Y O G A and COMBAT SPORTS: What are the benefits?

May 2018

Yoga is a huge part of recovery for athletes. We mostly want to work on our past injuries or prevent new ones coming... Our main problem, however, is that we either don’t know enough about yoga poses or that we underestimate the power yoga has in working on those tense muscles and relaxing our body and mind.


Veronique Ruggirello is an inspirational woman and yoga instructor from France and her main focus is basic yoga style, hot yoga, core yoga, yin yoga, yoga for BJJ, and pre and post-natal yoga.
As she says ‘ The teacher is not your mirror but your guide. You'll not see me in front of you on the mat. But next to you.’

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Veronique Rugirello 

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you come to yoga? And teaching?

I came across yoga in 2006 in Beirut when I was 37. I was a heavy smoker, my job was interesting but demanding, and to be honest I was quite lost. I had always associated yoga with meditation and vegetarianism, neither of which I was interested in. However a friend of mine who was workaholic and had a hyperactive disposition, someone who did not fit with the yoga stereotype I had in mind, invited me to an ashtanga course. She explained the peace of mind yoga brought as  ‘after a yoga lesson you are so tired you just need your bed’.


I started yoga unexpected way because, at that time, yoga meant for me meant meditation and vegetarian, both things I was not into. A friend of mine, work-alcoholic and hyper active, a person that you never think could seat, close her eyes and breath invited me to start Ashtanga courses with this very straight to the point explanation: “After the lesson you don’t even think about eating, smoking, you just need your bed”.


I started with Dainele Abissab, now the owner of Union Square Yoga. I found being focused on the breath, and being present in every moment very difficult. This is where I realised that we live in an automatic mode of existence, taking our health for granted not appreciating what we have. This was the start of my long journey to refocus myself, learning the benefits of yoga, and living by the principle that the journey is more important than the destination. Since then, yoga has helped me keep a straight path as well as posture. I always joke that when your head is down in a headstand it helps to keep your ideas up!


Here I started, with Daniele Abissab (now owner of Union Square Yoga).  What did I found the most difficult? Being focused and breath in each moment, being here and now in your posture if you don’t want to lose your balance, in fact being here and now in your life if you don’t want to lose it. This how I realised that we live in an automatism mode, taking for granted our health and never appreciating what we have. I started a long journey to refocus on myself, learn the benefits of yoga, and learn to apply a major principle: the journey is more important than the destination. Since then, I must say that yoga always helped me to go through hard time and stay up and straight, walk with a block on your head instead of bending. I always say to joke that when your head is down in head stand it helps to get your ideas up!


I began to teach when I moved to Cyprus. My husband trains BJJ and I started to help him with his mobility with stretches after training. After seeing the benefits he experienced from practicing Yoga, I decided I wanted to share this with other athletes. I did my teacher training with Yoga Style in Paris with a former Rugby player who became involved with Yoga through his work as a physiotherapist. I work with the Yoga philosophy, but working with athletes requires more knowledge and I had the opportunity to work with Aspida team RG Cyprus who offered me a wonderful platform to teach and share yoga as art of the Aspida annual BJJ Beach Camp.


Teaching came later, when I arrive in Cyprus. My husband is a BJJ addict and I started to help in the after-training stretching process. It is the mirror effect: when someone says that yoga helped a lot in recovering, and regaining mobility you understand that maybe you can have an added value and transmit the experience of yoga benefits. This is one of the reason why I decided to focus on athletes. Because it helps. I did my teacher training with Yoga Style in Paris with a former rugby-man who discovered and get involved in yoga through his job of physiotherapist. Understanding anatomy was very important. Yoga philosophy is essential but working with injured bodies requires more. I had then the opportunity to train myself as a teacher thanks to Aspida team RG Cyprus who offered me a wonderful platform to teach and also to propose some complementary yoga as part of the Aspida annual BJJ Beach camp.   



How can yoga help athletes?

Yoga is an all inclusive practice to help recovery or gain mobility and flexibility, and to learn how to focus through breathing. As an athlete, you push your body to its limit, whilst in yoga you teach your body to respect some limits, putting your body in postures to give space for recovery, allowing for healing to occur.


Yoga is a “all inclusive” practise to recover, gain or re-gain mobility and flexibility, and to learn how to focus through breathing. When you are an athlete, you force your body to reach some goals in order to be able to compete, while in yoga your body forces you to respect some limits, to listen and to feel. This does not mean that you are just relaxing. It means that you give the necessary time and the appropriate posture to be able to recover and get your body ready to accept some new challenges.


