I find boxing a deceptively complicated sport. My coach often reminds me that boxing is the sweet science. Boxing requires control of so many parts and functions of your body. To be effective in the ring you need concentration, coordination, strength and endurance. Yoga for boxing is a beautiful combination and has many proven benefits.
Yoga for boxers helps to cross-condition your body by improving strength, flexibility and concentration. Yoga helps boxers stay relaxed and peaceful in the most challenging, difficult and stressful situations. You learn to focus on your breathing when you are in the ring which helps you remain calm.
Boxing is one of the most demanding sporting activities you can participate in. The training is intense because you are required to physically fit but also mentally switched on. Your brain is constantly challenged as you try to remember your game plan while adjusting to what your opponent is doing. But there is so much you need to learn and train before you can even step in the ring.
Improve Your Balance
Great balance is the underrated secret of most if not all of the great boxers. If you have good balance you will find boxing easier and more fun. It is vital to have good balance in boxing as it means you have a good foundation. You need this to have stability in your footwork which benefits your boxing in the following ways:
- More confidence in your boxing and ring movement
- Freedom to move more dynamically in the ring
- Increased power in your punches as you’re moving your center of gravity with your punches
- Improved defensive skills as less of your opponents punches will know you off balance
- Additional counter-punch opportunities due to maintaining your balance when avoiding punches
The key to moving and maintaining your balance while boxing is to not throw off your center of gravity. The best way to do this is create a grounded base and bending your knees. It is also important that you keep your upper body over the centre of gravity at all times. There are boxing exercises like shadowing boxing and footwork drills that help you maintain your balance.
Yoga for boxing provides an opportunity to work on the fundamentals of balance. Physical balances teaches you to tap into deep muscles that coordinate the separate parts of the body into an integrated whole. Balance is a learned skill which means you can improve it as long as you are willing to challenge it. There are five foundational principles that you need to focus on when doing balancing poses in yoga.
A strong base is key to be successful in holding balance poses in yoga. You don’t create a real connection between your feet and the ground when you are wearing shoes. Doing yoga barefoot is an opportunity for you to learn how to spread your toes, lift your arches and distribute your weight between the balls of your feet and heels. This will help you stand stronger and improve sensory awareness in your feet.
Improving your balance in yoga requires you to engage with your smaller muscles. Those smaller muscles create subtle engagement closer to the bone. They support your joints and enable coordination in different parts of your body to stand or move together. Your key body stabilizers are the muscles connecting your spine and pelvis. These are your deepest abdominal layer and back muscles, your iliopsoas and quadratus. Also your lateral hip and muscles that stabilize the shoulders. You need all the muscles to work together to coordinate the upper and lower body and achieve fluid balance.
By taking stock of your current abilities and understanding and respecting your limitations you will see a speedy development in your balancing skills. Don’t let your ego get in the way of taking modifications or getting a little extra support. Also don’t be in a rush to get back into a pose if you fall out of it. Understand that your muscles and nervous system can only learn to compensate when they are in an unstable position for some time.
Where your eyes are orientated have a major impact on your ability to maintain balance. By maintaining your gaze on a non moving point at eye level is the first stage in establishing your balance. If you are unable to maintain your balance doing that you can try to anchor your gaze to the floor or wall in front of you, Conversely you can challenge your balance in a pose by looking up or even closing your eyes. This forces you to rely less on an external focal point and trust instead your inner Drishti.
There is a temptation to hold your breath while struggling to maintain balance and stability. The loss of calm and relaxed breathing is a sign that you are try too hard and creating stiffness rather than stability
Yoga Poses for Improving Balance
Mastering balance in yoga requires you to focus your attention on alignment, attention and strength. These focus areas correlate with the fundamentals of balance in boxing.
- Alignment: Your body has to be in line with gravity to make balance physically possible.
- Strength: This gives us the power to find, hold, and modify our alignment.
- Attention: Being mindful of our alignment allows us to adapt as needed.
Tree pose is a great pose to start with for improving your balance. You stand on one leg and you rest the sole of the other foot on the side of the thigh. You can challenge your balance by moving your resting leg above the knee to the tight. Or you can raise your arms above your head, move your gaze to look upwards or even close your eyes.
Other standing balance poses like Chair, Dancer, Eagle and Half Moon are more challenging. They also provide ample opportunity to improve your balance by changing your focal point by moving your gaze or closing your eyes. Play with your base by reducing your contact with the ground or destabilising it by practising on carpet or uneven ground.
You should never stop trying to improve your balance. I find yoga balance poses are a lot of fun and there are some many ways to make them more challenging. Testing your stability on the mat will help your balance in the ring. Man Flow Yoga has some great yoga balance workouts which I do regularly. Check out the below video to get an idea of what the workouts are like.
Control your Breathing
When you start boxing training you will probably get tired a lot quicker than you expect. It could be that the workouts are new and challenging. Or it could be that you are not breathing correctly and you need to work on your breathing technique. Yes, that’s right, you need to practice breathing!
The first thing you want to work on is breathing slowly when you are boxing. Boxing novices either breathe too quickly or hold their breath. Both will tire you out more quickly. The benefits of breathing slowly is that it will keep you calm and stops you from getting tired so quickly. Even when you are engaging in explosive action you want to keep your breathing slow. Your overall breathing pattern should be slow, preferably breathing through your nose.
For this slow, controlled breathing to become automatic you will need to practice. Many boxers will focus on their breathing when they are working the heavy bag or shadow boxing. To master the technique you will need to practice outside your boxing training. Yoga practice will put you more in tune with your breathing, and help you control it while exerting yourself under stress.
Breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice and they can be used in daily lives and situations. You only need to dedicate 5 minutes a day to pay attention to your breathing and improve your technique. For boxing, slowing down your breathing is key and there are a couple yoga for boxing breathing exercises that can help you do this.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Here you are practising deliberately slowing down the pace of your breathing. The technique involves breathing in through the nose and breathing out slowly through the mouth. With regular practice, it can help strengthen the lungs and make them work more efficiently. Pursed lip breathing keeps the airways in the lungs open for longer. As a result, you will take fewer breaths, but these breaths will be more efficient.
This technique originates from the ancient practice of pranayama yoga. Your intention here is to make your inhales and exhales the same length. Your breathing will become smoother and steadier which helps to bring balance and composure. This type of breathing will help you when boxing to remain calm and focused
Injury Prevention and Recovery
Functional fitness is all about the core. And we’re not just talking about the abs, but also back muscles and hip muscles. All together they help us to maintain stability and we strengthen the core muscles in functional fitness exercises. Strengthening your core comes with so many benefits in and of itself. You increase balance and stability, reduce back pain, prevent injuries and improve your posture.
The most common acute injuries among boxers are concussions, cuts and blows to the face, and injuries to the hands, fingers and wrists. There can also be muscular injuries from direct blows or from pulling muscles. They are also susceptible to overuse injuries, which can cause long-lasting problems in the knees, calves and feet. The best prevention of injuries is to become aware of your body, its shape, how it feels and its range of motion.
Practising Yoga for boxing can help with your recovery from the high-intensity training you will do in boxing. Restorative and preventative yoga will restore and repair your body. Common boxing training injuries like back pain, shoulder strains and wrist sprains can be avoided with regular yoga for boxing.
You really only appreciate how much good flexibility can enhance your boxing when you don’t have it! Stretching is an integral part of warming up for any physical activity. When boxing you obviously want your arms to be flexible enough to reach your opponents body. Your legs should also be flexible enough to move forward and backwards. Yoga for Boxing will increase your flexibility and your efficient range of motion.
Inflexibility is the result of stiff and tight muscles. Muscle tightness negatively impacts your efficiency as you spend more energy doing movements. In boxing this means your punches will be less powerful and you will get tired quicker. This is why a smaller boxer with flexible muscles can be stronger than a bigger boxer with stiff muscles.
The bigger boxer is wasting a lot of energy trying to deliver a strong punch. When you have to stretch outside your efficient range of motion, you are wasting more energy and moving less efficiently. If you want to increase your efficient range of motion you need to take flexibility seriously!
Range of Motion
Yoga for boxing has the potential to boost your current range of motion by a thousand-fold.This is because the main object of most yoga poses is to improve flexibility in your whole body. It also helps you to target specific areas of your body which require extra attention. An example of this for boxing would be the shoulders.
Shoulder dislocations and rotator cuff tears is rather common in boxing. Keeping your guard up will benefit greatly from good lateral rotation. Boxing is one of the few sports, which relies heavily on constant shoulder protraction and upward rotation. If the shoulder girdle doesn’t have range, injury will almost certainly take place. This means damage to bursa, biceps tendon and supraspinatus tendon. Below are 3 great yoga poses to increase overhead shoulder mobility.
Standing Cow Face Pose
A quite simple pose but very effective that will stretch your entire shoulder region. If your shoulders are quite tight you will want to use a strap or belt to connect your hands.
How to: Begin by standing up tall. Reach your right hand up and then behind your back. Reach your left hand down your back and then move it up and try to connect right and left fingertips. If they don’t connect use the strap or belt. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths then switch arms.
Downdog on the Wall
A modification on one of the most well known yoga poses. The benefit of doing it against the wall is that you stretch your chest muscles without applying too much pressure to your shoulders.
How to: Begin by standing facing a wall, about 2 feet away with your feet hips width apart. Lean forward and place your hands on the wall, at shoulder height and shoulder width apart. Stay in that position and release your chest down between the biceps, going as low as possible.
Thread Needle Pose
This is a very effective stretch for your entire shoulder and upper back area. If you go deep and hold this stretch for some time you will feel the stiff knots loosen!
How to: Begin in tabletop position, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Inhale and extend your right arm towards the sky and then exhale sweep it under your chest. Rest your shoulder and cheek on the floor. Extend your left arm out in front of you. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths before repeating on the opposite side.
Mental Benefits of Yoga for Boxing
Boxing is a very mentally demanding sport. When you start there are a lot of technical aspects you need to study and master. Understand how you should stand and the basic punching combinations are the first stage. From there you will move on how you should move, how you should breathe and how you should protect yourself.
Next is combinations and then trying to put everything together! An understated benefit of yoga is its impact on helping you learn and boosting your brain functions. Experts have reviewed the meditative aspects of yoga improves your mental stability enabling you to recollect and retain more information.
Keeping your composure is critical when you box. Excess anxiety will disrupt your training, sap you of energy, and make it almost impossible to remember your training. With yoga you have the tools to slow down and unwind and relax your body and mind. The result is that you are in a better state mentally for your next training session.
You need mental focus and stability when the pressure is on, fatigue has crept into your muscles and you are breathing heavier than your excited puppy! Yoga for boxing helps you focus on the present moment and to be still maintain both posture and focus. It helps you gain mental clarity, avoid distractions and increase your awareness you have over your body.
Boxers understand the value of their bodies as a tool and resource in the ring. It is critical that they have balance in diet, training and recovery. It will ensure their continual success and safety in the sport. Yoga is amazing in helping athletes heal from injuries. It also provides the body with extra protection against future injuries. The practice of yoga can teach a boxer balance, posture, and focus.Yoga for boxing can make you a better boxer, one more equipped to win more matches and get more out of your gloves than you’ve ever dreamed possible.