There are many different ways in which to train to up your Muay Thai level. Besides working on stamina and your punching or kicking muscle power, there are many aspects of athletic performance in Muay Thai that should be worked on but often neglected. The most common and obvious exercise routines that supplement traditional Muay Thai training include lifting weights, interval training, and running. But there is one that is always ignored as being incompatible with a masculine sport such as Muay Thai: Yoga.
Yoga in a Nutshell
Yoga is a spiritual practice with roots originating back a few thousand years in ancient India. There are different schools and practices, approaching spiritual enlightenment via methods as diverse as philosophy, prayers, physical exercises to elaborate rituals. However, in recent times, Yoga has become almost synonymous with the body twisting physical postures (asanas) of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is now practised for both spiritual and health purposes, and even as a competitive sport. It is a popular workout among hippies and hipsters and housewives alike. It is especially widespread among millennials and women, and is often associated with being a rather unmasculine exercise. In every Yoga class, the number of females often outnumber the males the way the reverse situation is pervasive in Muay Thai.
Benefits of Yoga for Muay Thai
Before you discount Yoga as some new-age namby-pamby mumbo jumbo, there are benefits of regular Yoga practice that can bring about improvements to your Muay Thai athletic performance.
Unlike many of us Muay Thai late-bloomers, the majority of Thai fighters start training when they are really young around pre-teen. They have been working on those impressive high kicks for years while we lead our sedentary lives, sitting on our bums all day staring at the computer screen.
Most of us who have trouble executing high kicks are limited mainly by the tightness of our hips. I have even hurt my hips while forcing those high roundhouse kicks. Clearly, flexibility is key component of Muay Thai. This is where Yoga can be the most beneficial since a main objective of all those postures is to improve flexibility of the body. With regular practice of the appropriate yoga postures, that Bruce Lee-level high kick may be a lot within reach than you think.
Besides improving your kicks, increased flexibility means less exercise-related muscle damage. Basically, when your muscles are tight, you will end up using the wrong muscles to compensate which increases the risk of injuries. A good example is your hamstring muscles. Tightness in this muscle limits motion in the pelvis which can increase stress across the lower back. A well-rounded Yoga will improve overall flexibility and this is why they often say, a flexible body is a healthier body.
A poor form in balance is a disadvantage as you can lose your footing easily from a poorly executed kick and get thrown down easily in a clinch. Every martial art, maybe every sport, requires a good sense of balance and yet balance is one of the most neglected areas in Muay Thai training. Losing your balance after landing or missing a strike can lead you to a potentially vulnerable position in a fight or spar.
The human balance system is made up of a complex continuous interaction of sensory receptors (eyes and ears) and motor (muscles and joints) control. Balancing postures in Yoga work on improving not just the the muscular ability for balance but also the efficiency of the sensory-motor interaction required to maintain balance. Improving your balance can lead to faster and stronger kicks, quicker counter-attack and not falling on your ass that easily. That’s already half the battle won.
The importance of unwavering mental focus and stability cannot be overemphasized for a high adrenaline combat sports like Muay Thai. Staying focused is not only important during fights or sparring but also during day-to-day training. Without focus, your ability to perform, think, and react, will be dearly affected. Especially when muscle fatigue kicks in, you start to pant, and the frustration of getting hit in the face feels once too many.
A major aspect of Yoga practice is focusing on the present moment, and encouraging stillness in posture as well as the mind. Regular yoga practice thus creates mental clarity, increases body awareness, sharpens concentration and develops calmness. You can look at it as a form of mental training as much as physical training.
You might mistakenly think that something as naturally-occurring as breathing needs no training. But breathing is a science. Hatha Yoga is sometimes referred to as the science of breath and posture. Besides the bewildering number of postures, a key aspect of Hatha Yoga is the set of breathing exercises known as Pranayama. Diligent practice of Pranayama improves respiratory breathing capacity by increasing wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes. In simple terms, it increases your lung capacity.
Besides improving the efficiency of sending oxygen to different parts of the body, breathing correctly stills and calms the mind. This is why your breathing hastens when you get nervous or excited. The Hatha Yoga practitioners believe that when the breath is still, so is the mind. So if you are able to control your breathing in a tense situation, you can disarm your own anxiety and remain calm and collected. This can be particularly helpful during fights or sparring with a more formidable opponent.
As with all things that get over popular and commercialized, there are various yoga accessories, aids and apparels sold in the market. Don’t buy into the marketing that tells you that you need a all these funky equipment to practise yoga. You certainly do NOT need incense, twangy sitar background music, or a framed picture of a guru to practise.
Yoga focuses on simple living and the stripping away of all unnecessary facets of life. A yoga mat is all you need at the start, and maybe if you are especially tight and inflexible, yoga blocks can be really useful.
Yoga is a game-changing routine to incorporate into your Muay Thai training program. The benefits are plenty and they extend outside of improving your Muay Thai performance but also physical and mental health. Improved vitality, energy level, balanced metabolism, and it even relieves stress. Enough said.
The gym that I train at offers Yoga classes so it’s been really convenient for me. If your gym doesn’t offer Yoga classes, you can consider investing in weekly classes. There will usually be a wide range of options to choose from, wherever you are. Alternatively, there is a rich source of information in the form of books and internet websites and YouTube videos. Even though a real-life instructor would certainly be much more helpful but with so much materials on the subject, there really is nothing to stop you from picking it up on your own.