My heart goes out to a lot of different people right now, including everyone who does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu how I do it: for survival. I think many of us who are really into BJJ are already on the edge in some way, and I worry about how many of us are getting closer and closer to the edge every passing day without BJJ. Here’s how to keep hanging on: Do yoga specifically yoga designed to help you get better at BJJ, every day.
Yoga is great for BJJ because it helps with flexibility, strength, breathing, injury prevention, and many other things for our minds and bodies. I want to give you four reasons why you should do Yoga for BJJ every day to help you survive being out of the gym while they are all closed because of the coronavirus.
1. We need to do something for our sanity
These are stressful times. This whole global pandemic is really heaping on the logistical and emotional stress. Just when we need the stress relief of BJJ most, we need to find something else to take its place. We all need to do something, and do it every single day. Start your day with Yoga for BJJ. While on hiatus from the gym, do yoga every morning to keep your joints and muscles loose and supple until you can get back on the mats. Then, anytime of the day when you feel yourself getting stressed, pop a quick video to keep the stress and stress-related sequelae at bay.
Allow me an illustration. Imagine you are walking to your mailbox. Your parasympathetic nervous system is in full effect. Your breathing is deep and relaxed. You hear the birds, smell the flowers, and see the trees swaying in the breeze. Your cells are performing maintenance and cleanup. Your digestive system is breaking down food and extracting the nutrients. Everything is pretty chill. Now, imagine you see a zombie running toward you. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in and everything changes. Your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. You don’t hear or smell anything. Your sight narrows to tunnel vision. Your body stops all regularly scheduled maintenance. All of your blood is directed away from digestion and toward your muscles so you can fight or flee.
Now, hopefully we aren’t going to have the zombie apocalypse anytime soon. But, every time you get stressed about the coronavirus, or all the logistical things you’re dealing with, the same thing happens to your body. This coronavirus is going to be stressing us out for a while, and all this time in your sympathetic nervous system adds up to real damage. It’s hard on your blood pressure, blood vessels, and heart. Studies have found that people who go through a stressful time get sick more the following year, (perhaps because their bodies deferred too much maintenance.) Not to mention it just sucks to feel stressed all the time.
Yoga for BJJ can help in a bunch of ways. Here are two. First, the slow and deep breathing done in yoga immediately shuts down the sympathetic nervous system and turns the parasympathetic nervous system back on. One of the first things that happens when we are stressed is our brains send a signal to our lungs to breathe rapidly and shallowly to get us ready to fight or flee. If we can slow down our breathing, breathe deeply into the bottom third of our lungs, and make our exhales longer than our inhales, then we can send a signal to our brains to turn off the sympathetic nervous system. When you’re stressed, a quick yoga video will do just that. If you’ve been doing BJJ for a while, you may already be a pro at breathing. When you get stressed, remind yourself to breath slowly and deeply, making your belly move but not your shoulders, to send the signal to your brain to turn off the fight or flight response, helping you relax.
Another thing yoga will do is help to remove the corticosteroids and stress hormones from your blood. It will clean you out and keep your machine healthy. There was study done comparing how people impacted by 9/11 fared compared with those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. What they found was that those in NYC during 9/11 recovered much better. (There are several reasons for this!) One reason is that those who were in NYC during 9/11 had to walk home, and those who were hit by Katrina had to just sit there. When we are stressed, our bodies do all sorts of things. These things are good, because they help us deal with stress, especially when that stress is a zombie trying to eat us. But when the stress is not something we need to fight or flee, our body still reacts the same way and then we end up getting pickled in our own blood by all the stress hormones and corticosteroids released by our bodies. Doing any kind of physical activity helps to metabolize all the stuff in our blood and clean it out. Sure, 90 minutes of rolling sounds good right now, but we can’t do that. We can go for a walk or ride a bike or do 15 minutes of yoga. And those little things will have a huge impact on our bodies and our mental health, in the short term and the long term.
