Capoeira: An intro, and why it's helping my yoga practice

Last week I tried Capoeira for the first time. If you’re not familiar with it, Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. Its history is quite uncertain but it probably began around the 16th Century my African descendants who have been brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonists as slaves. Their ability to practice martial arts was restricted by their captors, so it is said the dance-like quality of the practice was in part to disguise their training in hope of being able to escape to lands unknown beyond the fences of the sugar cane farms.

When executed well (which isn’t easy) it’s a tremendously formidable, graceful practice, characterised by quick and complex moves, using mainly power, speed, and leverage for a wide variety of kicks, spins, and highly mobile techniques. As a beginner, I had expectations of falling literally flat on my face.

But still. It’s something I’ve had an inkling to try for years, and experience has taught me to follow those “inklings” – some have evolved to form some of the most important parts of my life. So off I went to the London School of Capoeira in Finsbury Park for possible humiliation. I loved it!

Over the course of a 90 minute class Master Marcos led us through a pretty tough session – we stretched and practiced toning exercises and movements to build the foundation of the practice. With my yoga background I could actually do that bit really well – hurray! The second half was dedicated more to actual Capoeira. Beginners and the more experienced were split into groups and we newbies practiced Jinga (the basic side to side movement) and various kicks and swoops.

That element felt very different to yoga, even the more dynamic styles. Circling your legs round, kicking forward and maintaining balance and pose in the midst of a lot of transition was challenging, but I could see how training in this is hugely beneficial. It was also really refreshing not to be on a mat. Yes, it was a lot less comfortable, but more “real” somehow, and somehow liberating not to have your movement restricted to that little rectangular space.

Like yoga, Capoeira is a lifestyle with a host of traditions associated with it, as well as strong use of (traditionally live) music during practice. It is a practice that evolved on the other side of the world to Yoga, in a completely different era. Yet there are enough obvious parallels and differences between Yoga and Capoeira for me to intrigue a yogi: both are physical practices utilising your own body weight with a strong spiritual element. Indeed, Capoeira Yoga fusion is by no means a new ‘thing’: Rick Coe, Carlos Rodriguez (creator of Caponyasa, based in NYC) and Amber Campion (Yogaeira) are at the forefront of the movement. Back in London, the Capoeira Mundo school hosts CapoYoga classes in good old Tooting.

However, for me, I’m first looking to get a basic understanding of the real deal. I ask Silvia, who runs the London School of Capoeira to explain a little more…

Capoeira is a tough discipline! What approach do you take to train your students to become accomplished practitioners?

We recommend that participants train and develop according to their personal best. During the Capoeira sessions at the LSC, we motivate students to cooperate with one another by supporting the less experienced student – we also prepare set sequences (a series of movements in a specific order) with basic movements where participants get a chance to apply the single movement learned in class within a more complex situation which is the game of Capoeira – we call these sequences “mock games”.

Students progress physically as well as develop an understanding for the game of Capoeira. Student progress is identified by instructors and masters and participants are pushed to their next personal best level.

What are the physical benefits to Capoeira?

Hard to quantify but immediately we could list core strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, agility, space awareness and stamina.

What are the mental benefits?

Stress relief, as the training requires focus but at the same time the student can have fun with a variety of challenges. 
Sense of belonging to a group with similar interests

Joy and laughter experienced when playing the Capoeira games.

Confidence and calm

Would you say Capoeira a spiritual practice? If so, how?

With every practice, when you put your heart and soul into it, it becomes special and for some people spiritual. Capoeira offers the spiritual experience to all who search for it, however it is something we find quite personal and do not teach students nor discuss as we believe it should be a journey of choice.

I've heard capoeira described as a lifestyle before, could you explain a little more about that?

I think it can become a life style to those whose lives surrounds around the practice. I would say it is a life style for teachers and masters who often travel to take Capoeira to other Countries, communities, theatres, clubs and etc. Masters often inspire students via the practice of Capoeira to improve their day to day life by focusing on quality over quantity.

Do you have any ideas on how Capoeira might improve someone's yoga practice?

There are similarities but the main difference I would say it is the interaction with a partner which is necessary for the game of Capoeira to take place, where as in Yoga one tends to work alone. The game of Capoeira between two players follow a tempo which is set by the musicians during the Roda (the circle in which Capoeira takes place). The harmony often created between the music, the movement, the game and the circle where the art form takes place would help the Yoga practitioner as well as other participants to test their inner control and at the same time to liberate their full potential of physical and spiritual expression.