9 of the Best Yoga for BJJ Poses (Out of 100s) Improve Your Flexibility
How frustrating is passing the guard of that flexible guy at your academy?
His legs and hooks seem to insert themselves from almost any position. He’s out before you can even begin to solidify side control. And he laughs at your stack pass attempts.
There is no denying that flexibility is a huge advantage in BJJ. However, many people believe that they are simply ‘not flexible’.
This is a misconception, because flexibility, just like strength, is a trainable attribute.
And one of the best ways to increase your grappling specific flexibility is through yoga for BJJ.
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Don’t hate on the flexible guys, become one yourself! Let’s take a look at the benefits of yoga for jiu jitsu.
5 Ways Yoga Will Benefit Your BJJ
There are hundreds of reasons you should practice yoga to improve your BJJ. We won’t bore you with such a huge list, however.
Here are 5 benefits of doing Yoga for BJJ
#1 – Improves Your Flexibility, Strength, and Proprioception
Most people already realize that yoga can greatly improve your flexibility. However many of them still have the stereotypical image of a yogi as being weak. This is false.
True, yoga is not the most efficient way to build large amounts of strength (barbell training is the way to go for raw strength). However, yoga can develop advanced bodyweight strength, similar to calisthenics.
The more challenging poses will build a high degree of core and upper body strength while challenging your flexibility at the same time.
Check out yoga athlete Dylan Werner in the video below, and then tell me that yoga doesn’t build strength.
Proprioception, or kinesthetic awareness is the sense that allows us to feel where our body is in space.
Ever met someone who just ‘got jiujitsu’ and was a super-fast learner? Most likely he or she already had a high level of kinesthetic awareness. The slow learners, those with low kinesthetic awareness, can be found repeatedly using their left hands even as the instructor says ‘use your right hand’ over and over again.
And while the best way of improving your proprioception in a BJJ context is by training more BJJ, yoga is a good supplement. Research has backed up yoga’s positive influence on proprioception. On an anecdotal basis, yoga has significantly improved my balance and flow during rolling.
#2 – Improves Your Breath Control
One of the most overlooked aspects of martial arts is breathing.
Remember Rickson Gracie’s famous breathing exercises from the documentary Choke? Those are actually yoga techniques.
The crazy ‘belly movement’ exercise is called nauli, an advanced yoga technique for massaging your internal organs.
The percussive breathing he uses is a more basic yoga technique, bhrastika pranayama. For those interested, check out a detailed nauli tutorial below:
One of the most common beginner mistakes in BJJ is breath holding and/or shallow breathing.
This inefficient breathing will cause you to get tired faster during rolling, and your movements will also be less smooth. A common tip is to focus on your breath during the roll, which not only results in deeper and fuller breaths but also keeps you in the moment.
In a yoga practice, each movement is synchronized with your breath, with a focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing. Further, the amount of time each pose is held is also measured by breaths.
Regular yoga practice will teach you how to better move with your breath, reducing energy expenditure and increasing your efficiency on the mat.
#3 – Helps You Warm Up and Cool Down
Way too many BJJ academies are still using jogging, sit-ups, pushups, and planks as the basis of their warmup.
Not a very efficient use of class time, which is why the trend nowadays is to jump straight into BJJ specific drills, such as guard passing and spinning armbars, for warmups.
And while this is an improvement, what about those who would prefer not to jump straight into drills?
Doing a short yoga flow prior to BJJ class is the answer.
It will simultaneously loosen your muscles and generate heat, preparing you for the workout ahead. The breathing aspect will also help clear your mind so you can better focus during the class.
Personally, I have been using the official warmup routine from Sebastian Brosche’s Yoga for BJJ site before every class and competition, and the results have been great.
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Notice how it is a yoga flow, which means a dynamic warmup.
Some research shows that static stretching prior to a workout can have a weakening effect on your muscles. Save the static stretching for your cool down instead.
Speaking of cool downs, let’s face it; you probably don’t do it.
The standard post-training BJJ cooldown routine is to sit down on the mats and shoot the breeze with your buddies.
While this is an awesome social aspect of BJJ, it’s not doing you any favours, physically speaking. One study has found cooling down to have an alleviating effect on muscle soreness, while others, not at all.
