If you told me 7 years ago that I was going to be a Yoga teacher I would have laughed. I was training in karate and I wanted something even more physical and strong so I joined a Ju-Jitsu school just for that purpose. I thought that Yoga was just for mystical people who did a lot of stretching, sit for a long time doing nothing and chanting some nonesense over and over again.
I couldn’t be more wrong than that.
I met Yoga in a weird way but now I know that was the only way possible for me. Alessandro, my partner, started doing DDP Yoga from an App on the phone and he asked me to join him. I didn’t want to. I had my prejudice on yoga and I didn’t want anything to do with whatever had the Y word in it. The only thing that made me change my mind was that “this kind of Yoga” was put together by an ex pro-wrestler from The States. At the end DDPY is an amazing fitness program and a lifestyle that opened doors for me to the most complex world of Yoga. From that day I grew more and more curious about the “real-deal-Yoga” and not just the physical part. I started my exploration of the eight-limbed path.
On this journey I realized how many things Martial Arts and Yoga have in common and how one can be complementary to the other and vice versa.
Common misconception about Yoga and Martial Arts
When we talk about Yoga, especially in the West, we immediately think about flexible people in balancing positions or looped like pretzels. Yoga is often reduced to just Asanas, positions and sets of positions performed in the gym. This vision is not true. Asana is just 1 out of 8 parts of Yoga.
It’s a discipline that involves every aspect of a person’s life. From following the ethical guidelines, to manage one’s energy, to practice the asana, be able to withdraw the senses in order to concentrate and meditate to reach a state of feeling at peace with yourself, the others and everything. The practice of Yoga is also present in a walk or in the morning breakfast: it is being constantly present in themselves and in what is happening.
In my experience I encountered several misconceptions about martial arts as well. People often associates Martial Arts with the MMA they see in TV. They only the see the fighting system and the violence. But that’s not the Martial Arts we’re talking about.
Most martial arts are based on strong core values that comes from Eastern Cultures and on these principles Martial Artists develop a high moral character. One of the greatest values that a martial artist can develop is humility. Through constant training, the practitioners learn to be humble because they understand its importance in the learning journey. In order to achieve the full potential, practicing humility during training is paramount to success.
What Do Yoga and Martial Arts have in common?
Both Yoga and martial arts are not only physical activities, they’re not just exercising, they’re not sports. They are disciplines.
In a discipline what counts the most is the journey and not the results. When we practice a discipline, we also incorporate the commitment and pleasures of a sporting activity into a value given by the expansion of our innate human qualities: physical, mental, emotional and moral.
Yoga and Martial arts are Holistic. Yoga is a philosophy, practice, and discipline that allows the practitioners to achieve harmony and balance between the body, mind, and soul and reach inner peace, health, and an overall well being. Martial arts offers everyone the chance to grow towards the best version of themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically through training, rituals and the study of the origins of the martial arts.
There are several things in common, but I picked 3 that resonates the most with my journey:
1. ETHICAL CODES
Bushido is a compound word that literally means: Bushi “Warrior” Do “Way”. “The way of the warrior” was the Samurai code of conduct. This code of ethics and proper behavior was the ideal for Samurai to follow and strive to uphold in their daily lives.
Like many ancients philosophy it was an oral tradition passed on and on. But there’s a book from Inazo Nitobe in which he defines the unspoken code and its philosophy as eight key virtues:
- Justice: Justice is a core value of the Samurai. Incorporating the Bushido principle of justice into your life requires reflecting on what it is fair and upholding the value of upstanding moral character.
- Courage: Courage, like justice, includes discerning what it is right and wrong. Courage requires the strength not only to perceive but also to act.
- Compassion: Compassion is the ability to manifest love and sympathy through patience. It also suggests to see the world from the perspective of another. This is a very important quality for those in a leadership role.
- Respect: Respect means that you acknowledge your regard for the experiences and feelings of others. In order to collaborate with another person, politeness must be employed.
- Integrity: In order to practice many of the other principles listed, one has to maintain integrity. This mean living honestly and sincerely and to do the right thing even when nobody’s watching.
- Honor: Samurai were warriors who upheld a sense of self worth and lived by the highest code of conduct. In order to abide by the principle of honor, you must acknowledge your moral responsibilities.
- Loyalty: First, stay true to yourself. When fealty is given to another, this must not be abandoned even under difficult circumstances.
- Self-control: Self-control in the Bushido code means adhering to this code under all circumstances, when with others and when alone.
Yamas and Nyamas
“The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” is an ancient text derived from the sage and yoga practitioner Patanjali. This text is considered a philosophical guide and instruction manual on how to live one’s life in accordance with a spiritual path that leads towards personal enlightenment.
