A lot of people unfamiliar with combat sports may assume that training for MMA (or mixed martial arts) just requires a lot of aggression and physical strength training, but they couldn’t be more wrong. The fact is that technique, emotional control and balance training is far more important, and that’s why practicing yoga is so very valuable to an MMA fighter. MMA fighting is not just an unstructured do-or-die dogfight — it is instead every bit the skilled art that its name suggests, and a contemplative yoga regimen opens one’s eyes to that fact. Let’s look at some of the specific benefits of incorporating regular yoga practice into an MMA fighter’s training regimen.
Yoga poses like the Sun Salutation integrate the body and the mind into one organic unit through focused breathing and stretching, and a fighter benefits tremendously from that kind of mind-body synchronization. Breathing techniques learned in yoga such as belly breathing, breath of fire, and others can help the MMA fighter to avoid holding his breath at crucial moments during a fight, which can allow him to recover more quickly and to gain an edge over his opponent.
It is true that statistically MMA fighting has a higher rate of injury than all other combat sports, which is all the more reason for yoga to be part of a fighter’s training. The stretching postures in yoga increase joint and muscle flexibility like no other exercise, which is more important in MMA than many people may realize. A flexible fighter is better able to recover from traumas, to avoid sprains, to dodge strikes, and to more easily recover from strikes and body slams.
Balancing the Ego
An MMA fighter needs confidence, but there’s a difference between a well-developed sense of self-esteem and an over inflated ego. If the ego — the desire to win, to destroy, to be a champion — is overdeveloped, it distracts us and limits our ability to be “in the moment,” which is crucial for an MMA fighter who needs to pay close attention to everything that’s happening during a fight. Since yoga is a meditative exercise, it is a great tool for dissolving the boundaries of the ego and keeping it in check, which translates to greater consciousness and opportunity in the ring.
It’s safe to say that the innumerable benefits of yoga can and should be enjoyed by everyone of any age or gender. For MMA fighters in particular, its practice should be more than just a suggestion or an occasional activity — it should be considered a requirement for their safety and mental well-being, and to give them better focus and fighting authority in the ring.