According to your experience what are the main problems athletes experience when training?

I believe that “over” is a word I would use to describe athletes problems:over training, over stretching, over supplementing. Athletes push their limits to compete, until the body stops them in its own way - through injury.


“Over” this is the word that I would use to qualify athlete’s problems, not as a judgment, only as a fact: over training, over protein doses, over stretch. An athlete, means competition, and competition means going beyond your limits, until your body will tell you “stop” in its way: injuries

How would you suggest women (who train) could incorporate yoga in their daily lives?


Yoga could be considered like a supplement, the same way you have a food supplement. The major thing is to have a good teacher who can explain and modify some postures in order to protect injuries and aid their healing. Yoga is not a competition and you should not feel that you have anything to prove in class, you go only as far as your body can go, and work within the limits it gives you. This way you will improve without injury. I see a lot of athletes trying to over do a posture in order to be the first one up or the one who can go further in a pose. I can see it in the breathing, when it is not calm and controlled. In yoga your body need to open at its own pace, so you need to be patient.


As said above, yoga is a “all-inclusive” practice, so it could be considered like a supplement, the same way you have food supplement. The major point is to have a good teacher who can explain how to modify some postures in order to avoid some injuries especially knees, wrist and ankles. Why? Because when you are an athlete, it take some times to understand that yoga is not a competition, there are no medals, and that you don’t need to prove but only to feel. I saw lots of athletes trying to “over” do a posture in order to be the “first one up to the limits where the weakness parts (knees, wrist and ankles) can broke. And I could see it in the breathing, when the breath sound like a fitness one. In yoga your body needs to open at its own pace, so you need to be patient;


It is better to practice seriously and conscientiously for 20 minutes rather than 60 minutes without thought. I would also advice not to do a 60-90 minute yoga session after training because your body needs to rest. I would recommend warming stretching and post training stretches. A full yoga session would be best on your rest day.


Before to propose suggestions, it is important to understand that it is better to practice seriously, conscientiousness during 20 mn than 60 mn once a week between two shopping sessions. It is also important to NEVER go on a complete yoga session (60 or 90 min) after training because your body needs to rest! You can have warming and post training stretches but not a complete yoga session. This one should be considered during your resting day.



I suggest:

  • A daily warm up (max 20 minutes) that you do before training or in the morning. 5 Sun Salutation A and then 5 Sun Salutation B, Triangle, Revolved Triangle and one Yin Yoga pose for hips and shoulders. It is enough to stretch your spine, your legs, your arms, your lower back, to open your hips and twist.

  • A mandatory post-training stretching (max 20 min) to release the tension in your muscles and avoid contracting. It should include seated forward bend, Hand-to-big toes pose, half pigeon but no Sun Salutations.

  • One or two weekly complete yoga sessions (60 or 90 min), if you respect your warm up and post-training sessions.

    I recommend Hatha Yoga or Yin Yoga because they are the ones which help recovery and regain flexibility. For me Yin Yoga is the most appropriate form of yoga for athletes because it focuses on the deep tissues, the
    fascia’s, also called the second skeleton.

Can yoga help with menstruation? What is your advice around this then?

During menstruation it is not recommended that you practice for the first 2 days, firstly because it is not comfortable and your energy is low, and second because when you bleed you can’t do inverted postures so that you don’t invert the bleeding process.


Is there anything else you think is important to share?


Yes, alignment and the use of props is very important. Many people complain that they have been injured practicing Yoga. It is essential that you respect the alignment and the limits of your body. Secondly it is important to use props - it is not a sign of weakness to have help, it is a sign of strength to recognise your limits and work with your body.


Yes, the respect of the alignment and the use of props. You hear today more and more people saying they have been injured with yoga. Strange? Not at all when you don’t respect the alignment and the limits of your body. The second important think is also to use props like blocks and belts. This is not a weakness. Some students think that if they use a block they will be seen as weaker. It is a strength to accept who you are and stop to imitate your mat neighbors.

For women who don’t have much spare time are there any yoga poses you would prioritize?


It is better to practice for 20 minutes every day rather than 2 hours once a week. Sun Salutations are brilliant, so if you do not have time, try to do 5 Sun Salutations A and 5 Sun Salutations B.


Are there different poses targeted for women who practice boxing, wrestling, taekwondo, BJJ etc?


Yoga postures can be adapted to each sport, you have to learn to “feel” where your body needs to be stretched. For example I never recommend Sun Salutation in BJJ post-training stretching because a BJJ athlete has already used their arms and wrists throughout their training and it would be counterproductive to work them further in down dog or upward facing dog.