As a comprehensive guide towards yoga as a culture and lifestyle, the Yoga Sutras focus on The Eight Limbs of Yoga that lead towards enlightenment. Here is where we find our Yamas and Niyamas as the first two steps.The Yamas and Niyamas are often considered the “moral codes” or “right ways of living” within our yoga practice and lifestyle and they are the foundation of the entire practice.
5 Yamas. Social restraints.
- Ahiṃsā – non-harming or nonviolence in thoughts, words and deeds. Towards other, but also oneself. The principle of non-violence is an act of self-control inspired by consideration, empathy, and compassion. It requires the ability to access a higher emotional intelligence that enables one to remain grounded, surpass base instincts and reach a more peaceful resolution even in stressful situations.
- Satyā – ‘virtue’. It also refers to being truthful in one’s thought, speech and actions.The virtue of truthfulness allows one to be pure and authentic. To say what you mean and to do what you say is the key of personal growth and maintain healthy relationships.
- Astēya – “non-stealing”. The principle of not taking what isn’t yours, whether, through action, speech or thought accommodates the belief in our own abilities. The act of stealing is considered an expression of weak faith in one’s self, and their ability to learn and create. Through surpassing these impulses, we are able to prioritize our focus on building the abilities we need to achieve the things we desire and not just take them from others.
- Brahmacharya – the word brahmacharya stems from two Sanskrit roots: Brahman (Universal Conciousness) is what God is called in the Vedas, and carya, which means “occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behaviour, conduct, to follow, moving in, going after”. This is often translated as activity, conduct, or mode of behaviour. Celibacy or in a more modern point of view ‘right use of energy’
- Brahmacharya – the word brahmacharya stems from two Sanskrit roots: Brahman (Universal Conciousness) is what God is called in the Vedas, and carya, which means “occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behaviour, conduct, to follow, moving in, going after”. This is often translated as activity, conduct, or mode of behaviour. In ancient and medieval era Indian texts, the term brahmacharya is a concept with a more complex meaning indicating an overall lifestyle conducive to the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation. The virtue of sexual self-control and restraint changes based on an individual’s context. Within a relationship, it means to uphold martial fidelity, when single, to maintain celibacy. It is the foreground for healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and healthy minds. When one is free from the distraction of lust and sexual gratification, there is more self-control. Self-control grants us the time to build substance in our relationships, to focus on our commitments, to enhance our progression, and cultivate self-love.
- Aparigraha – non-greed or non-hoarding , non-possessiveness. The virtue of keeping desires limited to only what is necessary or important. Following this virtue allows one to be free of greed, over attachment and envy. Which in turn, helps to build the characteristic of temperance, purity of intentions and self-control. Which leads to a life filled with only the things that truly matter and benefit our health and well being.
5 Niyamas. Self-disciplines.
- Śauca. Literally means purity, cleanliness and clearness.
Saucha includes outer purity of body as well as inner purity of the mind. Relating to how people manage their inner selves, relationships, and actions to tasks, saucha allows individuals to live with integrity and presence.
- Santosha literally means “contentment, satisfaction”. By practicing saucha, santosha becomes easier to achieve. Rather than being upset with what people do or do not have, getting stuck in the past or the present, individuals can become content with what they have right now. By recognizing that life is not always perfect, that there will always be challenges or things to learn, practitioners can learn to find happiness with whatever circumstance or event arises.
- Tapas – is based on the root Tap meaning “to heat, to give out warmth, to shine, to burn”. The term also translates in discipline, austerity or ‘burning enthusiasm’. Tapas could be seen as how one continues to keep their inner fire burning to rid themselves of thoughts and actions that are not conducive to supporting a healthy mind and body.
It is a compound Sanskrit word composed of svā + adhyāya. Adhyāya means “a lesson, lecture, chapter; reading”. Svā means “own, one’s own, self, the human soul. Svādhyāya literally means “one’s own reading, lesson”. Study of the self and of the texts. Practicing self-study, yogis can learn who they are without all of the false truths, stories, categories, expectations, and negative self-talk that everyone imposes on themselves.
- Īśvarapraṇidhāna is a Sanskrit compound word composed of two words īśvara and praṇidhāna.
It means committing what one does to a Lord, who is elsewhere in the yoga sutras defined as a special person (puruṣa) who is the first teacher. Surrender to a higher being, or contemplation of a higher power. By recognizing that we are all part of something larger than the individual self, one’s reason for being becomes more clear. When letting go of the ego, a person is surrendering to a greater force whether it be God, the universe, or simply life. Surrendering to a higher force, people can learn to accept whatever comes their way without needing to change it. There is a peacefulness in no longer needing to control or force expectations because there is an understanding that whatever occurs whether it feels positive or negative it is supposed to occur.
