A lot of people say that yoga is great for cross training with jiu jitsu. It builds flexibility, teaches you to breathe, and isn’t too hard on your body (jiu jitsu is hard enough). But where do you start? There are so many kinds of yoga it can seem overwhelming.
What kind of yoga is best depends on your goals, preferences, and flexibility. What kind of yoga you can actually practice depends on what’s available in your area or what online resources you’re willing to pay for.
Note that your goals may change throughout the year. Right before a competition, you may want to focus more on yoga as a way to recover from jiu jitsu practice. In between competitions when you’re less concerned about over-training or possible injury, you may want to focus on yoga for building strength and flexibility.
Building Strength and Endurance
Jiu jitsu builds strength but is very biased toward pulling and motions that curl you up into a little ball. Yoga can help balance your body by using the muscles we often neglect in jiu jitsu. Some yoga varieties that will help build strength and endurance include: power, ashtanga, bikram, baptiste power flow, acro, and vinyasa flow.
Bikram, Baptiste power yoga, and sometimes vinyasa flow are practiced in heated rooms. Vinyasa flow (usually just called flow yoga) comes in many varieties from slow beginner-friendly classes to fast-paced, advanced classes for people with more practice.
I tend to choose flow classes when I’m looking to build strength and endurance. The holds are long enough to be challenging but not so long I feel like I’m torturing myself for no reason. I also like trying to move from one pose to another seamlessly. And its not in a heated room – I sweat enough without the added heat.
While all yoga varieties will help you gain flexibility, which class you choose may be the deciding factor between whether you stick with yoga or not. Many of the jiu jitsu players I have spoken to are not very flexible. Not being flexible can be discouraging when you feel like you have to do a different practice than everyone else because you cannot do the poses the teacher is showing. But yoga teachers are taught how to modify poses for a reason – holding a modified pose correctly is better than holding the standard pose incorrectly (even if it is ‘close’ or ‘looks good’).
Hatha is a catchall term for the physical practice of yoga but if a class description says it is “hatha” expect to hold poses and not flow from one pose to the next. This is a good choice for building flexibility because you just have to make the pose work – not the pose and the transitions.
Yin yoga is great for building flexibility but it can be very intense. You hold poses for 3-7 minutes with as little movement as possible before moving on to the next pose. I love it but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. My yoga teacher expresses that if someone were to choke you out in a yin pose, no one should notice because you should be completely still and not using any muscle to hold yourself up anyway. (ok – so she doesn’t say it quite like that but it makes more sense to me than someone knocking me out in the middle of yoga class).
Restorative yoga is a good alternative to yin. While it does not focus on building flexibility as much as other styles, if you are not very flexible and are looking for a way to ease into yoga, this could be a great class for you. Restorative yoga uses a lot of props to make the poses as comfortable and restful as possible. While props are encouraged in other yoga styles, restorative yoga requires props (and seems to use as many as possible).
Jiu jitsu is hard on the body and I know very few jiu jitsu players who don’t over-train. Yin and restorative yoga encourage relaxation and stillness. Yin is more intense than restorative so if you are recovering from an injury I would recommend trying restorative yoga first. But both can work as a regular way to work out the kinks from jiu jitsu and increase your flexibility.
Most yoga styles will have some sort of beginner friendly class but some styles are more beginner friendly than others (in my opinion). Certain yoga styles always do the same routine and require learning the routine (or the pose names) before being able to practice the style correctly. If you want to avoid the routine – hatha, restorative, yin, power, acro, and aerial yoga don’t tend to follow a fixed sequence. Flow classes change but revolve around the sun salutation (it doesn’t necessarily involve the sun, spirituality, or greetings) but that can be learned quickly in a beginner flow class.
If you are looking for a class that is easier for strength and endurance try slow flow, yin, restorative, or hatha.
Some yoga studios also offer yoga for athletes or yoga for men. If you can find them, these classes may cater to your needs more.
What kind of yoga you do will be limited by what kind of yoga is available to you. There are lots of opportunities for flow and restorative yoga in Atlanta, but fewer for acro yoga and yin. If you want to practice yoga at home, I like YogaGlo. It offers many different styles of yoga taught by many different teachers. If you don’t want to commit to a monthly membership at a yoga studio ClassPass is very popular here and allows you to try different yoga studios at a lower cost than paying by the class.
Do you want to try hot yoga?
Do you want to try acro (acrobatic focus) or aerial yoga (yoga in long bolts of fabric hanging from the ceiling)?
Do you prefer a studio, gym, or your own home for doing yoga?
Do you want or mind the spirituality aspect of yoga? Different styles and different teachers focus on the spirituality aspect at varying levels.
A Quick Overview of Yoga Terms
- Acro: A style of yoga that combines yoga and acrobatics.
- Aerial: A style of yoga performed on aerial silks, long sections of fabric hanging from the ceiling.
- Asana: A pose in yoga. For example, downward facing dog is an asana.
- Ashtanga: A vigorous style of yoga that always involves the same sequencing in each practice.
- Baptiste Power Flow: A style of yoga practiced in a heated room that involves the same sequencing in each practice.
- Bikram: A style of yoga practiced in a heated room that involves the same sequencing in each practice.
- Hatha: The physical practice of yoga. Also used to refer to a style of yoga involving medium length holds that does not emphasize the transitions between poses.
- Pranayama: The practice of breathing in yoga. Classes that emphasize pranayama will often have specific breathing exercises during the practice.
- Props: Any tool used to assist with yoga poses. Common props include yoga blocks, bolsters, straps, and blankets but if you don’t have these books, pillows, and jiu jitsu can work just as well.
- Restorative: A restful style of yoga that involves many props and emphasizes recovery and relaxation.
- Vinyasa Flow: A style of yoga that emphasizes moving between poses. Intensity varies from slow to vigorous.
- Yin: A type of yoga that involves long holds with minimal strength and movement.