Thanks for the plug, Mark! Yes, Brenda's article was very interesting.
I ought to stress right away that I don't teach yoga - I only started yoga ten years ago, and for the first few years my practice was pretty irregular. However, my wife (also called Brenda!) is an experienced yoga teacher who also did a couple of years of aikido a while back, so there has been plenty of fascinating cross-fertilisation.
I think for me the benefits of yoga to aikido really fall into two categories.
First of all there are the general health benefits of regular yoga practice, which Brenda McLuskie summarises well in her article and, as she says, these have definite applications to aikido. Proper stretching has very definite positive effects on health, and of course the relaxation one learns through yoga practice can be of great help in the whole of one's life. As Brenda points out, having a supple and relaxed body is a great advantage on the tatami, and makes ukemi much safer and more enjoyable.
What I am finding very interesting at the moment, in addition, is the amount of common ground between yoga and aikido. The fact that several of these things are taught explicitly in yoga, but hardly ever mentioned in aikido classes, means that I am becoming increasingly aware of these aspects in my own aikido practice (it's quite uncanny, actually, that some of the things I'm learning in yoga now resonate with things Kanetsuka Sensei has said over many years, but which have lain buried deep in my subconscious...).
Just some of the common points in the physical approaches in both disciplines:
- The use of skeletal alignment instead of muscular strength (think of suwariwaza kokyu-ho or hiriki yosei-ho, for instance);
- Opening the chest area: I find that keeping the sternum raised and the area below the collar bones soft and open is of great help in relaxing the arms, and this feeling of breadth is very helpful in ikkyo, for example;
- Development of the "warrior back": cultivating a strong, broad and firmly rooted feeling in the back of the body makes techniques feel very different (I find that most people in an aikido dojo are very much more aware of the front of the body than of the back, and this is where practising with the eyes closed can help);
- Awareness of the feet: how the body weight is shared by the toes, balls, heels and inner and outer arches of the feet (think of Gozo Shioda's remarks of how kokyu power is generated).
Our workshop next month will be aimed at both aikido and yoga practitioners, and we will be exploring several of these points. There is a leaflet here: