Yoga & Martial Arts: Same Same but Different
By Melina Linden
At a first glimpse yoga and martial arts may seem like they are on completely different ends of the spectrum. After taking a closer look, however, one may find that the two not only share a number of values but they also complement each other immensely.
I’ve been practicing and studying yoga for the past 5 years and my partner, Hannes, has been a martial artist for over 10 years. Bringing our passions together and teaching one another about these disciplines has enabled us to delve deeper into what connects the two. After practice upon practice we have come to the conclusion that it all boils down to these 8 key points:
Showing up day after day and stepping onto the mat (whether its the yoga mat or the foam mat of the dojo) requires a great amount of self-discipline. Understanding what your body needs, not just wants, and conditioning yourself in order to achieve your goals are two crucial parts of these two disciplines. Which brings us to the next key point…
#2. Practice practice practice
This famous yogi saying can of course be applied to most things in life. Its especially applicable, however, to martial arts, as repetition is key to perfecting your technique. Whether its a continuous jab-straight-left hook or a continuous Surya Namaskār A, going over the same sequence creates stronger neurological connections in your brain, hence improving your practice and proving that most things don’t come easy…we must work for them.
The ultimate goal of each asana during our yoga practice is to reach a point where we are so comfortable in our potential discomfort that we can reach a state of mediation. Thus, there is no room for worries, loud thoughts, and mind-wandering during your time on the mat. You must focus and concentrate…on your body, your breath and mind. Guess where else this needs to be done too? You guessed it…martial arts. Training in this discipline requires great focus and concentration in order to cultivate a mindset which enables you to face any situation.
This is perhaps the most controversial yet interesting point to mention. Many think of yoga as a “peaceful” practice and martial arts as a “violent” one. One of the 5 Yamas of yoga is Ahimsa, whereby one should not cause harm or injury to any living creature, including oneself. One should love themselves, nourish their body, mind and spirit. In a way, martial arts also share this value. It teaches you to respect, protect and be strong for yourself and others. Of course there is a part of martial arts which involves injuring your opponent, but a true martial artist will always respect his opponent at the same time.
#5. Inner Calmness
Now let’s take one of the oldest martial arts…karate, which actually has its roots in India. According to the tradition, monks in India carefully observed the battles of different animals and came up with a series of combat techniques which did not require weapons.
Karate can be translated as "the path of the empty hand"."Kara", or empty, is related to "satori" from Zen Buddhism, which means "a state of detachment from all things of the sense or intellectual realms". It is another word for enlightenment. In yoga, we call this state samādhi. Whether its the goal or a prerequisite, both yoga and martial arts require inner calmness and balance. Another reason calmness is so important in martial arts, is that tension will block the flow of energy which is required to fluidly run through the fighter’s body.
Why you need courage in martial arts is pretty obvious. It takes guts to step into a ring knowing you are about to fight someone, knowing you are about to feel pain and knowing you are about to be pushed to your limits…perhaps even beyond them. Even just holding pads for your training partner requires courage and faith that you won’t get whipped in the face. So what about yoga? Well, some may argue that there is nothing scarier than facing yourself. Nic Gregoriades said “yoga is a martial art you do against yourself”. Everyone has fears…its part of being human. The question is does everyone have the courage to face them? Can you actually sit on your mat, close your eyes and face every emotion or thought that runs through your mind?
#7. Physically Complement Each Other
So we’ve mentioned the mental and spiritual similarities between these two disciplines. What about the physical similarities? What can yoga do for martial arts? Firstly, many yoga poses resemble martial arts moves.
Secondly, all the muscles constantly working during kicks, punches and grappling need to be stretched out. Finally, through balancing asanas one can immensely improve their balance which is also key to having a secure base during fighting.
How can martial arts improve your yoga practice? Number one is strength. Any type of martial arts training pushes your stamina as well as your strength. This can work wonders for all those chaturangas in your practice. Secondly, it can improve your mind-body coordination. Since boxing is rather fast-paced, it requires good proprioception and an ability to think on your feet…literally. Lastly, it can make you stronger mentally, not just physically. Knowing that you’re able to defend yourself when need be gives you the feeling of power. Similar to the manipura chakra located in our solar plexus, where our power stems from. You get that same feeling of fire burning inside you, ready to light the way ahead and burn down any fears or insecurities.
The last key point that unites yoga and martial arts is breathing, which plays a key role during asana practice and during fighting. In yoga, pranayama is key and forms one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Is it really that important in martial arts too? YES. In fact, one of the reasons martial artists make a loud sound whenever they kick or punch is to train themselves to exhale on each of those moves. The benefits of correct breathing in these two disciplines are numerous, some of which include: better blood circulation, calmness, concentration, oxygenated muscles, improved digestion, more energy and fewer toxins.
Of course there are differences between yoga and martial arts as well. Personally I have enjoyed practicing both and I’ve noticed how much they complement each other. I find it brings a nice yin and yang balance to my life and pushes me where I need to be pushed.
This is our vision for our future, creating a space where we can marry the two disciplines and give people an opportunity to feel the benefits of both worlds. This is why we will be hosting the first ever Yoga and Martial Arts Retreat in Hoi An, Vietnam.
About the Author
Melina Linden is half Swedish, half English and was born and raised in Greece. She has always nurtured a deep love for traveling and learning. Upon obtaining a first-class honors BA in psychology, she went on to travel the world teaching languages and yoga. Currently, her and her partner Hannes, are working towards creating a yoga & martial arts community alongside their travels.