2. LIFE ENERGY
The foundation of all life, of the whole universe, is the subtle life force energy that yogis call prana. You can’t see it, or touch it or taste it, but most yogis have had an experience of prana, the subtle energy that flows through our bodies. This mystical energy moves through our bodies and animates our every action–from gross physical movements to minute biochemical processes. Creating an understanding and awareness of prana is important for yogis to understand the purpose of many hatha yoga exercises.
Ki or Qi
The Chinese term qi, in Japanese ki 氣 or even ci in Korean (oldest form) is the name given to the “internal” energy of the human body recurring in all subject areas Chinese cultural influence (Japan, Korea) but ranges from purely philosophical to martial arts or traditional Chinese medicine.
The Life energy is the essential life force that animates all life forms in the universe. The KI is invisible, silent, formless, but permeates everything. In the discipline of Aikido and more generally in Japanese martial arts and the human being is alive as long as he is covered by the ki of the universe and carries it exchanging it with the surrounding nature: deprived of ki the human being ceases to living and physically dissolves. In the conception of Oriental martial arts, the being is full of life, courage, physical and inner energies until it carries the ki vigorously through your own body and exchange with the surrounding nature is abundant; when instead in his body the vital charge of ki is lacking, the human being languishes, is weak, cowardly, renounced.
Another limb of Yoga is Dhyana, meditation. The root of the word is dhi, which in the earliest layer of the text of the Vedas refers to “imaginative vision” and associated with goddess Saraswati with powers of knowledge, wisdom and poetic eloquence.
This term developed into the variant dhya- and dhyana, or “meditation”, an uninterrupted state of mental concentration upon a single object, higher contemplation.
Meditation happens when you reach a state of deep inner peace. You can practice meditation through different techniques, but according to the traditional yogic philosophy, you won’t actually be meditating until you are meditating.
As recorded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, meditation cannot be achieved through concentration or reliance on an external force. Meditation happens from within when one has surrendered to Atman, or to your true Self which is one with the universal consciousness.
Mokuso is a type of meditation practiced in Japanese martial arts. ” Moku” means silence or stop, “I know” and means to think or concentrate, Mokuso can also be read as “meditate silently”
Meditation “Mokuso” is generally performed before and after a training session to prepare and free the mind. This practice prepares the student to let go of the thoughts of the day and be aware of the present moment.
Mokuso’s goal is to be fully present and aware in the moment. You don’t want your mind to wander and get caught up in the thought cycle. You want to be aware from moment to moment. Meditation does not mean suppressing thoughts or emotions. It means observing them without judgment. Thoughts are not pursued, not rejected, they can come and go.
What benefits can Yoga have in Martial Arts?
As we have seen Yoga and martial arts have many common elements, Yoga is a complete discipline that for its benefits and its characteristics can be the basis of any martial art and sport. Here’s 3 POV that Yoga can be beneficial to your martial arts training:
1. yoga makes you aware of your breathing
Breathing is very important in combat sports and often it’s taken for granted by the average practitioner. Knowing how to breathe correctly can make all the difference in all physical activities. Depending on the style of Yoga, the Pranayama (also known as breathing techniques) occupy a more or less central or separate place but they are never absent.
If you control your breathing, you control your mind. If you control your mind, you control your body. This is of vital importance during a combat or during training in general.
In the Yogic breathing, the diaphragm, the abdominals and the trunk are educated and trained to a full and correct breathing. Breathing also lowers tension and strengthens the center of gravity of martial arts practitioners. The mind draws as many benefits as the body and reduces crises due to fatigue or loss of concentration.
2. yoga puts you in a state of focus and trains your will
It’s you, the practice you’re doing and nothing else. You need to concentrate and commit to enter and maintain the positions (Asana) during the practice. When in more advance Asanas You’re gonna have to put your willpower to the core so you don’t give up. This state can lead you to train in your martial arts with a greater focus, improving awareness on what you are actually doing.
Training the mind makes the performance more effective. A trained mind becomes the best ally of those who practice martial arts and allows you to perceive with ever greater refinement your body, moment by moment, making more effective movements and shots.
3. yoga teaches you to think about your body and is a great way to train alignment and balance
Apart from your body there are no other distractions. In many positions the body alignment is trained to have an effective stretching, in others the balance is the master. In the most challenging cases there are positions where you train both.
These two factors in combat are crucial. If you don’t know how to use your base, you won’t be able to give enough force to your shots. If you can’t align column and limbs properly your strength will disperse.
“Be like water”
Yoga can really be the missing piece to your martial art practice. Lightening your physical, mental and emotional load, Yoga can allow you to practice with the free spirit. Any practice could be emptied of stress and becomes pure pleasure. That pleasure can be transformed into the well-known flow, which elevates the performance to the highest possible levels and eliminates any interference, creating an extraordinary flow that harmonizes every human dimension and eliminates any feeling of fatigue. That harmony finds its greatest effect in a fullness of life in general.
Laura Maccabiani – YTT 200 H – House of Om