Regardless, using yoga for your cool down is a great way to get your static stretching in. You’ll still feel sore the next day, but you will also have gotten just a little more flexible.
#4 – Lowers Cortisol Levels
Cortisol, sometimes called the stress hormone, is well known for its catabolic and muscle weakening effects.
Released naturally in response to stress levels, cortisol is actually important for dealing with acute stress by shutting down unnecessary functions. E.g. our ancestors running away from a predator.
However, chronic stress, a symptom of the modern age, results in constantly elevated cortisol levels and its resultant catabolic effects.
Rolling puts your body in a situation of acute stress, meaning that your body’s cortisol levels will naturally be elevated during a rolling session. But after it’s over, you want to bring those cortisol levels back down as soon as possible.
And research has shown that yoga can cause a statistically significant decrease in cortisol levels; something that an equivalent period of pure resting could not do.
This makes yoga a perfect after class supplement, but really, it will be beneficial at any time.
#5 – Prevent Injuries
Injuries are the bane of every jiu-jitsu practitioner ever.
Injuries lead to time off the mats, which means not only does your strength and conditioning suffer, your technique suffers too.
Even leaving aside acute injuries (such as when some goes for a takedown), extensive BJJ training will cause muscle imbalances which may lead to overuse injuries.
One of the most common issues plaguing BJJ athletes is back pain caused by the rounded posture seen when playing guard. Further, since most people have a dominant side, muscle imbalances will also occur.
It is quite common for BJJ athletes to have one hip that is more flexible than the other or one side of the upper body that is much stronger.
When it comes to using yoga for injury prevention, BJJ is behind the curve. Already, NBA and NFL athletes are adding yoga to their training, with injury prevention being the top of the list of reasons why.
The 9 Best Yoga Poses (Out of 100s) That Will Benefit Your BJJ Game
So you’re convinced of the benefits of yoga will have on your BJJ.
But perhaps you don’t have time to join a yoga class or even have a consistent home yoga routine for bjj.
You need the poses that will give you the most bang for your buck. That’s what we’re all about.
The total number of yoga poses in existence has been some matter of debate. Ancient yoga texts mention 84 basic poses, called asanas, but some yoga swamis have compiled upwards of 1,300 poses.
Yogajournal’s pose finder list shows 120 poses. We’re just going to give you nine. Add these nine poses to your training routine and feel the difference!#1 Cobra Pose
#1 – The Cobra Pose
A basic but powerful back bending and chest opening pose, cobra pose is one of the essential poses of yoga.
BJJ athletes should practice this pose often as it counteracts the forward shoulder and hunched forward posture seen so often in BJJ.
That posture may be good for hiding your neck from chokes (like the D’arce choke), but it’s not good for your body.
How To Do The Cobra Pose:
- Begin by lying face down on the floor, palms next to your chest.
- Make sure you tuck your elbows in so that they are touching your ribs.
- Press the tops of the feet and quads firmly into the floor.
- As you inhale, start to straighten your arms to lift your chest off the floor.
- Only lift until the point where you can still maintain contact with your pubis on the floor.
- Hold the post for a few breaths, then release back to the floor with an exhalation.
Key Points: Keep your core engaged to avoid stress on the lumbar spine. Focus on extending your thoracic spine and drawing your shoulder blades back.
#2 – Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is the ‘resting’ pose of yoga, making it one of the most popular poses ever.
Just because it is a resting pose however, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a host of benefits.
This pose is a great lower back releaser, while also gently stretching the hips, thighs, and ankles. A great post-training stretch!
How To Do Childs Pose:
- Begin by in the turtle position, just like in BJJ, with your knees hip width apart
- Don’t tuck your toes, keep your insteps flat on the floor
- Sink your weight back into your feet and rest the top of your head on the floor.
- Place your hands by your sides, palms up, and let your shoulders fall forward.
Key Points: You want to relax completely into the pose; there is no need to keep your core engaged. You can stay in the pose for a longer period of time; try 10 breaths or more.
#3 – Leg Pulls/Leg to Side with Yoga Strap or Gi Belt
A perfect pose to perform after training since you will already have your belt on hand.
