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HARMONIE: “Yoga helps me be better at combat sports”

Do you do combat sports and need a sport to help you sharpen your focus? Yogi/boxer Harmonie explains her personal experience.

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When you think about boxing, what probably comes to mind is the ring, the fighting, the gloves, the punches... When you think about yoga, you imagine soft music, tranquillity, a sense of calm... While these two sports seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, they're actually surprisingly compatible. Harmonie, a sales assistant and combat sports leader at Decathlon City in Lille, France, explains her journey between the ring and the yoga mat.

Hi Harmonie. Can you tell us a little about how you got into sports?

I started judo when I was four, and continued until 2013. I participated in a lot of national and international competitions and was a black belt. I joined the army in 2012 and started doing other sports. During my years in the army, I did grappling, boxing and Muay Thai. And since I got out of the army just over a year ago, I've continued doing these sports.

 

So where does yoga fit into all that?

I started doing yoga two years ago. It's funny—people don't realise, but yoga is a sport that's complementary to a lot of sports. I started because being in the army, I was under a lot of stress and needed to relax, to take care of myself, and I was curious about yoga. I started at a gym and that's when I saw how great it was when doing combat sports too. I also became more flexible and it really sharpened my concentration. Before I had a hard time concentrating, but yoga helped a lot—and now when I box, for example, my mind is much clearer. I'm able to take my time, think and be less impulsive than before. And, of course, it helps me relax and unwind. It's a time when I can forget everything, I'm in my own world, truly in the present, and it really does me a lot of good.

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How else has yoga changed your day-to-day?
It's helped me relax a lot, and when you add a spiritual dimension to your practice as I do, you learn to take things in stride. I think about it a lot every day. For example, last Friday, my boss was having back pain, and I showed her a helpful yoga pose. Even when I'm doing sport, I warm up with a sun salutation to get my whole body ready. It's good on both a physical and a spiritual level.


You do a lot of sport—what does a typical week look like for you?
I do combat sports every day, and Thursday nights I run when I get home and then do yoga. I started with video classes and now I build my own sequences. I read a lot to create my sequences and I draw from my former teacher. I do a second yoga session on Sunday mornings—it helps me get my day off right and gives me some time to myself. Sometimes I come to the store to do yoga, when there aren't a lot of people in the morning—I do two or three poses to start the day.


Before taking up yoga, was there anything holding you back?
Not really, but it's true that your first yoga class can seem a little strange. Like everyone, when you start it can feel weird to chant, and you think 'where am I?'! So, yes, I had some preconceived notions, but they didn't stop me. I wanted to learn, so I went and was pleasantly surprised because the people in the classes were really open-minded and welcoming.

You started out at a gym and then switched to doing yoga at home. Was the transition easy?

One thing that is great about yoga is that you can do it at home. However, I do think it's best to start practising with someone who knows what they're doing, because they can help adjust your alignment, and there are people who are great at calming you with just the sound of their voice. And, for me, video classes just weren't working. I couldn't concentrate, I kept getting distracted by the noises around me, so it wasn't long before I was putting my own sequences together. Now, I take an hour to just do yoga. I use my essential oils, incense, and put on music that I choose. It's really time just for me. I plan my sequences to know what poses I'm going to work on and focus on a particular aspect.

What surprised you about yoga?

One good surprise was how you feel in your body. At the beginning, you're really uncomfortable, but as you keep going, you start to let go and your body relaxes and becomes more flexible rather quickly, which does you an amazing amount of good. Another thing is how relaxing it is. It doesn't happen all that often, but when you manage to really just be in your world, listening to the person's voice, you're able to focus, etc. It doesn't last long, but it feels incredible.

What kind of yoga do you do now?

Usually, I do hatha yoga, which is an asana-based practice with a long history, and I also do vinyasa, which is more dynamic.

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What's the atmosphere like in a yoga class?

To start, everyone says hello, no one is left out, and it's quite welcoming. Then, during the class, everyone is on their own mat—you don't look at everyone else, it's not a competition to see who can stretch the farthest. There's a real sense of benevolence, everyone practises at their own level. Even when it's time to chant the mantras, no one is looking at you. There's a feeling of togetherness between everyone and the teachers are usually very attentive.

One last question—what advice would you give to a newcomer?

I'd tell them to go for it—keep an open mind and start by taking a class. I also think it's important to not have a particular goal in mind, to just go to enjoy it and progress will come on its own. You should always be kind to yourself and never force anything.

Harmonie: “Yoga helps me be better at combat sports”

JUSTINE

Sport Advice Communication Team

Born swimmer and former regional cycling champion (OK, so I was only 10)