Am I too stiff for Yoga?

Am I too stiff for Yoga?


Are you in fact too stiff for yoga?

One of the biggest misconceptions about Yoga is that you need to be flexible to do it. This is like thinking that you need to be fit to start Jiu Jitsu or strong to start lifting weights. Still, as it’s a pretty common concern, we decided to dive deeper into it. Let’s see if you could in fact be too stiff for yoga. 

P.S. Don’t miss the free PDF Yoga for Rocks Guide download at the end of the page 😉

First – let’s get one thing straight. As absurd as that question might seem to someone who’s been doing yoga for a few years already, we get it how real it can be for someone just starting. It’s scary to start – we get it! When you think about yoga, the first thing that probably pops into your head is a super flexible chick putting her leg behind her head with ease. Or something like this: 

And then you think to yourself – man, I can’t even touch my toes when I bend over! Or, if we translate that in to an image again —–>

If that’s you, don’t worry. You’re not the only one that can’t touch his/her toes!! I’m not even sure why that seems to be the universal ‘how flexible am I’ measuring tool. It’s like saying that someone who’s good at armbars has to be a black belt. It’s one aspect of being flexible – sure. Specifically, it means you have good calve, hamstring and lower back flexibility. But it doesn’t say anything about your flexibility in general.

Not being able to touch your toes also doesn’t mean that you’re too stiff to do yoga. If it has to mean something it’s that you should’ve started doing yoga yesterday. But not for the sake of being flexible. For the sake of increasing your flexibility and mobility – yes. Specifically, for increasing your flexibility and mobility for jiu jitsu – oh yeah, now we’re talking. 

Why do you want to get flexible?

Obviously, everyone has their own reason(s) why.

  • Maybe you want to improve your open guard game. Your guard retention isn’t what you want it to be, and you get your guard passed relatively quickly
  • Maybe your sweep defence is nowhere to be found. Someone gets you in single x and you’re getting swept left and right, while a bit of leg flexibility could help you improve your balance
  • Maybe you aren’t able to invert or do so with a lot of pain and discomfort at the moment
  • Maybe your submission rate isn’t where it should be, just because you can’t transition well between moves. Instead of transitioning from armbar to triangle and locking that up, your partners escape your armbar attempts on the first try
  • Maybe you have to tap to submissions like the kimura super fast because of your limited shoulder mobility, or an old injury

Maybe you have a completely different reason, but since you’re here – it probably has something to do with either pain, jiu jitsu or pain because of jiu jitsu.

Here’s an important shocker fact. Your solution to your why doesn’t have to be you improving your flexibility from not being able to touch your toes to being able to do the splits. Anyone that tells you that is well…full of sh*t. Obviously, it helps with some parts of jiu jitsu if you’re able to do the splits (for example sweep defence from x guard). But

  1. not everyone has the genetic predispositions to even be able to get to the splits
  2. you can be one hell of a badass jiu jitsu athlete without being able to do the splits
  3.  to be able to do the splits you need great hamstring, quad and inner thigh flexiblity
  4. the only way to improve your hamstring, quad and inner thigh flexiblity is to spend some time to stretch (dynamic and static stretching) those areas every single day

You decide. What looks more realistic?

The only thing that matters is the progress you made since yesterday. If you’re as flexible as a brick, every darn inch in gained leg flexibility will matter. Why? Because that means you just gained one inch more for your guard retention attempts. It means you’ll be able to keep your hips an inch closer to the ground when trying to invert – which in result brings you to an inch closer to inverting without back pain.

Nobody does yoga in the bjj community because they want to look cool on the mats. We do it because it helps you DO cool stuff on the mats. Cool stuff that submits your opponents and makes you move around with ease. Improving your inner thigh flexiblity helps you create an impassable guard game – simple as that. Getting there isn’t easy, but the why is pretty straightforward. I don’t do yoga because I like doing it. I do it because I like doing jiu jitsu, and would like to keep doing it for the rest of my life.

We established that starting yoga can be pretty scary and uncomfortable if you’re inflexible/stiff. We all want to be good at something the second we start doing it, it’s just human nature. But how realistic is that?

