If I’m being honest, I thought the world reached its pinnacle on May 10, 2013, when Dominique Ansel, an inventor from New York City, created the Cronut – a glorious croissant-doughnut hybrid. In cheat-day terms, it is the most perfect snack on planet earth. It has the same shape, lightly fried texture and creamy interior of a doughnut, but combined with the same flaky and delicate layers of pastry that were once exclusive to the croissant. It is magical.
But then I had an epiphany. It wasn’t the Cronut I loved so much, it was the way these two things complemented each other. It was the way two separate entities managed to work together in perfect harmony. It was the way they both contributed to the success of the other, and that’s when a humongous, halogen light bulb flicked on above my head:
The same principle applies to Yoga and Muay Thai.
Sure, there’s no clever name-hybrid for this coupling of Yoga and Muay Thai (Yoay Thai and Muay Toga are both pretty rubbish), but that doesn’t make them any less compatible. In fact, I’m going to go as far as saying: yoga is the secret to success in Muay Thai. And life for that matter. But mainly Muay Thai.
I first realised this last week when I saw a fighter I know land the perfect roundhouse. He just threw it, almost without even trying, and it stunned everyone watching. Jaws hit the floor. It was Bruce Lee-like. But here’s the thing: this fighter had never had this move in his arsenal. Never. He was epic at push kicks, but a roundhouse? No way. He wasn’t flexible enough. He didn’t have the sort of loosey-goosey snakehips you need for that sort of crowd-goes-ahhhh move. And yet, here he was, throwing the most effortless head kick I’d ever seen.
“How the heck did you manage that?” I asked the moment he stepped out of the ring and finished rehydrating.
- “Have you changed your stretch routine?”
- “Are you finally trying proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation?”
- “Have you changed your breathing?”
- “Did you go and secretly have surgery?”
- “Oh my god, I bet you stumbled across a magic lamp with a bright blue genie inside? How many wishes have you got left? One? Two? Can we still wish for world peace?”
I was firing off questions quicker than a machine gun spits out blanks, desperate to know his secrets. Thankfully, Mr Fighter Man stopped me in my tracks, and he did so with: Yoga and Muay Thai. “I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried yoga.” He confirmed.
I couldn’t believe I had never thought about these two working together before, but it made so much sense. Like old-school sense. The sort of sense we enjoyed before the world voted for Donald Trump and political correctness started censoring everything we say. Sure, there are some quirky chants, childishly-funny poses, and weird techniques that you’ll find yourself doing during an intense yoga session, but that doesn’t change the fact: yoga is incredibly awesome and beneficial to Muay Thai training.
Now, we’re not going to delve into all the plus-points of doing yoga because, in all honesty, I’d still be singing its praises at the end of September… 2021. But I am going to delve into all the super-awesome, Muay-Thai-specific benefits of yoga.
Trust me: you’re about to become the ultimate fighter.
- Superhuman Control-Slash-Accuracy
Before you even get the chance to scrunch your face into a tiny ball and silently ask yourself, “Is this yoga malarkey actually doing anything?” you’ll notice something incredible has happened: your balance has improved by 437%. Okay, so I made up this figure, but that’s beside the point. The point is: you won’t believe how quickly yoga improves your balance. It’s almost ridiculous. It doesn’t matter if you’re holding the tree pose, perfecting the eagle pose, or working on the firefly pose, yoga has been scientifically proven to improve your balance, and that needs to be transferred to your Muay Thai skill set.
Remember that moment when Mr Miyagi is practising his beachside crane kicks? It highlights the importance of balance. It’s the master key that unlocks so many doors. But don’t just take my word for it, take look at these equations:
- Better balance = better stability and better stability = more control over your movement and kicks.
- Better control = way better accuracy and way better accuracy = inflicting more damage with your shots.
It’s not rocket science (or, as Elon Musk calls it, sending an electric car into space). The more you practise yoga, the more control you have over your body. But that’s not all. You’ll also get to dance around the ring with sky-high confidence, throwing techniques you would have been scared to try before knowing they’d throw you off balance. Trust me: being able to hold yourself in the half-moon pose for a minute and a half at a time will make you feel at one with the roundhouse, as you coolly spin on the balls of your feet, that knockout blow imminent. It’s incredible.
