“Do your practice and all is coming.”
~Pattabhi Jois, originator of Ashtanga Yoga~
I know little yoga, but I try to incorporate its principles and practice into my daily life. It affects me deeply and has offered to me a lens with which to understand the workings of life, just as Jiu Jitsu has. The following is my account of my introduction to yoga through Jiu Jitsu and the benefits of the practice I have become aware of:
In the late 90′s I attended a week-long camp in the Poconos on Gracie Jiu Jitsu. To say the experience was life-altering is a gross understatement and completely insufficient, but there are no words to describe with authentic emotion the profound impact it had on my existence. To describe the environment, I, along with my closest Jiu Jitsu family members, would wake up around 7am each day, have a clean and natural breakfast, go train in a large hangar-like enclosure for a few hours, break for lunch and recreation for two hours at midday, return for three more hours of training, and then nap briefly before dinner and gathering for discussion of Gracie Jiu Jitsu at evening. This is awesome enough, but I must tell you with whom I trained this week. The instruction for this week came from Helio Gracie, Rorian Gracie and Royce Gracie. Ryron and Rener were there but I believe they were around 12 and 13 years old, so they didn’t contribute much that week.
In addition, some other little-known people were present, such as Steve Maxwell and Phil Migliarese. It was Phil Migliarese that stood out to us among many others. Only a purple belt at the time (now one of the highest ranking American black belts in Gracie Jiu Jitsu), Phil’s expression of Jiu Jitsu seemed to embody exactly what the Gracie’s were trying to get through to us. In a word, he was equanimity. He was calm, fluid, patient, and relaxed. At a camp full of tense and muscle-bound martial arts practitioners from all disciplines, this relaxation stood in sharp contrast to many present. His Jiu Jitsu was effortless and beautiful and dangerous.
My best friend, Jared Jessup, rolled with Phil and was visibly shaken afterward. He had trouble describing the experience. We inquired as to “how he got so good,” and Phil, of course, accredited the superior instruction of the Gracies, but his first word was “yoga.” Yoga? Ashtanga Yoga to be more precise. Phil had studied yoga for longer than Jiu Jitsu, and he credited his relaxation and fluidity to his yoga practice. On a week in which we were having relaxation shoved down our throats in the form of flowing as slowly and effortlessly as we could, with no submissions, for hours at a time, and often in complete sensory deprivation, meeting him set us on a path of exploration into yoga.
Once at home, we procured some Bryan Kest instructional yoga tapes (yes, VHS), and incorporated our interpretation of Surya Namaskara into our warmup before our Jiu Jitsu practice. We went through peaks and valleys of the amount of yoga we incorporated into our practice. Some vacillating more than others, and all taking a very organic approach to it. It would be years before we saw the true benefits. But they would arrive. Oh, did they arrive.
This is yoga for me today: Centeredness rather than balance, but balance as well; Pliability rather than flexibility, but flexibility also; Power rather than strength, but strength too; and Equanimity rather than calmness. Calmness is simple.
~ Centeredness is balance internally and externally. Externally, an overall understanding of positioning and how each part of the body
is affected, contributes to centeredness. Internally, getting your physiological inner-workings to cooperate in order to allow your
body to perform your practice is what I mean by centeredness.
~ Pliability is maybe an arbitrary alternative word to illustrate something beyond flexibility, but I want to emphasize something far
beyond the physical application of flexibility. Being pliable insinuates yielding to external forces seeking to damage or influence you
in some uncontrollable way. Yielding to these forces, rather than resisting them is the way to overcome them. Resisting things
bigger and intangible is a certain way to create stress and damage. Allowing them to come, recognizing them for what they are,
and letting them run their course without feeding them benefits you much more. Holding a pose, melting into it, feeling the
vibration and hearing what your body is telling you; this is the path to pliability. Pliability is opening lines of communication
between your body and mind and breath.
~ Power is strength in its purest and most pervasive form. Power is not aggressive or tense; it is intelligent and active. The adage
states that “knowledge is power,” but in yoga, it seems that the corollary is true. Reverse the antimetabole and read it as “power
is knowledge” and you will get closer to the heart of power in yoga. Power comes in yoga in the form of energy properly placed in
the correct areas of the body, evenly distributed, and igniting the body from the foundation up. It comes from alignment,
structure, breathing, and clarity. It is a product of the yoking process.
~ One of my favorite words, equanimity, is perhaps the most immediately helpful benefits of yoga for the Jiu Jitsu practitioner. It is
balance + calmness. As I said before, calmness is simple. Put anyone in a calm situation, take away their problems, lay them down
on a soft surface, give them drugs, and anyone can be calm. A good measure of true calmness, though, is how much balance it
yields. This is something only the individual will be able to discern, and the ability to discern it comes from listening to oneself.
Equanimity is achieved not through the elimination of external stressors and tense situations, but amidst them. In yoga, the next
movement may be uncomfortable or the next inhalation may be difficult, but it is necessary nonetheless. Likewise, in Jiu Jitsu, the
next escape from the difficult position may be seemingly impossible, but it is necessary in order to survive and ultimately prevail.
Equanimity is achieved when the external forces acting upon you fail to thwart your advancement, and cease to deter your
practice. Things are just things. This bad thing happening to me is bad because I have labeled it so. Time spent in self-pity is
always wasted and never helpful. The truest calmness is not in running from the storm, but rather in the eye of it.
This is only what yoga means to me, and how it has benefited me in my life and enhanced my Jiu Jitsu. I am learning. I only wanted to share this with others, to share the beauty of it, in hopes that something I have said may reach someone and possibly help them with their journey, wherever they are headed. The God in me greets the God in you.