Instructor spotlight – meet yoga and BJJ champ Laura Harvey

Instructor spotlight – meet yoga and BJJ champ Laura Harvey

Laura Harvey teaches yoga at Gymbox, and also competes and trains regularly in BJJ, having just scored herself a bronze in the IBJJF London Fall Open 2016. She talks to us about how the two disciplines complement each other, and how practicing both has improved her confidence.

I teach Loaded Yoga at Gymbox Victoria on Tuesdays. It's yoga with ankle and wrist weights, and some added strength building exercises. I also cover Rocket, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow Yoga, so you'll find me around the other clubs teaching those. You coming?

The quality of yoga teaching at Gymbox is really high. The classes always have a good energy to them. Plus it's one of the only places where you'll find innovative concepts and cross-overs between different disciplines.

I also train in BJJ, which I love. Yoga and BJJ compliment each other well. They both work with balance, agility and coordinating movements. For me, personally, the flexibility that yoga has given me stands out in BJJ, and I'm perhaps stronger in my back and arms than the average yogi. I don't have a 'favourite' out of the two, as they both bring different things to the table. But, in both, there is a strong sense of community. They both encourage personal growth, developing a practice of self enquiry as you challenge yourself physically and mentally.

BJJ is essentially a mixture of Japanese ju-jitsu, judo and wrestling. It was developed into it's own sport. It doesn't include any striking – you win via submission (chokes or joint locks), or if no submission is achieved you win on points (for takedowns, advancing position etc.). It's very fluid and is constantly evolving as a sport.... and it's really, really fun!

I was first attracted to BJJ because I knew it relied more on technique than size or strength. I thought this would suit me as I am quite small. I also liked that you can train near 100% without hurting your opponent as there is no striking, and you just tap if you get submitted.

I've loved practicing yoga since I was a little kid. We had a book about it in the house when I was growing up. I guess it's the first 'sport' that ever came naturally to me. I've not looked back.

Both yoga and BJJ have both had a huge impact on my life. I spend almost all my time doing one or the other. I've made many friends and even met my partner through training. I think I've gained a lot of confidence from both disciplines, as I started to appreciate my body for what it can do, rather than finding fault with it.

It's important for me to feel strong as a woman. I like being able to do physical things for myself, and being physically fit opens the door to hundreds of other fun activities. I don't train BJJ for self defence, I think it's a shame that that's the first thing a lot of people think of when they see a woman doing martial arts. BJJ has so much to offer regardless of gender, and the best thing to do in a dangerous situation is to get away if you can.

Yoga is enormously beneficial for building strength. It brings about a really functional strength and supports long term mobility.

There has been a rise in people training and competing in BJJ. his naturally means more women too. I think it's becoming more well known, probably as a result of MMA growing in popularity. I like to think there's some exponential growth involved, the more women that there are training, the more women will feel inspired to get involved.

We can encourage more women to train in martial arts by talking about why they're fun and challenging. Getting away from the idea that you should do them for safety and that you're in danger otherwise. It's such a negative way to sell something that is actually hugely enjoyable and positive.

I've competed in BJJ 15 times. I've won a few times, but it's really the near-wins and the losses that you learn the most from the most. I enjoy competing because it tests what you've been learning in the gym, and it's way out of my comfort zone, which I like trying to overcome.

This past weekend I entered a smaller local competition in Harrow (The Warriors Cup). I won silver in my division and then silver in the open-weight (fighting everyone at my belt level, regardless of weight). I felt I could have got gold in my division as the girl I lost to, I later beat 16:0 in the open-weight. I was very happy to get silver in open-weight as the girl that won that was a lot bigger than me.

I'm not a naturally competitive person. I'm not really that interested in beating other people. However, I do like improving upon my past performances and overcoming the mental and technical obstacles that prevent me from being able to win.

My diet is pretty healthy. I eat mostly vegetarian food, so lots of beans and pulses for protein. I eat meat between 2-4 times a month, and eat too much chocolate. I don't really change my diet for competing.

I'm interested to see where my yoga and BJJ journeys take me. I hope to be able to keep practicing both disciplines into my old age.