What Martial Arts Can Teach Us About Yoga

Inherent to both practices are mindfulness, awareness, and consciousness, both on the mat, and in life

The practices of yoga and martial arts have more in common than we realize. Inherent to both practices are mindfulness, awareness, and consciousness, both on the mat, and in life.

If we consider that martial arts are more than sport, fighting, or self-defense, but a philosophy, an art, and a way of living, moving, and being in the world with awareness, embodiment, and precision, then in many ways, yogis are already bringing the essence of martial arts to their mats.

One of the primordial pearls for the martial arts is precision. Whether it be tae kwon do, tai chi, or aikido, all of the martial art forms employ razor-sharp precision. Therefore, whenever yogis precisely execute a downward-facing-dog, align their mat in pristine formation, hand gesture a mudra, or fold and place their blankets just so, they are utilizing the energy, intention, and art of martial arts.

Also prominent to the practice are the use of katas. Katas are a sequence of specific movements of a martial art, used in training and designed to exhibit skill in technique. The katas are executed as a specified series of approximately 20 to 70 moves, with the intent to maintain impeccable form. So the next time you step on the mat to engage the Sun Salutation, or a series of yoga flow sequences, you can acknowledge the wisdom of martial arts and skill-building practice of moving a kata.

Martial Arts emphasize breath to fuel energy and movement. It is the source of ki and is one of the elements that packs the punch to every move. Importance is placed on the exhale during the exertion phase of the movement, and often is accompanied by sound (a K’ihap , a hearty Hai! or Hi-yah!). Yoga practitioners utilize prana or pranayama to move the energy through the body while moving the body itself, flowing through the asanas.

And in addition to these similarities between the two practices, there is a great deal more that martial arts can teach us about yoga:

Dynamic Ease – Maximum efficiency with least effort. The way of the warrior is to avoid leaking energy by over-doing or under-doing. Become an energy warrior by tracking the balance of effort and ease. Our bodies and our nervous systems thrive when we activate the “doing” of dynamic, and relax into the ease of “non-doing.” With mastery, one can sense both simultaneously—the ease within the dynamic and the dynamic within the ease.

Balance. Take your center with you. While yoga asanas condition balance, as in Tree Pose, it is executed in one spot on the mat. Martial arts calls on the practitioner to condition their ability to find balance while in a state of perpetual motion, where one’s center is a constantly changing dynamic, remaining in center through time and space (think Aikido rolls). Martial arts can inspire the yogi to take their center, their “one point” off the mat, and into life, tracking and sensing balance in locomotion.

Move different. The energy and quality of yoga is moving slowly, methodically, and fluidly, consciously using breath through the asanas. Martial arts calls us to move quickly. Start-stop. Block-punch-kick-roll with lightning speed. Balance yin and yang energies by finding activities that activate agility, power, and speed to your movements, adding conditioning to your fast-twitch, quick response muscle groups.

Act with beginner’s mind. Forget what you think you know, approach everything in life with new eyes, as if for the first time. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

Martial arts is an attitude! Move through life centered, grounded, empowered, and confident! Be the sacred warrior. Walk in mastery of your own body and life. Stand your ground. Set your boundaries. Blend and harmonize, rolling with the punches life throws you, always landing on your feet. Exhibit guts…and grace.

Practice. Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” How long does it take to perfect downward dog, or corpse pose? 10,000 times? Who really knows. The beauty is in the practice.

Learn more about the congruence between martial arts and yoga at Jule Aguirre’s workshops at Wanderlust Aspen-Snowmass

nia-portraitJule Aguirre is a mind-body psychotherapist and Nia 1st Degree Black Belt Teacher and member of the Nia International Training Faculty. She has been moving body-mind integrators, urban athletes, and adventurers in wellness for 30 years. Named by ORIGIN Magazine as one of the nation’s top “leaders who inspire,” Jule moves integrative wellness seekers to plug IN to whole-being-mastery. Sign up for her workshops at Wanderlust Aspen-Snowmass and find her online: juleinthelotus.com, Facebook, TwitterInstagram