block under the glutes to support you here. If you are looking for more of a stretch and less of a workout, a yoga block can allow you to hold the pose for longer without strain.
Child’s Pose- Child’s pose is good for relaxation and focus while still giving you a gentle stretch in the hips and arms. To do this pose, start on the hands and knees and press your hips back towards your heels as you straighten the arms out in front of you. You can keep the knees beneath the belly or you can bring them out to the sides. If you’d like, you can also bring your arms down by your sides. If you can’t bring your forehead to the ground, you can fold your hands beneath it to cushion it. This is a great pose to hold for a few at least a minute. It can also help with releasing stress and anxiety and promoting focus and attention.
Crescent Moon Pose (Side Stretch)- Strengthening out your sides can help you to increase your flexibility in the torso and keep you safe during spars. This pose is done by standing with the feet together and bringing the hands up. On an inhale, take the hands flat together, and on an exhale, come over to the side. Hold here for a breath. Inhale to come back up and exhale to come over to the other side, holding here for a breath. Repeat as many times as you’d like. If you are uncomfortable with the hands together, you can hold a strap instead to support you here.
Best Yoga Poses for BJJ
Best Yoga Pose for BJJ for Back Mobility- Revolved Triangle
Revolved triangle is done by stepping the feet about four to five feet apart with one leg in front of you and one leg behind you. Keep the front toes facing forward and the back toes facing out to the side at a forty-five degree angle. From her, fold over the front leg, bringing the arm of the opposite side to the ground inside of the foot, and reaching your other arm up to the sky. If you have trouble reaching for the ground here, feel free to use a block instead. If you use a block, place it inside of the front foot and bring the bottom hand to it to support you. When you have done a full twist here, look up to the sky to deepen it further and take deep breaths. Stay here for about five breaths or as long as you would like.
Revolved triangle offers a great twist and increases mobility in the back of the body as well as stretching and strengthening the legs. This pose also promotes stability and balance.
Best Yoga Pose for BJJ for Stretching and Stabilizing the Limbs and Joints- Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is a commonly taught yoga pose that is helpful for strengthening and stretching the legs, arms, core, and back. To do this pose, start on your hands and knees and tuck your toes under. As you inhale, press into the hands and lift the hips up and as you exhale, press the hips back, keeping the spine long and the core tight. If straightening your legs is too much you can keep the knees bent as long as the back is straight. Breathe here and hold for as long as you’d like.
In addition to being a great pose for stretching and stabilizing the limbs and joints, Downward Facing Dog can also give you a deep stretch in the back which is a great way to promote flexibility in the back of the body. BJJ requires a lot of mobility in the spine, so having poses to stretch your back can be a great way to prepare for a fight. This pose should always be focused more on keeping your back straight and the vertebrae stacked instead of attempting to force your feet down towards the ground. If you cannot straight your legs without rounding your back, then simply bend into the knees to keep the back nice and long. You can work your way into bringing the feet closer to the ground over time, but if you can not straighten the back, bend your knees.
Best Yoga Pose for BJJ for Strengthening the Arms and Legs- Warrior I
Warrior I is done by stepping the feet about three to four feet apart with one in front of you and the other behind you. You would then turn your front toes so that they are facing away from you and you would turn the back toes at a forty-five degree angle. Then, you would bend into the right knee at a ninety-degree, raising your arms straight up above you as you square your hips forwards. Make sure your knee does not bend over the front toes. Hold here for a few breaths or as long as it feels good for you. Warrior I is a great way to work to strengthen the arms and legs. When doing this pose, you use your muscles quite a bit to keep you stabilized and in place.
If you struggle with this pose at all, you can always use variations. You might choose to modify the pose by using a chair for balance and holding onto it with one hand. You can also do this pose sitting in a chair if you need to, keeping the legs in the correct position but sitting on a chair at the same time. You can keep one hand on the back of the chair or you can bring both hands up and just use the chair to support you. This allows you to get used to the feeling of the stretch and work your way up to being able to do the full pose.
