Yoga is a great way to unwind, achieve some inner peace, and improve overall flexibility. But can it double as a cardio and strength-training workout too?
Expert Kelsey Vasileff, yoga instructor and owner of Southern Sqweeze, weighs in.
Beyond Stretch and Meditation
If yoga doesn’t come to mind when thinking of a workout that gets your heart rate up and pushes your muscles to their limit, you’re not alone. But while it may seem like yoga is geared more toward relaxation and peace of mind, there are actually plenty of types that demand a high level of physical exertion and offer a great whole-body workout.
“The aerobic and strength training benefits of yoga depend largely on what kind of yoga you do and the level of intensity you desire,” explains Kelsey. “There are many ways to increase heart rate in a yoga class. Between the rhythmic breathing and moving through poses, your heart will definitely start working hard, especially during those poses that keep you in a chair position for three minutes straight!”
What’s the best type of yoga for cardio?
According to Kelsey, that would be Vinyasa, or “flow” yoga – a powerful style of yoga where you move fluidly from one pose to the next while connecting your breathing to the movement. You can modify the intensity of the pose sequence to be harder or easier, depending on your level of experience and fitness. “Each teacher will guide differently, but for the most part you move a lot!” Kelsey says.
A more cardio-oriented yoga can be challenging and move quicker than other styles, so if you’re trying it for the first time, pace yourself! “If you’re a beginner, it’s really important to pay attention to your breathing and your body,” says Kelsey. “If you start to feel uncomfortable or are struggling with a certain pose, it’s definitely OK to take a break. Often, people feel pressure to do everything the first time, but the poses are just suggestions. Keep in mind that you don’t need to do anything that doesn’t feel right.”
People who are starting out for the first time will also want to be sure to find a great teacher. It’s essential to learn how to do the poses correctly so you don’t hurt yourself.
It’s Not Either/Or
Depending on the type you choose, yoga by itself can be enough to develop fitness, but there’s no reason to sell yourself short by never branching out, either.
“In the beginning, the purpose of yoga was to allow the body to sit still and meditate for a long period of time, so as a type of exercise, you could say it’s been a pairing mechanism from day one,” says Kelsey. “The main reason I think it’s great to pair it with something else is that our bodies love variety.” So take a spin class, go for a run, or do some weight training. Personal trainers and fitness gurus say variation through cross-training is always a good idea, and you might just find yourself a better yogi in the meantime!