- Mind-boggling Recovery
As much as it sucks, stress isn’t something we can avoid. Not entirely. It kind of comes with the territory of being a human being, especially if you’re a fighter. When you practise Muay Thai, you need to be dedicated in training, deal with the setback of injuries, visualise the different scenarios that can unfold in the ring, and anticipate what might happen during your next fight, all of which causes stress. This is bad news. This is really bad news. Why? Because prolonged stress will take its toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally, plaguing everything from your sleep to your digestion (and even your libido). That’s what makes yoga so important. Actually, important doesn’t do it justice. Neither does crucial or imperative. Life-saver. That’s what yoga is. It’s a life-saver.
At its most rudimentary level, yoga is a stress-reliever. It’s the practise of mindfulness, being present in the micro-moment, focusing on your every breath, releasing the tension from your body and finding a way to stop your mind from sparking like a cattle-prod-gone-haywire. It’s about developing a connection between your mind and your body, and understanding how your mind works; what makes it whir and stir, spark and dance. It’s about finding a way to release all of your negative emotions – fear, anger and even guilt.
Unfortunately, this isn’t easy to do. Not at first. But, as cliché as it sounds, with practise comes perfection, and that’s when the real results burst to life. I’m talking about a huge reduction in your cortisol levels and stress hormones, which is exactly what’s needed to help positive energy flow from the top of your cranium to the soles of your feet and back again. And that’s not the only mind-boggling benefit. Yoga also:
- Boosts your immune system.
- Reduces your risk of injury.
- Speeds up your mental and physical recovery.
- Supports your more intense training regimes, and
- Allows you to train more frequently.
Basically, if you’re the kind of fighter that eats, sleeps, drinks and repeats Muay Thai, yoga will revolutionise your life. Totally.
- The Mental Benefits Are Magic
Pfffffttttt. Where do I start with the mental benefits yoga has on Muay Thai? There are so many. SO MANY. And they’re all magic. Oh, sod it. I’ll go old-school and pull them out of a hat… starting… with… mental burnout.
This could be the unsung hero of yoga. It’s the ability to slow down and unwind, relaxing your body and mind, which is more than needed after going hell for leather in training, and that’s exactly what Muay Thai can feel like. Whether you’re in the ring, sparring or simply training, Muay Thai is physical. It’s explosive and exhaustive, full of contact and stresses. That’s why you need to incorporate yoga into your regime. Think of Muay Thai as a scorching hot summer’s day and yoga as a Mister Whippy Ice-cream or an ice-cold smoothie. It’s that peaceful counterbalance you need to restore equilibrium.
Next to be pulled from the hat (and I really am plucking them from a hat) is: mental focus and stability. Actually, we can’t emphasise just how crucial these two things are, especially when your heart is thudding against your chest, your blood is coursing around body like red-water-rapids, adrenaline is pumping through every fibre in your body, and fatigue has started to creep into your muscles, your breath heavier than a cartoon anvil. That’s when focus is needed more than ever. It’s being able to think straight, react appropriately and perform at your pique.
Yoga addresses all of this. When you practise yoga, you’re focusing on how to be present in the moment and how to be still in both posture and focus. For all the cliches about yoga that may make your eyes roll and your head lol, practising yoga helps you create mental clarity. It helps you concentrate for longer, separate yourself from the distractions, find calmness in a situation and, above all, increase the awareness you have over your body. Think of yoga as a way of improving your mental toughness. Think of it as the mental training you need to compliment the physical demands of Muay Thai. Think of it as a way to bolster your awareness. Think of it as the Ying to your Muay Thai Yang.
- Flexibility Forever
This is the low-hanging fruit. The obvious pick of the bunch. But that’s for pretty good reason: flexibility is the most important component in the entire Muay Thai universe. This is where yoga swoops in wearing a bright red cape and matching face mask and that’s because one of the main objectives of (most) yoga poses is to improve the flexibility of your body. It’s to take your current range of motion and boost them a thousand-fold. It’s there to help loosen your hips, open up your chest, ease your hamstrings, and lengthen your spine, all of which will help you achieve that Muay Thai dream of yours: to unleash the perfect roundhouse.
