Yoga vs MMA: When Worlds Collide

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Author: Charles Pitts, Co-Founder of Purnama Outreach Pte Ltd

No two activities could be farther apart, right?  Maybe not; it’s time to rethink this perception of a clash of cultures. In a world now full of cross-training and hybrid training programs, why the remaining resistance and separation of these worlds?

When many people think of yoga, they might imagine a yoga studio full of skinny women (The latest Yoga in America study showed 82.2 percent are women; 17.8 percent are men) performing relaxed stretches and not a bead of sweat. Although you might find yourself in such a class when a beginner, many advanced yoga programs and practices require tremendous strength and stamina.

Another possible barrier that dissuades some men and others are the parts of yoga that emphasize getting in touch with your feelings and an excess of mystical and new age posturing. This is of course perfectly in line with the origins of yogic practice as a cultural and spiritual practice. That still does not preclude those interested in the health and wellness benefits from taking an interest.

From the other side, it is maybe partly due to the misconception that MMA practitioners are overly aggressive, even mean; and yoga practitioners are peaceful and tranquil. Namaste. Although both are individual sporting activities in their own right, there is also a great deal of crossover of goals and and benefits that can be realized from both. Let’s break down this wall and look at how these two sports can coexist in your program.  

Yoga enthusiasts, let’s start by realizing that martial arts is not just punching someone in the face or choking them unconscious. Ok, well, if your a professional fighter..... maybe it is.  For the rest of us, MMA is a fierce creator of strength and explosive power, stamina and endurance, balance and coordination, mental agility and focus; and its fun. Many gyms and classes focus on these athletic endeavors and not true combat.  Also I think you will find the “art” element in martial arts if you expose yourself to all MMA has to offer.  For the most part, I have found martial artists to be some of the nicest and most measured people around. To progress in most gyms, you must learn and practice respect, self-control, and humility. Not exactly the first adjectives that may come to mind.  Also it’s worth dispelling that MMA is just for guys; walk into many gyms and you will see young girls and women of all ages enjoying the sport.  

On the other hand, if you relish physical competition or just already practice martial arts for sport or just a good workout; here are some reasons you should consider yoga as part of your routine.  

Expect to use every part your body; increasing  self awareness; your ability to control breathing at muscle failure, core strength; and mental and physical stamina.  Imagine experiencing pain while maintaining focus enough to hold a pose and to control your breathing while continuously adjusting posture and balance.  

Among the benefits of greater flexibility from stretching includes avoiding injuries like muscle tears and joint issues; along with the all too common lower back pain.  Increased blood flow can keep your muscles operating efficiently and healthy.  

Yoga includes an enormous amount of poses and moves designed specifically to open up the hips.  For the martial artist, flexible hips and legs can foster faster kicks. Your grappling benefits from better takedowns, submissions and defense.

Martial artists are known to be a bit uptight. With grueling schedules, mentally and physically draining routines, and a constant drive to improve and compete against others as well as oneself; who can blame them.  Not even mentioned yet, the great benefits of stress reduction on cardiovascular and general health including all important mental wellness.

There is however a valid counter-argument that I would be remiss not to mention.  We so often hear that time is our most precious resource.  With only so many hours in the day, for a competitive martial artist, not all training activities are an equally important use of your time. Many trainers of professional fighters espouse views that anything but practicing the sport itself is a lost opportunity. I think this argument has some merit, but a bit myopic. Look how university and professional American football players train - football drills and practice, sprinting, weightlifting, and stretching.  I think that this example is a good balance, but if you don’t want to take my word for it,  listen to the pro’s.

According to 27-year-old Brendan Loughnane, a Manchester-based MMA fighter -

“Yoga should be a massive part of training. With how hard we train and how beaten up our bodies get over the years, in later life especially you need to work on flexibility....Your muscles get really tight from wrestling and boxing, and it can get quite hard sometimes just getting out of bed in the mornings."

How about looking to Connor McGregor who is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion and former featherweight champion.  McGregor famously trains under movement specialist Ido Portal, and is a fan of yogic movements.  

Perhaps yoga is ultimately a form of martial art, your enemy is within.  

For the modern athlete or fitness enthusiast, a fitness bag to bring on your lifestyle. 

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Meet the Author and his Social Entrepreneur work at Singapore Fitness Festival 19 May 2018