Best Yoga Pose for BJJ for Hip and Glute Mobility- Pigeon Pose
This wonderful pose is very fun and is a great way to open up the hips. Be careful in this pose to listen to your body to make sure you are not over-extending the hamstrings or muscles. To do this pose, you would start on the hands and the knees. If you were to begin with the right leg, you would bring your right knee towards your right wrist and, keeping your foot flexed, you would slide your ankle towards your left wrist. From here, you would then bring the left leg back behind you with the knee and the top of the foot flat on the ground. If this is too deep of a stretch, you can bring the right foot closer in towards your body. You can also place a block under the glutes to help you stay in the correct position here. If you’d like, you can choose to fold forward over the front leg, or you can simply stay where you are. Just be careful not to over-extend the hamstrings. This is a great pose for increasing flexibility in the legs and hips.
Pigeon pose is a very deep and intense stretch for the hips and hamstrings, so make sure to be careful when doing this pose. If anything ever feels painful, ease out of the pose. It is important to take your time coming into a pose like this to work your way into it instead of forcing yourself down into the pose. When you force flexibility, you can get hurt, but when you work within your own flexibility, you are able to increase it safely overtime.
Best Yoga Pose for BJJ for Balance and Joint Mobility- Eagle Pose
Eagle pose is great for balance, and it is one of the more difficult poses to do. To practice this pose, pick a side to start with. Let’s say you were starting with the left side here. You would begin by stepping the right foot into the center and lifting the left leg up while bending the knee and keeping the foot flexed. From here, you would wrap the left leg over the right thigh and around to the calf (do not press into the knee here). You would begin to bend the knees, sitting down into the pose. At the same time, you would wrap your right arm over your left, bending your elbows, and taking your hands all the way around and together. If you can’t do this, just simply give yourself a hug here. Hold this pose for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.
If this pose is too difficult for you, you can wrap the left leg over the right thigh and bring the toes to the ground instead of balancing. You can also place a block under the foot here for better balance. You can then work your way up to the pose from there.
This pose is great for increasing mobility in the joints and promoting stability. Since balance is so important when practicing BJJ, Eagle Pose can be a very helpful one to use.
Best Yoga Pose for BJJ for Increased Flexibility in the Legs and Hips- Lizard Pose
Lizard Pose offers a great stretch for the hamstrings and legs. To do this pose, you can start in Downward Facing Dog and Step one foot forward in between the hands, keeping the back toes tucked and the spine long. If this is too much, feel free to bring the back knee down to the mat and the top of the foot flat on the ground. You can also use a block here beneath the thigh if needed. Hold this pose for at least five breaths and then repeat on the other side.
There are also always variations for this pose. If you would prefer, you can keep the back knee bent and reach your opposite hand around to reach for the foot, giving you a great stretch for your core and lower back. Make sure to be careful if you try this version and take your time twisting. On the inhales, keep the spine long, and on the exhales, see if there is any room to twist further, but never force it. Hold this for a few breaths and then exhale to unwind. Repeat on the other side.
If you choose to do a twist here, you are able to increase mobility in the back of the body and in the torso. This can be especially helpful for keeping you nice and flexible during a spar. In addition, since a lot of twisting is involved in BJJ, you can prepare your body properly ahead of time by practicing twists on your own. This version of Lizard Pose is just one of many yoga poses to choose from that involve twists.
Modifications for Poses When You’re Super Tight and Inflexible
Yoga is great for increasing flexibility, but what if you are still pretty tight when first starting a yoga class? What should you do if a pose is too difficult?
Luckily, having modifications allows you to do a slightly different version of the pose while still keeping yourself safe. Using props can also help you by giving you a little extra support when coming into a pose. Asking your yoga teacher for modifications is always useful, but if you are practicing on your own, you can find a beginner’s class online or choose a program that offers modifications. Some props that can be helpful are chairs, blocks, straps, and even yoga bolsters.