2. You don’t have enough RAM to do anything else.
A computer has two different types of memory: long term storage and short term memory, or RAM. When a computer doesn’t have enough RAM, it runs really really slowly. This usually happens when it’s downloading a program or a program is running in the background and using up too much RAM, making whatever else you’re trying to do super slow. Well, right now everyone’s RAM is being used up. We are all trying to wrap our heads around wtf is going on right now. None of us has ever lived through anything like this. Yes, our brains are tired from being sad or scared, or working to solve logistical problems created by COVID-19. But there is also a certain amount of our brains that is constantly running, trying to make sense of all this. Like a computer trying to download a new program, our brains are trying to comprehend what is going on and what this means for us. And so, there’s not a lot of space for us to think about much else.
If you’re like me, as much as you want to and need to, you do not have the brain space to do a full BJJ workout right now. I’ve got mats, a dummy, and a husband who trains. But with the kids, the zooming from home, the homeschooling, the cleaning the house, the making all the meals, and everything else, it’s been really hard to get myself to do a BJJ workout. I have some videos, and some amazing people have been putting tons of stuff online for free. But I just don’t have the mental space to decide what to do, or the energy to make myself do it, much less figure out what to do with the kids while I’m trying to workout uninterrupted. What I can do is a 20 minute Yoga for BJJ video every morning. And my kids can do it, too. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s right there, it’s low key, and I don’t have to warm up with a foam roller for 10 minutes first (Any yoga specifically for BJJ is awesome. But if you get Yoga for BJJ app “Yoga for the Exhausted” is a great program!)
3. Yoga for BJJ – the silver lining in this mess.
The bad news is you can’t go to the gym and do BJJ with your friends. The good news is you can do something and still get great benefits. BJJ is so intense that I used to fall into the trap of, “If I can’t do BJJ, refine my game, have fun, learn new stuff, dominate someone, work up a sweat, burn calories, build muscle, or [fill in the blank,] then what’s the point?” Don’t fall into that trap. You really can sustain yourself with 10-20 minutes of walking or biking or Yoga for BJJ. The danger is that since we need 90 minutes of hard sparring and can’t get it, then, if we don’t adjust our expectations to be more realistic, we could end up doing nothing.
John Danaher put some solo BJJ videos online for free. (Thank you, John!) And he says that a day without training is a wasted day. He says that we should be drilling every day and that after this global pandemic we can all come back to Jiu Jitsu moving better, knowing things we didn’t know before, and in better shape. I think he’s right. And if you can do that, go for it! But I’m just trying to survive over here. And, I’m telling you: doing a little bit of something every day will be enough. I may not come back from this break better. But I will come back after this break. And that’s what matters. And then I will get better.
Let this be your off season. This is a great time to let all those injuries that have been bugging you a little bit fully heal. Let your appreciation of and hunger for the art grow. If you want, listen to some podcasts or read some memoirs. And do some yoga to keep yourself limber, to keep blood flowing as you heal all the little things, and to be sure you’re set up for injury prevention when you return.
4. You WILL get through this.
I almost didn’t have a second child because I was afraid I wouldn’t survive being away from training for too long. I’m not going to lie, it was brutal. And then I came back. It turns out I didn’t lose as much as I feared. I returned to my previous ability super quickly. And then I surpassed it (and now I have another training partner.) My point is that I survived being off the mats for an extended period of time, and so can you.
If you are able to do all the things, then by all means, do all the things. But if you aren’t successfully doing all the things right now, then give up on doing all the things so that you don’t give up on Jiu Jitsu or on yourself. Every day, do something that reminds you that you are a martial artist. Do something that keeps your blood moving and your muscles toned. Do something that keeps your joints flexible. Do something that relaxes you and reduces stress. Guess what, yoga does all these things. Do Yoga for BJJ every day to keep you afloat and you’ll be choking your friends and rebuilding your calluses in no time.