Yoga & KaraTe
The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the relationship between Yoga and Karate and how they complement each other.
In KaraTe we often discuss the term Chi or Qi which moves around the body through Meridians. It is widely documented that the origin of Chi can be found in Chinese Medicine. Similarly, in Yoga Chi is referred to as Prana. This means life force energy too however it moves in the body through Nadi’s, similar to Meridians. In order to further explore the interconnectivity between these two disciplines it is necessary to explore the roots of Karate.
Bodhidarma (a monk) travelled from India to China to the Shaolin monastery where he found Shaolin monks who were deemed to be lazy. Ancient texts known as Sutras which held key messages, for example ahimsa (non-violence) were shared with the monks who then recorded the information in Chinese. Note the correlation here between the Sutra’s teaching of non-violence and KaraTe ‘Empty Hands’. Both would argue that by practicing this leads to harmony in the mind body and the universe.
Bodhidarma taught the monks how to combine the meditative state with yoga postures which ultimately helps with physical conditioning. From practice, we experience that by combining breath with movement there comes a point where the movement becomes easier and flowing. This is the point where Prana or Chi flows through the body without any hiccups. This point illustrates how Yoga and Karate are intrinsically linked.
Importance of Prana/Chi
The practice of breathing in Yoga is known as Pranayama. Why is breathing so important and what is its relevance? When we come into this world we arrive with a breath and as we leave, we exhale that breath back into the world. Have you observed what happens to your breath when you are confronted by a difficult situation compared to what it may be like on a normal day? It may be jaded, heavy, a feeling of uneasiness, compared to relaxed slow breath on a calm day.
Pranayama/Breathing is a way of harnessing that life force energy. The feeling of unease in the body is related to blockages within the Prana/Chi in the body. Through the practice of Pranayama, we learn to control the breath, slow it down and lengthen it to help us. However, within the Sutras it states that, first asana (posture) must be accomplished as the body must be fit and strong to be a good container for the breath. Within this we understand clearly that body must be strengthened for it to hold the breath which is what we do in Yoga and Karate by strengthening the body with postures and kata movements to help build our hara. Bodhidharma reinforced these teachings with Martial Arts where regimented physical conditioning was used to strengthen the mental stamina to help release of Prana/Chi. Are you beginning to see the similarities between Yoga and Karate?
Similarities between Yoga & Karate
In Karate we do Mokuso breathing which is focal breathing in Sesar. In Yoga at the start of a session we tend to sit in sukhasana and close our eyes and try to relax and be in the present moment. Meditation is a central tenant of yoga, calming of the mind. This practice helps to achieve the flow of Prana/Chi in the body by combining breath and posture at the beginning and end of practice.
There are also many postures with similarities between Karate and Yoga. For example, in Yoga a standing position referred to as Tadasana is a posture which allows one to get a feel for weight distribution and also helps to settle and ground oneself. This posture helps to balance chakras within the body near the belly. In Karate, this movement is referred to as the Wu Chi Position (standing meditation). It also helps to calm the mind. Frequently we discuss the weight applied to the ball of the foot as the bubbling spring which triggers Chi and connects with the hara.
In Yoga we also practice a posture referred to as Triyak Tadasana (Palm tree pose). By looking closely at this we observe that the posture correlates with 2 kata movements from Heian Nidan, age uke and ude uke from the beginning of the kata.
Tri Pada ada mukha savasna- (3-legged downward dog) is a yoga pose which feels great on your hips. It encourages length in the spine, strengthens many major muscle groups, and increases hip-joint mobility. From a Karate perspective, it teaches how to keep hips square. This is an interesting point, as without it a KaraTeka is off balance. Other postures such as Virabhadrasana (Warrior 3) where the arms are brought forward and leg pushes back can be correlated with Ushiro Gheri. The plank posture in Yoga applied with bellows by taking a deep breath and then breathing out by drawing your belly towards the spine. This calms the mind. strengthens abdominal region, drains phlegm from lungs.
Overall it may be seen to have a positive effect on the respiratory system whilst energising the body and mind. Yoga postures also form part of the Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation), a series of sequential movements which are practiced repeatedly. There is a strong correlation here between Kata as it too is practiced repeatedly and is a series of sequential movements. Breath precedes the movement in both practices which helps the Chi/Prana to build and flow from its centre (hara).
These are a few examples of correlations between Yoga and Karate that help to achieve both balance and physical conditioning which ultimately helps Prana/Chi to move within the body, aiding calmness, fluidity, self-confidence etc. Buddha taught that the path to peace was through mental discipline and this is one aspect of the practices of Yoga and Karate aim to achieve.