Think about it, remember your first day of jiu jitsu? How did that go?  Did you turn up on the mats and just started armbarring your coach and everyone else? Yeah, neither did I. 

But it would for sure be awesome if you could just instantly be good at jiu jitsu. Or instantly able to deadlift 150kg (330 lbs). Or get from 0% flexibility to 100% with yoga. 

Here’s where progress and discipline walk into a bar.

Let’s talk about progress

Progress = development towards an improved or more advanced condition

Self-discipline = correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement

Nobody gets flexible overnight. You also won’t suddenly wake up in 10 years and be flexible. If anything, you’re getting stiffer as the time passes. But you can do something about it. You can take matters into your own hands, use your self-discipline and decide to take 10 minutes every day for stretching. Progress will follow.

Of course, progress will be different for everyone. For someone that’s flexible by nature (yes, lucky bastards like that exist), progress will look like this: 

For anyone else not made out of rubber, the desired progression looks like this:

*if you’re worried you’re too stiff for yoga, the difference between you and these images above are bent knees! You’ll strive to do the poses correctly, but you’ll modify them as your body requires you to. Not with a broken back like the photos below, but with bending your knees as much as you need to.

What you want to avoid is forcing stretches like this:

Why? Because you’ll only end up hurting yourself for no good reason. Again, the reason why Sebastian is always telling you to do yoga is not for the sake of doing yoga and looking flexible. His first reason is to help you get rid of specific pain you might have. For him, it was back pain and herniated discs. For you it could be hip pain. For someone else shoulder pain.

We interviewed Sebastian’s yoga teacher  (Jason Crandell) in the past and he told us this:

”Before yoga, Sebastian was in a cycle of injury and pain – and he was in his twenties. Now, with yoga’s tools in his back pocket, he can keep doing the sport he loves, hopefully for many more years. Plus, he’s figured out how to bring yoga to other BJJ competitors through his own online platform. ”

Let’s put ‘being too stiff for yoga’ into perspective

In the video here, Sebastian and Miha discuss being too inflexible for yoga:

If you’re stiff as a rock and you came all the way to here in the article – you hopefully have some questions. We tried to answer a few of the FAQ we’ve received from our rocks and boulders.

Okay, I’m stiff and I want to do sth about it. Where do I start?

With the smallest and simplest possible movements you can do. When you imagine the hypermobile, stereotypical Yoga practitioner (reflect on that first image of Sebastian holding his leg)…and then you…there might be a stark difference. BUT – you have to learn how to walk before you can run and in some cases crawl before you can walk. Here’s where we can help! Let’s teach you how to crawl, on a yoga mat.

But I’m REALLY stiff, as stiff as a rock…

Yes, we know. Trust us when we say – you’re not alone in that. If you’re really stiff, the prospect of improving your mobility may seem like a big mountain to climb but remember, all you are trying to do is to make yourself slightly more mobile than you were yesterday. You’re not trying to get yourself to do the splits in 2 hours. Who cares how long it takes you to see a tiny bit of progress. It’s not a competition, you’re not doing it for the sake of getting flexible. You’re just trying to get slightly more flexible than you were yesterday, for jiu jitsu or injuries sake. That’s all there is. 

What can I actually do?

I could spend ages listing out the benefits of better mobility but you probably know most of them or are heavily aware of the lack thereof but who cares, let’s just work on a practical and tenable solution to your stiffness right now.

I got you. Here is the Yoga for Rocks Guide, the answer to ‘I’m too stiff for yoga’. Download it for free below:

the Yoga for Rocks Guide

It’s one very small step at a time. One of the beautiful things about Jiu Jitsu is the perspective it gives you on learning. If you compare your skills to those of yourself a few short months ago I’m sure you could kick previous you’s ass! When you started out though, think about how daunting of a prospect it could be to make any progress while trying to get a handle on your chaotic flailing limbs right before getting tapped. We’ve all been there…

Written by Emma Perhavec for Sebastian Brosche