It’s not difficult to sell someone on the benefits of yoga: There’s the increased flexibility, protection from injury, improved respiration and energy, weight reduction, stress reduction and mental clarity. Plus, yoga is appropriate for all fitness levels. The same can be said about the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, which is why combining these two forms of physical activity into one workout is such a brilliant idea.
How to combine yoga & cardio
International yoga expert Claire Grieve recommends two ways you can use yoga for a cardio workout. “You can either do an intense, quick-paced vinyasa yoga flow that gets your heart pumping and serves as its own cardio workout or use yoga as a balance to complement your cardio workout,” she tells SheKnows.
To build a workout that includes both cardio and yoga, Dr. Diane Malaspina, Yoga Medicine therapeutic specialist, tells SheKnows to use a high-intensity interval approach: intensity (cardio) paired with weighted movement (yoga). To create intensity, pair two yoga poses by inhaling into one and exhaling into the other, repeating until fatigue.
Yoga moves to include in a cardio workout
Here are a few of Malaspina’s favorite yoga moves to include in your next cardio workout:
Mountain pose to low squat to Mountain pose
Start standing tall with your feet wider than your hips and your toes turned out. Inhale and stand tall, and on the exhale, bend your knees and lower down into a squat. If there is knee discomfort, stay higher, resting your hands on your knees. If there is no knee pain, go all the way down so your elbows come to your inner thighs and hips hover above the floor. Try to keep your heels on the ground. Inhale, then stand. Exhale, then lower your body into a squat. Repeat 10 times and work up to 20 repetitions. This movement works the hamstrings and glutes, keeps the heart rate high and maintains heat in the body.
Runner’s Lunge hop switch
Come into Runner’s Lunge position by putting your right leg forward with your left knee lifted. Stack your right knee over your right ankle. Your hands should frame either side of your right foot. Extend forward through your spine. Press your hands into the ground (blocks can add stability). As you breathe, lift your hips slightly and hop your right foot back and your left foot forward, coming into Runner’s Lunge left side. Then hop and switch again so you are in Runner’s Lunge with your right foot forward. Once you get the hopping and switching down, pair the movement with the breath. Inhale, lift your hips and hop. Then exhale and land into the lunge (finding stability through the feet). Continue at a moderate to fast pace for 10 rounds, ending with your left foot forward. Repeat 10 times and work up to 20 repetitions. This movement will maintain a higher heart rate and stretch and strengthen the hip flexors. It also enhances agility and strengthens the core.
Twisting Chair pose
Start by standing with your feet straight and big toes together. Exhale and sit back into Chair pose. Bring your hands to your heart in Prayer pose. Look down: You should be able to see your toes; also notice your knees are together and even. Throughout the sequence, you’ll maintain holding the lower body in Chair pose. Inhale, and on your exhale, twist to the right, bringing your left elbow to almost touch your right outer knee (keep the knees and hips squaring forward). Staying in Chair position, inhale and twist back center with your hands to your heart. Exhale and twist to the left, bringing your right elbow to almost touch your left outer knee (keep the knees and hips squaring forward). Inhale back to center (Chair position). Repeat five times for each side and work up to 10. This movement strengthens the hamstrings, inner thighs, outer hips and glutes; it also engages the oblique and transverse abdominis muscles of the core.
Add Upward Facing Dog to burpees
Start by standing. Bring your hands to the floor and hop your legs back to push-up position. Keep your hips at the same level as your shoulders and your belly, drawing in. Exhale, bending your elbows to a Half-Push-Up pose, keeping your elbows alongside your ribs. Then, inhale and flip your toes so the top of your foot is on the mat. Next, pull your chest forward, allowing your hips to drop and straighten your arms, lifting your chest (this is Upward Facing Dog). Then go back to Half-Push-Up position, push up to regular Push-Up position, hop forward and stand up. Repeat with each burpee. This strengthens the upper body and keeps the heart rate high.
Bridge pose rollups
Come to your back with you knees bent and hip-width apart and your knees over your ankles. Point your toes straight and forward. Bring your arms alongside your torso with your palms facing down. Inhale, and starting from your hips, slowly lift your hips, then each vertebra from your low back up your spine, keeping your upper back and head down while reaching your arms up and overhead into Bridge pose. Exhale, and from your upper spine, slowly lower each vertebra until your hips are on the floor while lowering your arms back down. Repeat 10 times. This strengthens the back of the body and opens the front of the body, transitioning from intensity to recovery.
For a heart-pumping workout, Grieve recommends doing these intense poses in sequence at a fast pace.
Sun salutations is a series of postures that warm up the body and wake up your inner energy. They will get your heart pumping while strengthening your major muscle groups.
Knee to nose
Begin in Downward Dog pose. Get on all fours, tuck your toes and lift your hips. Drop your head so your neck is long and palms are flat on the mat. From here, lift one leg high in line with your body. Keep the opposite heal on the ground. Lower your leg and repeat on the other side. You are now in the Down Dog Split.
Starting from Down Dog Split, shift your shoulders over your wrists and draw your knee into your nose. Try to kiss your knee as you activate your core. This pose has all the strengthening benefits of a Plank pose and also digs deeper into the abdomen, helping to tone muscles you may not be hitting when you do crunches.
Begin in a Push Up position on your hands or forearms and toes; lengthen all the way from the crown of your head to your heels. Keep your core pulled into your spine with your back flat. Plank pose is one of the most effective exercises, as it not only strengthens the core but also strengthens the wrists, shoulders, chest, buttock, spinal muscles, triceps and neck.
Inhale and raise your arms up to the sky, allowing your shoulders to relax away from your ears. As you exhale, start to bend your knees and lower your hips down as if you are sitting in a chair. Sit down even lower; shift your weight onto your heels as you lengthen your lower back and lift up through your heart. Hold for up to one minute. Chair pose generates heat in your body and works many major muscles — including your triceps, deltoids, abs, spine muscles, glutes, hamstrings and lower legs — all at once.
Begin in a Low Lunge position and drop your back knee to the mat. Raise your arms above your head. Exhale and deepen into the forward lunge. Inhale to come out, bringing your front knee back over your ankle. Repeat on the other side. This is Crescent position.
Start in Crescent pose with squared hips. Engage your core as you begin to lean forward. Keep extending your arms parallel and actively reach as you lift your back leg. Flex your foot as if you are pressing into an imaginary wall. Stretch through your whole body and keep your gaze a few feet in front of you. Remember to breathe and hold for 30 seconds. Warrior 3 is the ultimate lengthening and energy pose.
High-Low Boat pose
Sit on your butt with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Extend your arms, reaching your hands forward toward your legs. Inhale as you lean back while engaging your core. Extend your arms straight out past your knees. Raise your feet and slowly start straightening your legs, bringing your body into a V-shape. With an exhale and control, start to lower your upper body and lower body simultaneously until you are a few inches above with ground with your upper back and feet. Inhale and, with control, keeping your stomach pulled into your spine, raise your upper body and lower body. Repeat 10 times or more. This pose strengthens the core, builds balance and is great for your posture. It also stretches the hamstrings and hip flexors.
So, if you’re up for some yoga but not for a traditional cardio workout, these poses can be a great option. Best of all, you can do them from the comfort of your own home.
A version of this story was published November 2018.
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