The art of yoga draws power from its roots which lie in the ancient Indian (Sanskrit) history. Martial arts, although varying in disciplines, all draw their effectiveness from similar principles as that of yoga. Here, I will be sharing insights on why and how yoga and martial arts are kinfolks.
Society generally has a tendency to classify yoga and martial arts on opposite pedestals because the former speaks of benevolence and compassion. Whereas the latter, for the most part, emphasizes on combating the opponent to win some sort of duel or fight. On the outside it might look like two opposite ends of one pole, however, if we take a closer look, it is safe to say that some components of martial arts were derived from yoga and that they complement each other in more ways than one.
The stunning combination of martial arts and yoga. Video credit: Do You Yoga
Contrary to our beliefs, martial arts was designed as a self-defense mechanism and was introduced to Buddhists monks by their sensei because the physical development was being overridden by their love for spiritual conquests. A type of martial arts was introduced to empower these monks so that in times of need, they can play with mind and combat as well. Yoga, on the other hand, has existed since pre-Vedic times and was first poured to the world by the AdiYogi, Lord Shiva. Since then, it has been handed down to us as a legacy.
When compared, both of these art forms have much in common than those that meet the eye. Let’s take a look at a couple of points that are integral in the practice of martial arts and yoga:
The Art of Focus
One of the elemental aspects of yoga lays its virtuosity to focus. Body moves, breath, gaze, and body locks, the practitioner is expected to walk on an edge of a razor. The alignment of the body needs to be in line with many other aspects, for a yogi to become an adept. Also, the constant rhythmic fashion of breathing brings awareness towards oneself and increases focus time even more. Martial arts, on the other hand, requires the practitioner to gather their chi, draw the attention inwards to face a critical situation where even a slight miss can throw the performer back during a combat. Without focus and awareness, performing any of the two would create only unnecessary ripples with no real time impact. This is why focus is key for both yoga and martial arts.
The Unshakeable Balance
The test of balance is presented in small, mundane tasks of life. Whether we sail through or get defeated depends on how strongly we hold our core. We carry our center with ourselves in both, the moves of martial arts and in flowing through Ashtanga Vinyasa. For instance, in Ashtanga Yoga, Surya Namaskars, the flow from Chaturanga Dandasana (The four limbed staff pose) to Adho Mukhasavasana (Downward Facing Dog) and from there to Urdhva Mukhasavasana (Upwards Facing Dog), requires a substantial amount of balance. The balancing poses of yoga such as the Eagle Pose or the Tree pose teaches the skill of balancing at every step. Martial art demands the practitioner to maintain their center while throwing challenging moves at the opponent. The perpetual motion and the dynamic environment call for a deep sense of understanding of space and action, as well as mastery of the core and strength.
The Dire Need for Flexibility
Image credit: Pakua.com
Whether it is Muay Thai, Kung Fu, Karate, Aikido, or any other form of martial arts, the flexibility of the body is crucial. At the same time, in yoga, regardless of style, in order to perform any asanas to its full potential, we need to have alignment, flexibility and focus in place. For instance, to perform the Half Moon Pose, we need sufficient amount of flexibility to go down all the way to place the hand on the floor. The hamstrings should be open and stretched along with flexible torso muscles, breath movement, and focus. With martial arts, the constant change of position like the defense techniques, including ducking, shin blocks, elbow blocks, etc. all necessitates strength, flexibility, and presence of mind. From the simplest of the moves such as punches or jabs to the most challenging, all of them hold flexibility at its core.
An Emphasis on the Breath
Any form of physical activity requires a substantial amount of oxygen flow in the body, which calls for an increased lung capacity as well. With the help of pranayama exercises, the lungs are expanded and their capacity is worked on. Bellow’s breath or Alternate Nostril Breathing or any other form of pranayama helps in supplying more oxygen to each and every cell in the body. This, in turn, creates more energy to perform and keep up while performing the art form.
Martial arts works by creating sounds known as kiai or other that uses the breath in a specific way to draw power and energy in the actions. Also, quick exhalation of carbon dioxide leads to impactful oxygenation of blood flow. Apart from this, Kiai also works as an expression to prevail in a fight and the desire to win. Therefore, we can say that breath plays a significant role in creating energy, gathering energy, professing our aura, and establishing good health.
Both the art forms we have spoken about above at length draw to the conclusion that they both are interlinked. While practicing one can enable us to better our grip in the other, even if the practitioner opts for either one, he or she will be able to gain mastery over breath, the flexibility of the body, increase alignment, create balance, and develop unbeatable focus.
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