In addition to opening up your hips, this pose will stretch your thighs, hamstrings, calves, and ankles.
You will also get some minor benefits from arm, core, and lower back muscular engagement.
How To Do The Leg Pull:
- Wrap your belt or yoga strap around the middle portion of the sole of your foot.
- Get a firm grip on the belt with the hand on the same side of the foot.
- Make sure you don’t grip too high or low on the belt; you want to have enough tension to pull your foot towards you but not so much that your head lifts off the floor.
- Raise your foot toward the ceiling and flex your foot, keeping tension on the belt.
- Let your foot fall out ninety degrees to the side.
- Hold the top and side positions for a few breaths each then repeat on the other side.
Key Points: You do not need to keep your leg fully extended; maintaining a slight bend in the knee is fine. Too often people feel the need to lock their leg out completely when attempting to stretch their hamstrings. This is unnecessary.
#4 – Pigeon Pose
This is one of the best poses to improve your guard, particularly the closed guard and the high guard / rubber guard variations.
This effective hip opener stretches the hip flexors and improves the external rotation of the hip.
If you want to achieve the rubber guard, practice this pose religiously.
How To Do The Pigeon Pose:
- Start in a plank position and bring one leg in front of your hips, with your shin as perpendicular to your spine as possible.
- Keeping your hands straight, begin lowering yourself into the pose, dropping the front hip of your other leg to the ground.
- To increase the difficulty of the pose, you can drop your hands lower either to your elbows or even to your head on the floor. Another way is to stretch your back leg out further by inching back using your toes.
- Stay in the pose for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
Key Points: Do not focus too much on having your shin perpendicular to your spine. While a more perpendicular shin will increase the difficulty of the pose, it can also stress your knee ligaments.
It is perfectly fine to have shin that is more diagonal. A more important cue is to keep your hips square throughout.
#5 – Plough Pose
If you want to be a good open guard player this pose is a must.
If you do not get comfortable in this pose, you will not be able to adequately deal with being stacked or perform more advanced guard retention techniques.
This pose stretches the shoulders, spine, and upper back.
How To Do The Plough Pose:
- Start by lying flat on your back.
- Using momentum, roll onto your upper back and throw your legs over your head, trying to touch your feet to the floor.
- Stretch your arms out in the direction of your spine and parallel to the floor; link your fingers if possible.4.
- Focus on trying to maintain full and deep breaths will in this pose.
Key Points: Initially you may have to use your hands to support your back instead of stretching them out (especially if your feet can’t touch the floor yet). Your legs will also probably be bent, as your hamstring flexibility improves you can try to straighten them.
#6 – Knees to Chest Pose
This is another beneficial resting pose and lower back releaser.
Similar to child’s pose, this pose is a good counter pose after performing backbends such as cobra pose, which may place some stress on the lumbar spine.
Great for relaxing after training!
How To Do Knees to Chest Pose:
- Start by lying flat on your back.
- As you exhale, bring your knees toward your chest, pulling them in with your hands on your upper shins.
- You can rock side to side or backward and forward for an added gentle spinal massage.
Key Points: Keep your back flat on the mat, and make sure to relax your shoulder blades. Maintain steady and even breathing in the pose. Focus your gaze down the centerline.
#7 – Two Knee Spinal Twist
A great pose to do before training.
This pose, which can be done dynamically, stretches out your hips, lower back, chest, shoulders, and upper back.
How To Do The Two Knee Spiral Twist:
- Begin by lying flat on your back, your arms outstretched in a ‘T’ position, palms down.
- Engage your core as you inhale, bend your knees and lift your feet up off the floor until your heels are slightly higher than your knees.
- Keeping your feet and knees together, exhale and slowly lower both knees to one side. Turn your head to face the other way as you do this.
- Inhale as your bring your knees back to the centre and exhale again as you bring them down to the other side. Turn your head accordingly.
Key Points: Keep your core engaged throughout the entire process. When you bring your knees down toward the floor, they should be at the same height as your hips. You can increase the challenge of this pose with alternative leg configurations as shown above.
#8 – Camel Pose
This is another back bending pose, but a more advanced one.
