How to Make Yoga a More Challenging Workout
You can go low and slow with yoga and reap some serious mental benefits, but these tips will turn up your practice if you really want it to burn.
Many think yoga requires a trade-off: Go with the classic variety for a mental cleanse, or do a souped-up version with weights and boot camp moves folded in to bring real body results. But new research shows that the regular poses and flow routine can be just as intense.
A review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that certain common poses-like triangle, standing bow, and warrior III-meet the requirements for moderate-intensity exercise, thanks to the energy it takes your body to hold such significant contractions.
Plus, sun salutations-which burned up to eight calories per minute (for a 140-pound woman), the equivalent of a moderate-intensity Spinning class-were classified as aerobically intense when done by regular yogis. In other words, you don't have to dilute the om factor to get at the body changing.
"Incorporate poses that have higher energy expenditure, or hold them for longer," suggests lead study author D. Enette Larson-Meyer, Ph.D.
You can also modify poses to demand more from your muscles (try the variations by CrossFlow X creator Heidi Kristoffer below), or increase the speed or advance the type of transitions between asanas: Jumping to and from plank during sun salutations and doing a full push-up will be a higher intensity than stepping back and forth and dropping your knees for chaturanga, Larson-Meyer says.
Note: Not all yoga is vigorous enough to count towards your exercise goals. You'll need to target your flow if you want to hit the minimum intensity for it to "count." You'll know you've crossed over into that moderate-to-intense range when you start to breathe harder, says Larson-Meyer. (That said, there's definitely a place in your routine for a mindful, restorative yoga flow too.)
- Fierce Triangle: Stand with feet wide and arms at sides. Rotate right foot 90 degrees to right and left foot 45 degrees to right. Extend arms overhead, lean torso to right, and press hips toward left. Bend right elbow to drop right hand between shoulder blades, and bend left elbow to reach left hand up your midback to clasp right hand [shown]. Reach elbows back to open chest and hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.
- Dancer Roll-Up: Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at sides. Shift weight onto left leg as you bend right leg back and up to grab outer edge of foot with right hand (lightly press the foot away from you). Keep chest lifted and reach left arm forward and up to start. Slowly bend forward, reaching left hand to the floor, slightly arching your spine. Slowly reverse to start position for 1 rep. Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
- Peaceful Half-Moon: Lunge with left leg forward, right leg straight, and toes turned out. Reach left arm back and up, gaze up, slide right arm down your leg to start. Shift weight onto left leg and straighten it, reaching left arm to touch floor. Float right leg up and reach arm back and up. Gaze at your hand. Reverse to start position for 1 rep. Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat. (Scale it down: Bend your standing leg or reach to a yoga block.)
Quick Tip: Tweak Your Gaze
"Where you position your neck, head, and eyes has major impact on your alignment," says Claire Grieve, a yoga pro in Los Angeles. During chaturanga, rather than look back at your feet-which throws off your alignment-gaze slightly forward with your neck in a straight line with your spine. (Try Claire's yoga flow for strengthening and stretching your legs.)