By Zara Stone
Boxers may be known for their toughness, but there is one thing many fear: yoga. “They think it’s all bendy women in Lycra,” says Martine Hamers, who teaches a “boxing yoga” class in San Francisco.
By blending traditional yoga asanas, or poses, with boxing drills, this new fitness iteration hopes to attract a more macho audience, one that would benefit from some extra stretching and core building — as well as a little zen in the ring.
In Hamers’ class, you’ll find exercises familiar to practitioners of both sports. Punching, deep breathing, sun salutations that morph into fighting poses with fists clenched as you jab right, swing left. Planks are performed balanced on knuckles, with emphasis placed on elongating the calf muscles, which get shortened in the southpaw stance. Some people wear boxing gloves to class, but wraps or bare hands are more common, as they help build wrist stability.
While the melding of the two practices might sound unnatural, the sequencing flows rather seamlessly. And classes cater to all levels — desk jockeys, for example, will benefit from the shoulder opening drills, which help straighten backs rounded from typing all day. For her part, Hamers, 31, stays away from Sanskrit, explaining that terms like “savasana” and “pranayama” can be off-putting to someone who is just learning downward dog.
Boxing yoga began in England in 2011 as a collaboration between boxing trainer Matt Garcia and fitness coach and former ballerina Kajza Ekberg. After Garcia opened a north London boutique boxing gym, he began looking for ways to improve his boxers’ flexibility and to reduce injury. With the help of Ekberg, the two selected yoga poses that would strengthen and lengthen the body. Their slogan: “Yoga for Tough Guys.”
With 21 studios across England and one in Berlin, demand for classes was so high that Garcia and Ekberg established the Boxing Yoga Coaches Association last year. There are now 100 trained coaches teaching classes in Israel, Ireland, the Netherlands and the U.S. And the market potential is huge: In the U.S. alone, 21 million people practice yoga regularly, creating close to a $9 billion industry.
There has been some resistance from the yoga community, with concerns that boxing clashes with the peaceful ethos yoga is built on. Some who’ve taken a class complain that the “boxing” is more gimmick than substance. Regardless, yoga offers a lesson useful for any athlete, whether a fighter or a dancer, and that is mindfulness. As yoga pioneer Daniel Lacerda, aka Mr. Yoga, says, “You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”