It really opens up the chest and shoulders while extending the spine, and many BJJ practitioners may find this pose very challenging.
That said, this is a deeply beneficial pose to add to your repertoire once you have obtained the requisite flexibility.
How To Do The Camel Pose:
- Start in a kneeling position with knees hip width apart and thighs perpendicular to the floor.
- Place your hands on the back of your pelvis, fingers pointing downward.
- Extend your spine and puff out your chest as you lean your head backward toward your heels and touch your hands on your heels.
- If you cannot touch both hands to your heels, rotate your torso and touch one hand at a time
Key Points: As with all back bends, you want to avoid placing too much stress on the lumbar spine. Do this by keeping your core engaged. Also ensure that your lower ribs do not protrude too much toward the ceiling, which will compress your lumbar spine.
#9 – Downward Facing Dog Pose
The pose most people associate with yoga and the quintessential yoga pose.
This pose will stretch your shoulders, upper back, spine, hamstrings, and calves. It will also give you some arm endurance.
In the beginning this pose might feel challenging but eventually it becomes a very pleasant pose to perform.
How To Do The Downward Dog:
- Begin in a turtle position with your hands and knees on the ground.
- Relax your upper back and stretch your elbows; keep your elbows internally rotated.
- As you exhale, tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor, reaching your pelvis toward the ceiling.
- Begin to straighten your legs but do not lock your knees out.
- Try to keep your body in an ‘A’ frame as much as possible. Keep your weights evenly distributed through your palms. Align your ears with your upper arms.
- Relax your head but don’t let it dangle; focus your gaze toward your own navel.
Key Points: Bend your knees to maintain the proper alignment of your spine when you first do this pose. As your hamstring flexibility increases, you can gradually start to straighten your legs. Even when doing this pose with bent knees however, keep pushing your heels toward the floor.
Common Questions about Yoga for BJJ and Grapplers
The questions about Yoga and BJJ are always the same. Here’s a list of the most common yoga/jiu-jitsu questions, and their answers:
What’s wrong with simple stretching; why do I have to do yoga?
There is nothing wrong with simple stretching.
Done correctly, a good stretching routine will give you much of the flexibility benefits that yoga has to offer.
But as we mentioned earlier, the benefits of yoga go far beyond mere flexibility. The added kinesthetic awareness and breath control alone can have a marked improvement in your grappling ability.
Also, since yoga is a skillset, you may find more motivation to continue doing yoga compared to a simple stretching routine.
As you see improvements in your yoga abilities, you will be more motivated to continue. This improvement aspect is after all the reason many people prefer doing BJJ compared to just lifting weights.
How much yoga will I have to do to see benefits?
Just like BJJ, the more the better! The general rule when it comes to yoga is that it is better to do a smaller amount every day then a large amount over a few days.
So 20 minutes of yoga a day beats one two hour session once a week.
Just like when it comes to the question of ‘how much should I train BJJ’, the answer is it really depends on your goal and what you can commit to it.
As the saying goes, anything is better than nothing, so even one short yoga session a week is better than no yoga at all.
Just like with BJJ, the more you do yoga, the better you will become in a shorter amount of time.
Why can’t I just do normal yoga?
You absolutely can! The only question is, what is ‘normal yoga’?
There many different styles of yoga, from the traditional ones such as Hatha, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Iyengar, and Ananda yoga to the Westernized modern hybrids such as power yoga, Bikram yoga, and many others.
In all honesty, at a beginner level, you will likely find all of these yoga styles beneficial to you. However, the most popular forms of yoga that are typically recommended for BJJ are Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Bikram.
Ashtanga is a vinyasa (flow) form of yoga that is considered to be the most athletic, making it a top choice for athletes. Iyengar focuses on perfect posture and alignment and makes extensive use of props such as blocks and bands, making it great for athletes who may already have nagging injuries.
And finally, Bikram yoga, found in many fitness chains and performed in a room of about 40 degrees Celsius is also a popular option. The high heat makes the tendons and ligaments more pliable, and it also provides a good workout that is challenging not just physically, but mentally as well.
So by all means, if you have the time and opportunity, feel free to do ‘normal yoga’ for BJJ! Experiment around with the different styles and see which ones you like best.
