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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Improving Your BJJ With Yoga

Like a lot of you, I was introduced to Yoga as a youth through Street Fighter II and the character "Dhalsim." As a youth, I viewed Yoga as some mystical thing that included meditation and ultimately could make me breathe fire and slap fools from across the room with my super-stretchy arms that I (somehow) achieved through said mystical practices that involved elephants.
 Eventually, I grew up enough to learn that breathing fire is (probably) fake and can't be achieved; but I'm not a Yoga expert. Flash forward some years and shake in some BJJ and watch Rickson Gracie's "CHOKE" documentary, and then I remembered that Yoga was a cool thing, so I reached out to someone who's proficient with BOTH Yoga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to drop some knowledge on us. Sam Dei Lune is a life long martial arts practitioner and a certified Yoga instructor, who has used that knowledge to help MMA fighters and other professional athletes improve themselves in their respective fields with Yoga. So take off your gi pants, replace them with SPATS (not Yoga pants, but you can if you're a girl. Guys, no), and let the powerful and wonderful friend of WBS take it away. Ladies and gentlemen, Sam Sarahbi:
   Yoga not only is an invaluable tool for breath control, but also will improve a jiu jitsu practitioner’s balance, stability, and flexibility.  I will break down some aspects of yoga and their benefits for your use in practicing martial arts:

Breathing: Hot yoga, or yoga practiced at 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity, will increase your awareness of your breath by focusing on breathing through discomfort.  If you’re new to rolling, something like a solid knee mount, or a tough scramble/battle for position can be very draining if you hold your breath throughout, or breathe without a proper rhythm.  Breath control is paramount to advancing/finishing position and escapes, and can assist in controlling of the heart rate as well as mental focus and awareness.  Vinyasa yoga is a moving meditation, much like rolling, and most proficient rollers seem to prefer this type of yoga for their asana practice.  I engage ujjayi breath with my students, six seconds in through the nose, six seconds out through the nose, with a slight constriction in the back of the throat to build heat.

Flexibility: Vinyasa yoga at what would be considered normal room temperatures are probably the most helpful for flexibility.  While you may get a deeper stretch and you may be able to push your body further in heat, this is an artificial depth that you are unlikely to be able to sustain while practicing jiu jitsu.  For the most part, practice your yoga at the same temperature that you will be rolling to be better in tune with how far your body can be pushed.  Poses that spread your hips will help you wrap a higher and tighter guard.  Pigeon pose is a popular hip opener among martial artists and one that I use every day when working with fighters.

Balance:  Balance is essential in avoiding and initiating sweeps and takedowns.  If you only have time for one balancing pose and you are a beginner, I suggest Tree Pose.  This pose will have you balancing on one leg at a time.

Core Strength: Every submission, movement, position, and defense requires core strength.  Every yoga pose engages the core in a manner that can stretch, and strengthen your muscles and joints, which makes it ideal cross training for jiu jitsu.   Specifically, Boat Pose is an intense core strength builder.

Spine Strength: I include a complete series of spine strengthening in every class that I teach because it is important in preventing injury, as it is important to counterbalance some of the movements your body makes in Jiu Jitsu.  Floor bow is a full counter pose to the bending and pressure you will put on your spine during your martial arts practice.

Even though I have included some poses here, it is important to note that I suggest a full yoga sequence, with a warm-up, cool-down, and a full range of motion in between.  Make sure that you are entering and exiting each pose properly, and that you keep balance in your movements, doing a back bend each time you bend forward, doing poses on both sides, and twisting both directions.  Always consult your professional healthcare provider before beginning, or making changes to any fitness regimen/ exercise program.


Incredible, right? Sam is awesome. Over the course of WBS becoming 'a thing,' she and I have got to be pals. She's always insightful and has a lot of great things to say about everything from MMA to just life in general. She's a great example of what can be the result of incorporating multiple disciplines into your life. 

Get more familiar with Sam Sarahbi at her website:
and if you really want to be the coolest of the cool, and want to get more into what she can offer with her Yoga, you can pick up her book The Sequence at Barnes and Noble, or on Amazon here:

in closing, here's Rickson doing Yoga (skip to 3min to get real)


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