Let’s look at an example of how you might use certain props and modifications during a practice:
Seated Forward Fold– This pose is done by sitting with your legs out in front of you and your feet flexed. On an inhale, you would lift your arms up, and on an exhale, you would reach towards your toes. Since many people cannot actually touch their toes, there is always the option of simply resting the hands on the legs. You can also use a strap here, looping it around the feet, and holding onto it with the hands. Another option is to get a yoga bolster (which is like an oval pillow) and place it on top of your legs. From here, you can lay over it as you fold forwards, supporting your upper body, and making the pose more restorative.
Tree Pose– This pose is usually done by bringing one foot flat to the opposite thigh with the knee out to the sides and the arms straight up to the sky. For those who are still working on balance, and maybe can’t quite get their foot to their thigh, there is the option of bringing your foot to your shin instead or even resting the toes on the ground with the heel against the opposite ankle. In addition to the arms being up above you, you can also bring the hands flat together at the chest or out to the sides. If you need more support still, you can use a wall or have a chair in front of you to hold onto.
Standing Forward Fold– Standing forward fold is done by bringing the feet about hip-width distance apart, and folding forward to touch the toes. For those who cannot touch their toes, you can always try holding onto a chair in front of you instead, or using blocks to reach towards, bringing the ground closer to you. You also might try looping a strap beneath the feet and holding onto the ends of the straps with your hands. From here, you can gently work your hands closer down towards your toes.
How to Choose the Best Yoga Class for BJJ?
Some of the best styles of yoga for BJJ are hot yoga, ashtanga yoga, and power yoga. Hot yoga is great for flexibility due to the increased heat in the room. Ashtanga yoga is a sequence of poses that is repeated multiple times throughout a class with slight variations. Power yoga is a version of a flow class but involves holding poses for longer to really strengthen your muscles and build up your endurance.
The best class will differ depending on your needs, so take your time finding the right class for you based on what will help you the most. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask a yoga instructor or even try out a few different classes to see what works best for you. You might find more than one style of yoga that you enjoy and find benefits from, so it makes send to give them a try.
Best Body By Yoga Classes for BJJ
Body By Yoga offers many programs to suit everyone’s needs. When it comes to BJJ, we recommend our Yoga Edge program. This yoga workout is designed for people who are very active. It is great for rejuvenating, recovering, and restoring your body. It can also help to strengthen your ankles and knees, activate the muscles in your legs and glutes, build core strength, and increase flexibility, motion, and balance. Check out this program here!
Another class you can checkout is our Yoga Max 33 program. This is our hardest yoga class yet and it involves four challenging workouts. Each one takes place in 33 minutes or less (hence the name). For those who are looking for an intense yoga workout, this is the program for you. Click here to check it out.
We also offer a lot of other helpful information and tips for athletes on our website. If you want to learn more about the resources we have for athletes, click here! We want to help you however we can!
Checkout a review from one of our yoga students who practices BJJ:
“Yoga, specifically Body by Yoga, has been a tremendous tool for me as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete. In a sport where mobility and flexibility are both assets, yoga has allowed me to increase both exponentially. I use a lot of yoga stretches to help get loose for competitions, and practice. One of the biggest reasons I will never stop doing yoga is the low impact on my joints. Jiu Jitsu can be very hard on my body, and yoga allows me to reset, loosen, and build strength without the added need for additional high impact training. I recommend yoga to every grappler.”-J.C. Black Belt
References: McDonald, A. R., Murdock, F. A., McDonald, J. A., & Wolf, C. J. (2017). Prevalence of Injuries during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Training. Sports, 5(2), 39. doi:10.3390/sports5020039 Spano, M., Risucci, D. A., Etienne, M., & Petersen, K. H. (2019). Epidemiology of Sports Related Concussion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: A Cross-Sectional Study. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 7(2), 53. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7020053