Cardio yoga is a popular style of exercise that combines yoga with cardiovascular, or cardio, exercises.
It has become increasingly popular among those who enjoy the relaxation benefits of yoga but demand more intensity.
This article explains everything you need to know about cardio yoga, including its benefits, specific workouts, and how it compares with other forms of cardio.
What is cardio yoga?
The practice has become increasingly popular throughout the world as a means to relieve stress, improve sleep, boost mental and emotional health, and relieve general low back and neck pain (Trusted Source).
While there are many types of yoga, Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced, referring to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures (Trusted Source).
Most yoga classes — ashtanga, vinyasa, and power yoga — are hatha yoga.
This is because they focus on breathing techniques, body flow, and postures, rather than dynamic movements that ramp up the intensity and elevate your heart rate.
Conversely, cardio yoga workouts involve performing yoga-inspired movements at a quicker pace and with continuous flow to engage more muscles and challenge your cardiovascular, or circulatory, system.
Unlike traditional yoga, which focuses on breathing techniques, body flow, and postures, cardio yoga incorporates more dynamic movements that ramp up the intensity and elevate your heart rate.
Specific cardio yoga workouts
Because there’s not an accepted definition of cardio yoga, instructors may mix in their own favorite movements and movement sequences.
While yoga is generally safe, make sure you’re on a flat surface and don’t have any conditions that may interfere with balance, such as neuropathy or orthopedic-related limitations (Trusted Source).
Here are a few moderate-intensity cardio yoga workouts to try that work all your major muscle groups, including your arms, chest, back, and legs (Trusted Source).
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)
Surya Namaskar, commonly known as the Sun Salutation, is a series of postures performed in a sequence (Trusted Source).
Here is the sequence:
- Samasthiti. Start standing up straight with your feet together and weight evenly distributed. Your shoulders should be rolled back and your hands should be hanging by your side with your chin parallel to the ground.
- Urdhva hastasana. Inhale and bend your knees slightly, raising your arms over your head. Bring your palms together and look at your thumbs.
- Uttanasana. Exhale and straighten your legs. Bend forward from the hips and bring your hands down. Relax your neck.
- Urdvah uttanasana. Inhale and lengthen your spine, looking forward and opening your shoulders.
- Chaturanga dandasana. Exhale and jump or step your feet back. Bend your elbows and keep them tucked into your sides. Lower your body. You may either keep your knees off the floor, or modify the exercise by bringing your knees to the ground.
- Urdhva mukha svanasana. Inhale and point your toes away from your body. Lift your chest while your knees stay off the ground. Open your shoulders and look up to the sky.
- Adho mukha svanasana. Exhale and tuck your toes under, lifting your hips and bringing your shoulders down. Look at your navel. You may wish to stay in this position for up to five deep breaths.
- Urdhva uttanasana. Inhale and jump or step your feet together between your hands, lengthen the spine and look to the front while opening your shoulders (same as step 4).
- Uttanasana. Exhale and lower the crown of your head toward the ground and relax your neck (same as step 3).
- Urdhva hastasana. Inhale and bend your knees, raising your arms over your head and bringing your palms together while looking at your thumbs (same as step 2).
- Samasthiti. Exhale and straighten your legs, bringing your arms to your sides (same as step 1).
Complete this sequence at a relatively quick pace and repeat it for 20 minutes with no rest in between to keep your heart rate elevated.
Here are other movements that you can do as part of a sequence:
- Child’s pose pushup. Starting in a kneeling plank position, perform a kneeling pushup then sit back onto your heels with your arms extended in front (child’s pose). Bring your body forward into the kneeling plank position and repeat.
- Leg lift pigeon sequence. Starting in plank pose, slightly lift your hips as you raise your left leg toward the ceiling. Slowly pull the left leg back down and through, tucking your knee in toward your chest. Lift your left leg again toward the ceiling, and this time as you pull your left knee through, allow the outer portion of your left leg to rest on the floor as you lower your left glute down. Return to the starting position and repeat with your right let.
- Walk downs. Starting from a standing position, bend at the hips and walk yourself down to a plank position. Push yourself into downward facing dog by pushing your hips to the sky. Hold this position for 1–2 seconds. Slowly walk yourself back, maintaining hand contact with the floor. Return to the standing position and repeat.
Perform each movement 10–15 times before moving onto the next exercise.
You can separate these movements with 30-second activities like jumping jacks, air squats, and stationary lunges to keep your body moving and heart rate elevated.
These cardio yoga workouts are of moderate aerobic intensity and utilize all the major muscle groups.
Although yoga has been suggested to aid weight loss, studies have found conflicting results.
A review of 30 studies including over 2,000 participants found that yoga did not affect weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, or body fat percentage (Trusted Source).
However, when the researchers analyzed studies in people with overweight or obesity, yoga was found to significantly reduce BMI.
Still, some variables, such as different types of bias among the studies, may have influenced the study results.
In either case, while beginner to intermediate-level yoga sessions aren’t typically considered adequate for improving cardiovascular fitness, more intensive forms of yoga like cardio yoga can train your heart while increasing calories burned and aiding weight loss (Trusted Source).
That said, performing cardio yoga at least 5 times per week for 30 minutes may help you lose weight, if that’s your goal (Trusted Source).
Generally, reducing your daily calorie intake by 500 is sufficient for weight loss (Trusted Source).
You can estimate your calorie needs by using a calorie needs calculator.
Performing cardio yoga can ramp up calorie burning and aid weight loss in combination with a low calorie diet.
Comparison with other cardio exercises
One MET represents the number of calories you burn at rest based on the amount of oxygen you consume.
An exercise that is 3 METs requires you to use approximately three times the oxygen compared with 1 MET (at rest), meaning it requires more energy and burns more calories.
A review of 17 studies demonstrated that the METs of yoga ranges from 2 METs during a basic yoga class to 6 METs with Surya Namaskar for an average of 2.9 METs (Trusted Source).
For comparison, here are the METs of common forms of cardio :
- walking, moderate pace: 4.8 METs
- elliptical, moderate effort: 5 METs
- jogging, average pace: 7 METs
- biking, average pace: 7 METs
- hiking: 7.8 METs
- stair climbing, fast pace: 8.8 METs
- running, average pace: 9.8 METs
Based on the MET values, yoga at 2.9 METs significantly underperforms when it comes to energy usage and therefore calories burned.
However, at 6 METs, Surya Namaskar and other yoga-inspired cardio workouts may be comparable to exercising on an elliptical at a moderate effort but less intense than jogging at an average pace in regards to calories burned (Trusted Source).
Interestingly, Surya Namaskar may not only increase calories burned but also help build muscle.
In one study, participants performed 24 cycles of Surya Namaskar, 6 days a week for 6 months (Trusted Source).
At the end of the study, participants demonstrated increased muscle strength when performing bench and shoulder press exercises.
However, the study lacked a control group, which prevents a cause and effect relationship.
Additional studies are necessary to determine whether yoga or more intense cardio yoga workouts can increase muscle strength or size.
More intense versions of yoga like cardio yoga burn a similar number of calories as exercising on an elliptical at a moderate effort but fewer calories than jogging.
The Take Away
Cardio yoga is a more intense version of traditional yoga, which is generally not thought of as cardio.
It combines yoga-inspired and dynamic movements in various sequences to increase and sustain an elevated heart rate, helping train your heart and burn calories.
Cardio yoga outperforms walking at a moderate pace or exercising on an elliptical at a moderate effort — but not jogging, hiking, or running — in regards to calories burned.
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