After a long day at work, exercise might be the last thing you want to do. We know we should, but the couch just looks so much more appealing than an exercise bike. That’s why Sujata Martin turned to yoga.
“It helped me with the relaxation of the mind and body, so I could get a good workout physically and mentally decompress and get some good stress reduction,” says Martin, who works in health care and is a board member at Yoga Parkside, a non-profit yoga studio in Buffalo.
Sara Szeglowski, owner of Shine Yoga, agrees. “Many of us have disengaged from our bodies, are overwhelmed by our thoughts and have shut out our emotional awareness in order to survive. Doing yoga is a means of taking back your life by using specific tools and practices in a safe space,” she says.
While it can be relaxing, the yogis say make no mistake: yoga can be a cardio workout in itself!
Beverly Rose, the co-owner of evolation yoga buffalo, says “A faster paced class may introduce more cardiovascular exercise and a slower paced or more restorative style can be great for focusing more on flexibility or meditation.”
“If we are looking to do yoga for weight loss or a sweat session, there are specific kinds of yoga that will achieve the same thing with much lower impact on your joints,” Martin says.
If you’re looking for a yoga class that has a little more cardio, she recommends trying a style like vinyasa. “There’s a whole cycle of postures going from a back bend to down dog to plank to forward fold and you do them without a break 108 times. If you’re good at that, it will take you about an hour. That’s a more advanced skill, so we give people breaks and let them listen to their bodies.”
The way yoga focuses on breathing can give it similar effects to a cardio workout. If you still want to get your heart pumping using your traditional methods, yoga can be a great compliment.
“If you already have an exercise routine, incorporating a slower-paced yoga class can be perfect for a recovery or more restful day. You could use a short yoga exercise as a warm-up or cool down. It provides an ability to have body and breath awareness. This connection to body and breath can be carried with you during any exercise,” says Rose.
Plus, yoga can give you more of an awareness to the workouts you’re already doing.
“Awareness of breath and staying connected to that, awareness of how your body is moving, and awareness of your limits, like how far you can push and when you need rest. Finding this awareness with no judgment of the body and even enjoyment in this body connection is especially important for the enjoyment of the exercise,” says Rose.
“Yoga gives your body longevity and allows you to move more freely, in better alignment, with stamina. All of these things make cardio safer and more effective,” says Szeglowski.
“A yoga practice also works smaller stabilizing muscles not often considered in other exercises,” Rose adds. “Building these muscles helps you support your own body while doing cardiovascular exercise, without putting too much strain on your joints, ligaments, and tendons. Yoga is also beneficial to help with balance, another important component of cardiovascular exercise.”
Many people notice increased performance across all their workouts after incorporating yoga into their workouts
“Runners find a lot of benefits like hip openers. It helps optimize their running. If they want a true [yoga] cardio workout, they can find a workout like hot yoga or power yoga or do a series of poses without a break,” says Martin.
If you’re hesitant about trying yoga or have physical limitations, don’t be intimidated.
“Especially now with people who are older adults or have physical limitations, we do chair yoga, which can give you a higher heart rate too. That’s the beauty of yoga: it’s totally adaptive to a wide range of abilities and it can be as intense as you want. We try to find the purpose of why you are doing this workout and find you the right type of yoga,” she says.
“It’s important to remember that yoga is not just a movement exercise but is also intended as a form of meditation. Because of this, yoga compliments not only the physical benefits of cardiovascular exercise, but the mental benefits as well,” says Martin.