Benefits, guide and comparison

Cardio yoga is a popular style of exercise that combines yoga with cardiovascular or cardio exercises.

It has become increasingly popular among those who appreciate the relaxing 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 to other forms of cardio.

Rooted in Indian philosophy, yoga focuses on poses, breathing techniques, and meditation practices to improve awareness and relieve anxiety (1).

The practice has become increasingly popular around the world as a means of relieving stress, improving sleep, improving mental and emotional health, and relieving general lower back and neck pain (2, 3).

While there are many types of yoga, Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced, referring to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures (4).

Most yoga classes – ashtanga, vinyasa, and power yoga – are hatha yoga.

Although these types of yoga differ in the series, movement and rhythm of physical postures, they are generally not considered cardio or aerobic exercises (5).

This is because they focus on breathing techniques, body circulation and postures, rather than dynamic movements that increase intensity and elevate your heart rate.

Conversely, cardio yoga workouts involve performing yoga-inspired movements at a faster pace and with a continuous flow to engage more muscles and challenge your cardiovascular or circulatory system.

Summary

Unlike traditional yoga, which focuses on breathing techniques, body fluidity, and postures, cardio yoga incorporates more dynamic movements that increase intensity and elevate your heart rate.

Because there is no accepted definition of cardio yoga, instructors can mix up their own movements and preferred movement sequences.

While yoga is generally safe, make sure you are on a level surface and do not have any conditions that can interfere with balance, such as neuropathy or orthopedic limitations (6).

Here are some moderate-intensity cardio yoga exercises to try that work all of your major muscle groups, including your arms, chest, back, and legs (5, 7).

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)

Surya Namaskar, commonly known as the Sun Salutation, is a series of postures performed in a sequence (8).

Gifs of Active Body, Creative Mind.

Here is the sequence:

  1. Samasthiti. Begin to stand up straight with your feet together and the weight evenly distributed. Your shoulders should be back and your hands should be hanging at your sides with your chin parallel to the floor.
  2. Urdhva hastasana. Inhale and slightly bend your knees as you raise your arms above your head. Bring your palms together and watch your thumbs.
  3. Uttanasana. Exhale and straighten your legs. Lean forward from the hips and lower your hands. Relax your neck.
  4. Urdvah uttanasana. Inhale and lengthen your spine, looking forward and opening your shoulders.
  5. Chaturanga dandasana. Exhale and jump or step back. Bend your elbows and keep them tucked in to your sides. Lower your body. You can either keep your knees on the floor or modify the exercise by bringing your knees back to the floor.
  6. Urdhva mukha svanasana. Inhale and point your toes away from your body. Lift your chest while your knees are off the floor. Open your shoulders and look up to the sky.
  7. Adho mukha svanasana. Exhale and tuck your toes under, lifting your hips and lowering your shoulders. Look at your navel. You may want to stay in this position for up to five deep breaths.
  8. Urdhva uttanasana. Inhale and jump or bring your feet closer between your hands, lengthen your spine and look forward while opening your shoulders (as in step 4).
  9. Uttanasana. Exhale and lower the top of your head to the floor and relax your neck (as in step 3).
  10. Urdhva hastasana. Inhale and bend your knees, raising your arms above your head and bringing your palms together while looking at your thumbs (as in step 2).
  11. Samasthiti. Exhale and straighten your legs, bringing your arms back to your sides (as in step 1).

Complete this sequence at a relatively fast pace and repeat it for 20 minutes with no rest in between to keep your heart rate elevated.

Other movements

Here are some other moves you can do as part of a sequence:

  • Child laying pump. Starting in a kneeling plank position, perform a kneeling push-up and then sit on your heels with your arms straight out in front (child pose). Bring your body forward into the kneeling plank position and repeat.
  • Leg lifting pigeon sequence. Starting with the plank pose, lift your hips slightly while lifting your left leg toward the ceiling. Slowly pull the left leg down and across, tucking your knee towards your chest. Lift your left leg towards the ceiling again, and this time, as you pull your left knee, let the outer part of your left leg rest on the floor as you lower your left glute. Return to the starting position and repeat with your right let.
  • Get off. Starting from a standing position, bend your hips and descend to a plank position. Push yourself into the upside down dog pushing your hips up to the sky. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds. Slowly step back, maintaining hand contact with the ground. Return to a standing position and repeat.

Perform each movement 10 to 15 times before moving on to 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 your heart rate elevated.

Summary

These cardio yoga workouts are moderate aerobic and use all major muscle groups.

Although yoga has been suggested to help with 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 (9).

However, when researchers analyzed studies in overweight or obese people, yoga was found to significantly reduce BMI.

However, some variables, such as different types of bias among studies, may have influenced the study results.

Either way, while beginner to intermediate level yoga sessions are generally not considered adequate for improving cardiovascular fitness, more intensive forms of yoga like cardio yoga can train your heart while increasing calories burned and helping with weight loss (5).

That said, doing cardio yoga at least 5 times a week for 30 minutes can help you lose weight, if that is your goal (ten).

However, keep in mind that exercise alone is rarely enough to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off – you should also be consuming fewer calories than you burn (11, 12).

Generally, reducing your daily calorie intake by 500 is enough for weight loss (13).

You can estimate your calorie needs using a calorie needs calculator.

Summary

Doing cardio yoga can speed up calorie burning and promote weight loss in combination with a low calorie diet.

Metabolic task equivalent (MET) is a measure used by researchers to estimate the number of calories burned during an activity (13).

A MET represents the number of calories you burn while at rest based on the amount of oxygen you consume.

A 3 MET exercise requires you to use about three times as much oxygen compared to 1 MET (at rest), which means it requires more energy and burns more calories.

A review of 17 studies showed that yoga METs range from 2 METs during a basic yoga class to 6 METs with Surya Namaskar for an average of 2.9 METs (5).

For comparison, here are the METs for common forms of cardio (14, 15, 16):

  • walking, moderate pace: 4.8 MET
  • elliptical, moderate effort: 5 MET
  • jogging, average pace: 7 MET
  • bike, average pace: 7 MET
  • Trek: 7.8 MET
  • climbing stairs, fast pace: 8.8 MET
  • running, average pace: 9.8 MET

Based on MET values, yoga at 2.9 MET is significantly lower in energy consumption and therefore calories burned.

However, at 6 METs, Surya Namaskar and other yoga-inspired cardio workouts can be compared to exercising on an elliptical trainer at moderate but less intense effort than jogging at an average pace in terms of calories burned (5).

Interestingly, Surya Namaskar can 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 (8).

At the end of the study, the participants demonstrated an increase in muscle strength when performing bench press and shoulder exercises.

However, the study did not have a control group, which precludes a cause-and-effect relationship.

More studies are needed to determine whether yoga or more intense cardio yoga workouts can increase muscle strength or size.

Summary

More intense versions of yoga like cardio yoga burn a similar number of calories as exercising on an elliptical trainer with moderate exertion, but fewer calories than jogging.

Cardio yoga is a more intense version of traditional yoga, which is generally not considered cardio.

It combines yoga-inspired and dynamic movements in various sequences to increase and maintain an elevated heart rate, helping to train your heart and burn calories.

Cardio yoga outperforms walking at a moderate pace or exercising on an elliptical trainer with moderate exertion – but not jogging, hiking, or running – in calories burned.


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