Demystifying Yoga: How Yoga’s Practice Diverge from Martial Arts

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

It is quite difficult to keep up with which arts are martial arts, sports, or just downright weird practices of the modern era. One particular practice that has caused much confusion and debate over the years is yoga. What is yoga? Is it a martial art, a religion, a sport? Many are not sure if it can be considered a martial art or not, and I do not blame you if you find yourself in this very same predicament. Let’s jump right in!

Yoga is not considered a martial art and never has been. The definition of a martial art is a sport or practice used for combat or self-defense. Yoga does not teach students to train competitively at all and has no set of rules like martial art forms do.  

If you have thought that yoga was a martial art all this time, do not worry, many people do too. Besides the obvious fact that yoga is not a combative practice, I wanted to find out if it was ever intended to be a martial art and why it is not considered one today. After all, Tai Chi is not combative and is regarded as a martial art, so why not yoga? I have come up with a few answers that might settle your mind in terms of what yoga is and why it is not a martial art. Read below to find out.

Why Yoga is Not a Martial Art

If you are an avid yogi and are disappointed to learn that you are not practicing a martial art, don’t be. The fact that yoga is not a martial art does not take away from the benefits of practice at all. Because yoga does not focus on any form of self-defense and does not teach any defensive and blocking movements, it cannot be considered a martial art. 

Instead, yoga is considered a collective practice of spiritual, mental, and physical disciplines, all originating from India. It dates back to over 5 000 years ago and is said to have been developed by a civilization in Northern India called the Indus-Sarasvati.

If you chat with a professional Master or instructor of martial arts, you might find that they believe martial arts offers everything that yoga does, but the same cannot be said in reverse. This means that you cannot get all the benefits of martial arts from yoga practice.

I would say that the biggest difference between yoga and most martial arts is in terms of the hurdles or opponents that practitioners are faced with in both practices. There is a bit more involved in the practice of martial arts. When practicing yoga, you are taught to oppose your internal self to seek self-improvement. When practicing martial arts, you are taught to oppose internal self, while also managing the opposition of another person. The objective of martial arts is to demonstrate techniques of self-defense.

So, What is Yoga?

If yoga is not a martial art, what is it exactly? I struggle to find an exact word to define yoga, but I believe that it is, first and foremost, a spiritual discipline. No, you are not going to your local yoga class and performing some sort of spiritual ritual because you are not actually practicing traditional yoga. 

Hatha yoga, which is what most of the Western world practices as yoga today, is a system of bodily postures. The yoga that you practice at the local gym is probably Hatha yoga. Yoga is a way of centering oneself, finding inner peace, and keeping the body fit and healthy at the same time. 

How Yoga Can Help Your Martial Arts | Use Yoga to Improve Martial Arts Practice

If you would like to do a martial art and already go to yoga classes, there is good news for you. Doing yoga can actually improve your martial arts skills – you probably did not know that. I discovered a number of benefits of doing yoga as a complement to martial arts, and so believe that it is a great way to enhance your practices.

These are some benefits of adding yoga to your martial arts practices:

Better punching and kicking.

Yoga greatly increases flexibility and muscle strength when practiced correctly and regularly. This physical improvement will add torque to your martial arts punching techniques and greatly benefit high kicking styles.

More core strength to work with.

It is no secret that yoga develops core strength. All the stretching and poses are aimed not only at creating a more flexible version of you, but also at developing your core muscle strength. This is one of the reasons why so many people choose yoga for body transformations. Improved core strength is highly beneficial for many martial art forms. The more developed the core is, the more the martial art practitioner can do (and take).

Mindful breathing techniques.

Yoga develops good breathing techniques. Many martial arts rely on proper breathing techniques for mental clarity, mental toughness, and quick thinking. Yoga teaches practitioners to become conscious of their breathing, which in turn activates certain areas of the brain, resulting in a calm demeanor and conscious approach to all situations. When you learn yoga breathing techniques, the breathing techniques required for martial arts will feel more natural to you.

Better balance and agility.

Yoga, when practiced regularly, is known to improve balance. Many of the poses are designed to strengthen one’s ability to balance and hold a pose for a certain period of time. If you already practice martial arts, you will know that balance is essential, especially when sparring or in a competition situation. Many of the stances and movements rely on a practitioner being ultra-fast and light on their feet while maintaining good balance at the very same time. By practicing yoga, you should find the martial arts stances and movements easier to achieve – you will already be quite balanced and centered. 

Learn to press on and go the distance.

Some people find that when they start a martial art, it is hard on their body and mind. Martial arts require a “going the distance” mindset where practitioners have to push themselves to the limits. Yoga can help with that. You will increase your endurance and learn to work through the pain. Not all martial arts are docile, and while yoga is calm and involves slow stretching, it also comes with its aches and pains. As your body grows and develops with your yoga practice, you will be able to endure more. Learning to do this will greatly help with your martial arts practice and progress.

Joint protection and strengthening.

Regular yoga practice strengthens and secures joints. Many of the poses and stretches involved in yoga are designed to stretch and lengthen the torso as well as the joints. The more you practice yoga, the more secure your joints become. This is quite useful in martial arts practice as a joint injury can set back training for quite some time. By practicing yoga, you secure your joints and keep the risk of injury to a minimum. 

Improved recovery time for muscles.

Muscle recovery is something that fitness fanatics often complain about. Naturally, you want to recover as quickly as possible so that you can get right back to comfortable training. After martial arts training, you are bound to suffer some strains and aches. As most people know, stretching is vitally important before and after any form of exercise, including martial arts. By practicing some yoga poses (asanas) after each session, you can boost your muscle recovery time and ensure that you suffer fewer aches and pains.

The Undeniable Similarities between Yoga & Martial Arts

It is an undeniable fact that yoga and martial arts have similarities. In fact, it is the main reason why so many people think that yoga is a martial art, when it actually is not.

Below are just a few of the similarities between the two types of practices:

  • Martial arts and yoga are both based on principles that teach students about yoking the mind, body, and inner self.
  • Both martial arts and yoga come from ancient times and have an air of mystery shrouding them.
  • Yoga and martial arts improve physical strength and flexibility through a series of predetermined movements, poses, and breathing techniques. 
  • Both yoga and martial arts are a way of life and not just a practice.

Conclusion

While yoga is not considered a martial art form, it can, in fact, be quite beneficial to those who practice martial arts. By incorporating yoga practice as part of your training, you can strengthen quicker, avoid possible injuries, and boost recovery time. While yoga is not a martial art, it can be considered a prelude to your martial arts practice; in my opinion, at least.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.