Top 5 Benefits of Yoga for Muay Thai
It’s hard to put Yoga and Muay Thai in the same sentence. Yoga is a discipline that deals with breathing, posture and meditation. In contrast, Muay Thai is a combat sport that requires aggression and imposing your will on the opponent. One focuses on “inner peace,” while the other centres in aggression.
But what if I told you that there actually might be benefits of Yoga for Muay Thai fighters? There is a logic behind Yoga as your perfect supplementary activity for Muay Thai. If you think about it, both Yoga and Muay Thai fundamentally teach us to be mentally tough, flexible and to find our balance.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines which traces back in ancient India. The Hindu word “yoga” roughly translates to “union.” While Yoga has many traditions, Westerners often associate it to the branch called Hatha Yoga. This form of exercise and meditation consist of numerous postures called asana.
A lot of Muay Thai practitioners haven’t tried Yoga because of prejudice. Many still think that Yoga is a hippie trend that caters only to women. This statement is farthest from the real intent of Yoga. Both Yoga and Muay Thai deals with the “eight limbs.” In Yoga, this is called the Ashtangas or the stages of this ancient discipline. Meanwhile, Muay Thai’s eight limbs refer to the hands, feet, elbows and knees.
Yoga routines for Muay Thai fighters aren’t about landing the powerful elbow or knee shots. Yoga is about the countless benefits not only on the body but also on the mind. It is a well-known stress reliever and can even help you sleep better. Below are some of the benefits of Yoga for Muay Thai practitioners:
Ever wondered how the Thai fighters/instructors could kick you in the head so effortlessly? You never saw it coming until it was too late. It’s not just because they been doing its since they were 6 years old but also because they are extremely mobile and flexible. The stiffer and rigid you are the most telegraphing you do during sparring or fighting. Telegraphing is giving little and subtle tell tale signs of what you about to do.
Think about a friend you know who has the mobility of a block of wood trying to do a high kick. They would probably overly swing their arm to keep the balance, lean really far back to compensate for the lack of flexibility. Then, they would only be able to lift their leg waist high. Now, imagine a ballet dancer doing it, they could lift their leg up nice and clean to your head and their body and arms at all if they wanted to. Imagine being a professional Muay Thai fighter with the flexibility of a ballet dancer? You could probably head kick from the clinch lol 😛
Flexibility is the main takeaway of Yoga for martial arts practitioners. Yoga can enhance one’s flexibility by as much as 35-percent in just eight weeks, according to ACE Fitness’ study.
Yoga’s wide variety of stretches and poses are perfect for activating muscle groups and body parts that we hardly use. Furthermore, Yoga combats age-related stiffness, especially in the waist. Twisting your body in different positions can help lengthen your spine, loosen up your hamstrings, unlock your hips and expand your chest.
Being flexible enables a fighter to execute a variety of moves at will. A lot of techniques in Muay Thai, such as a roundhouse kick, require flexibility. Among the benefits of Yoga for Muay Thai practitioners are the expansion of the range of motion. Yoga practices also help isolate the muscles needed for executing a particular technique.
Many of the poses in Yoga require balance. Whether you are doing handstands or complicated poses, you need to have stability in both mind and body. It’s the same thing with Muay Thai where you need to have steady footing continually. Whether you are on the offensive or defensive stance, balance plays a huge role to maintain proper form.
When a fighter loses his balance, especially after missing a high kick, it exposes him to a very vulnerable position. Therefore, poor balance can lead to costly mistakes and even defeat in the ring. Better balance improves the control of your movements and kicks. In turn, this allows you to have better accuracy with your strikes and inflict more substantial damage to your opponent.
If you are keen on improving your roundhouse, I suggest practising the half-moon pose. There are also other yoga poses for Muay Thai training which you can try.
Muay Thai training can be very stressful, especially if you are pushing yourself too hard. Yoga offers a short break from all the intense sparring and hitting the kicking bag. Additionally, Yoga temporarily removes you from the competitive nature of the sport.
Several studies, including that of Lund University, suggest that gym yoga is effective at lowering stress levels and promotes psychological wellness. Yoga’s breathing techniques negative emotions. Meanwhile, the stretches and poses release tension.
Self-care is also one of the benefits of Yoga for Muay Thai. Stress from training and matches can take a toll on your health from sleeping habits to digestion. Yoga can help you cope with the stress of combat sports.
Minimize Risk of Injury
Muay Thai fighters expose themselves to a wide variety of sports-related injuries from hamstring pulls to shoulder pains etc. This is mostly from what we call “Pattern Overload”, a common occurrence in sports. Doings the same motion or movement over and over, like punching for example.
Let’s just take the upper body of a professional Muay Thai fighter who trains 2 hours per session, 2 sessions a day, 6 days a week. How many punches and elbows do they do each week? That’s a lot of strain on the shoulders. How many push-ups are they doing in each session straining the chest? and not to mention how many hours do they clinch for murdering those biceps and whatever is left of their arms.
Overdeveloped tight chest muscles, tight shoulders, especially the anterior deltoid and super-tight biceps. All lead to postural problems and muscles imbalances. Fortunately, numerous activities can help reduce these issues and Yoga is considered one of the most effective.
Many of Yoga’s poses can help prevent injuries from developing by strengthening different muscle groups. For example, the pigeon pose and the standing forward bend relieve hip pain. Meanwhile, the forearm plank hold and the seated twists can avert lower back pain.
You can also use Yoga for martial arts and cross-training programs. Some of the areas that Yoga can help you include developing core strength, improving respiratory function, increased hip mobility and better leg strength.
Speeds Up Recovery
Being beat up physically and mentally is all part of Muay Thai. However, nobody wants to stay damaged for a long time. Hence, a speedy recovery plays a vital role in extending your Muay Thai journey and health in general. Yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco designed Recovery Yoga which can help rehab tired muscles and ready the body to your next practice session. These stretches are best for recovering after a post-cardio workout.
Moreover, Yoga for martial arts purposes can be used to deal with anxiety and other mental discomforts. Regular Yoga sessions also improve mental clarity and increase body awareness. Overall, Yoga is excellent support before and after intense training.
Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time as being a very active person he also has a passion for gaming and has his own Twitch stream. If you have any questions for him, you can contact him via his Instagram.