How To Get Started With Yoga for Jiu Jitsu
Now you know WHY you should be doing a little yoga for BJJ, its time to find out HOW – as in, the easiest way to get started.
Join a Local Yoga School
This is the most recommended option.
After you have found the right yoga style and school for you, you need to attend class regularly.
The reason that this is the best option is because a good yoga instructor will give you the cues you need to achieve the proper body alignment in the various poses. Just like in BJJ, the smallest cues in terms of angles and weight distribution can make a huge difference in the final outcome.
Of course, joining your local yoga school is a great way to meet new people who aren’t sweaty men that try to hyperextend your joints and choke you each time you meet.
Watch Videos on YouTube
If you simply do not have the time or resources to join a yoga class, then video guided self-practice is your next best option.
YouTube is an absolute treasure trove of free yoga classes and routines that you can play and practice on your own time.
One of the drawbacks of home based practice is that unless you already are an experienced yogi, you will likely be making mistakes in your alignment that you will not be aware of. Such improper alignment may lead to injuries at worst, or not getting the most benefits out of your yoga practice at best.
One way to mitigate this is to videotape your home practices.
By reviewing the video and comparing them to the instructional video, you can see the alignment mistakes you are making and correct them.
You will be surprised at how different your downward facing dog looks compared to the instructor’s, even when you ‘feel’ that you are doing it right!
Another way to correct your alignment and poses is to take an occasional yoga class in addition to your home based practice. Not as good as regular yoga class attendance, but a better option compared to a pure home based practice.
Get Private Lessons from a Yoga Instructor
If you have the resources, getting private lessons from a yoga instructor will give you the fastest rate of improvement and the most benefits.
We’ve all heard or met BJJ students who only do private classes and get absolutely destroyed when rolling in the ‘general’ class.
This is because a lot of BJJ is learnt from resistive rolling with various people. Yoga, on the other hand, is much more individual.
Because of this, unlike in BJJ, pure private lessons in yoga might advance you faster compared to group classes.
Further, when receiving such individualized attention, you will be able to work with your instructor to work on poses that will help you the most in your own BJJ game. For example, if playing guard is hard because of your tight hips, then you can work more on poses that challenge your hip flexibility. If breath control is an issue, then more yoga breathing exercises, called pranayama can be done.
Study Something BJJ-Specific
It seems obvious that the best option would be to have a yoga instructor who also has experience in BJJ.
But unless you are tremendously lucky to have one teaching in your academy or city, you’ll have to go elsewhere for BJJ-specific yoga.
Fortunately several people have identified this unfilled niche in the market. They have each launched their own BJJ-specific yoga products which you can use to supplement your training.
The first among them is Yoga For BJJ, started by Sebastian Brosche, a BJJ black belt training out of the prestigious Frontline Academy in Norway.
Sebastian is a high level competitor, having won the IBJJF Worlds and Europeans at purple belt and a podium winner at brown belt.
He also runs a yoga studio in Oslo with his wife. Reviews for his site have been great, and on a personal note, this is also the site I personally use.
If you don’t like subscription based websites, another recommended product is Roger Gracie black belt Nicolas Gregoriades’ Yoga for Grapplers. This is a downloadable DVD product totaling over 2.5 hours long. In addition to yoga poses, it also incorporates breathing exercises plus plenty of mobility exercises.
And finally, Stephan Kesting also has a product called Yoga for Martial Arts done in collaboration with yoga instructor Josephine Krizovensky. This is an old product; released almost 10 years ago but the information still stands. It is also the cheapest option among the three.
The Verdict – What’s the 80/20?
We never have enough time to do all the things we want to do. We already spend so much time training BJJ; few of us have time for yoga classes as well.
Regardless, you can still significantly impact your BJJ by:
- Doing the nine most beneficial poses listed above on a consistent basis; and
- Supplementing with a home based yoga practice, preferably a BJJ-specific one, with an occasional yoga class.
There is a reason that many athletes from many sports are now practicing yoga. Start as a white belt and you’ll have a huge advantage.
Start a consistent practice today and you will soon see how yoga for jiu jitsu will benefit your game and general wellbeing.