This is cool because roundhouses are cool. Probably the coolest. Like the James Dean of kicks. And with yoga incorporated into your training, you’ll have this weapon in your scabbard. But that’s not all. By improving your flexibility, you’ll also reduce the amount of exercise-related muscle damage you’re susceptible t
o boosting your longevity in the sport. The reason for this is scientifically simple: the more flexible you are, the more you’re able to isolate the muscles required to perform certain techniques. That means no more using the wrong muscles through tightness. Take the hamstring as the Optimus Prime of examples: a tight hamstring limits the amount of movement you have in your pelvis, and that can cause stress in your lower back. But commit to yoga, and you’ll be testament to the claim a flexible body is a healthier body.
Of course, it goes without saying, you need to dedicate yourself to yoga in the same way you do Muay Thai because a few sessions here and there won’t be enough to see you perform a perfect switch kick. It’s about making yoga a big part of your training regime. But, trust me, Liu Kang: it will be totally worth it.
- Respiration Inspiration
We all look at breathing as pretty. darn. easy. Easy enough to do it in your sleep. I mean, when was the last time you got a bad night’s slumber because you forgot how to breathe naturally? Exactly. You just have to breathe in and breathe out and let biology do the rest.
But what if this was a bit of a fib?
Yup. When it comes to exercising and training, the art of inhaling and exhaling becomes a little more complicated than we realise. That’s where yoga – once again – pulls on its red cape and mask combo because yoga delves into the science of breathing and posture. In fact, one of the key aspects of yoga is Pranayama (a set of breathing exercises), which translates into layman speak as: the control of breath.
It’s about improving your respiratory awesomeness and boosting your breathing capacity, and Pranayama does this by increasing the wall expansion of your lungs, as well as the power you can expire lungfuls of air. Basically: your lungs grow to be bigger than Atlantic-crossing hot air balloons. The benefits this will have on your Muay Thai training is incredible. Not only will you be able to train harder for longer, you will be able to step into the ring and keep up the intensity from the moment you touch gloves to the final ring of the bell (if your opponent makes it that far #roundhouse).
But here’s the best bit: improving your lung capacity and the speed in which oxygen gets sent around your body is only half of it. Perfecting the art of ‘breathe in, breathe out’ will also calm your mind. The way yogis see it, when your breathing is under control, so is your mind. This couldn’t be more important when you’re in the thick of it, locking knees with a formidable opponent and going to toe-to-toe with one another as the crowd roars like hungry lions, stamping their feet in unison, which is what a battle in the squared-circle sounds like.
That’s where a control of breath will give you the advantage. It will allow you to control your breathing when the adrenaline starts to creep in and all those excited nerves threaten to make your chest rise and fall like drumsticks hitting a tom-tom. It will allow you to disarm a tense situation, expelling any anxieties you may have and replace them with a calm and collected feeling, and that will put a sense of panic into any opponent you come against, whether in sparring or the ring. So, please, don’t ignore the importance of controlling your breath. Instead, perfect the art of breathing.
And there we have it.
Yoga is a game-changer. No. It’s the game-changer. It’s the perfect compliment to your Muay Thai training. It’s the unstoppable pairing. A duo more formidable and poetic than Simon & Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers, and Eric B. & Rakim put together, and that’s because it offers you everything. It boosts the physical attributes you need to put in a prodigious Muay Thai performance, while giving you that metal edge too.
From better flexibility to faster recovery, pumped-up vitality to jacked-up energy levels, a more balanced metabolism and, above all else, a relief from all the stresses that come with slipping on your shin guards, yoga is the answer to it all. To put it in ancient story terms: Yoga is the secret scroll you need to get your hands on; a scroll that will help you become the most proficient fighter possible.
That’s what separates the Sumalee Boxing Gym from all the amazing Muay Thai gyms out there. Our Muay Thai training camp has a purpose built yoga studio at the heart of it all, one that’s been designed in the traditional sala-style. And they did this for one reason: while good fighters dedicate themselves to Muay Thai, great fighters get their superpowers from combining yoga and Muay Thai. It’s that simple.