Friday, June 13, 2014

Day 312 of 365: Yoga for Martial Artists

Well, ha ha, you're stuck with another yoga post.

Or, not, since this isn't, y'know, a mandatory read.

So, on top of preparing for my practicum, I've been trying to research how other yoga instructor do "Yoga for Athletes" and "Yoga for Martial Artists". I even found a lady on YouTube who has a "Yoga for MMA" series. And -- since I'm a fanatic of mixed martial arts -- I jumped on this. Please, established yoga instructors, tell me the magical way to instruct yoga for athletes and martial artists.

The problem I've found is that most of these sequences are one big, "Hey! You're athletic! You can do physical shit! Let's so crazy physical shit!"

I was actually talking to one of my teacher training instructors about this. She had advised me against observing a certain Yoga for Athletes class in the area because she knows the instructor has a reputation for creating unsafe sequences and doing things that can potentially injure someone. I talked about how this gung-ho attitude for athlete yoga just doesn't make sense -- that the last thing you would want to do is tell a bunch of naturally competitive people to jump into intricate poses that bend and strain muscles in an unfamiliar way. Athletes are taught to push push push, push through the pain, muscle on through, and "get better". Problem is, if they've never done chaturanga before and suddenly you're making them do one-legged chaturangas, someone's going to walk away with a torn shoulder muscle.

My instructor smiled and said, "You know what this tells me? This tells me that you don't need to observe a Yoga for Athletes class in order to create your own class. It sounds like you already have the right intuition to do what is best for those athletes."

Granted, this "intuition" doesn't get me out of fulfilling my observation hours -- it just means that I shouldn't feel like I need to be told what to do for these hypothetical yoga classes.

So: how would I run a Yoga for Martial Artists? On the physical side, I'd focus a lot on the hips and shoulders (as a strong punch is all about shoulder and lat strength; not bicep). I'd hold poses for a little length of time to help build strength. I'd do a good amount of core work (since the level of achievement in any athletic endeavor essentially starts at how strong your entire core is. Note that I said "entire core" -- that means more than just your abs).

But that's the physical stuff. The mumbo-jumbo I would start my pitch off with to a martial art studio. The part that would assuage a studio owner who would be worried that the yoga was going to be hippie-granola.

The more important part would be the mindfulness. Learning to draw that attention inward, listen to your body, listen to what it needs, and understand that yoga is a time to do exactly what you need. That yoga is about letting go of your ego, letting go of your expectations and attachment to the results. That deep, deliberate breathing can mean the difference between falling out of a pose and being able to maintain it.

And if a martial art studio is worth its weight in wall-to-wall mirrors, that aspect of yoga should be just as enticing. Martial arts is all about the calm energy -- that explosive kicks does not mean an explosive temper.

With any luck, starting in August, I'll be trying to get this started up. It's very tough in an area like New Hampshire; aside from Manchester, it's easy to find places who think "gong fu" is just a really hard version of "kung fu" (which I have heard a guy say before. Fun fact: "gong fu" is just another way of saying "kung fu" -- and neither literally mean "martial art". It just means something that take a lot of time, practice, and skill to do.) But I'm willing to see what I can make of it. Being a bit of a pseudo-athlete gives me that advantage of other yoga instructors, who will tell their students to do hamstring-ripping shit like "roll from plow to boat while still holding onto your feet".

I mean, seriously: who does she think will be able to do that? I'm abnormally flexible and even I would have to let go of my feet during that.

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