Just Add Intensity
Infuse your yoga practice with energy, stability, and balance by combining asana with high-intensity interval training.
Infuse your yoga with energy and strength with this science-backed hybrid practice.
MENTION A YOGA HYBRID CLASS to a roomful of yogis and you’re bound to get some eye rolling: These days there’s goat yoga, naked yoga, and numerous other unorthodox combinations, but the rationale behind these pairings is often unclear. Yet when it comes to pairing high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—juxtaposing intense bursts of movement like squat jumps with short periods of rest—with yoga, the benefits can be profound.
Research suggests HIIT is linked with increasing cardiovascular fitness and reversing the effects of aging. A 2017 Mayo Clinic study found that doing just 16 minutes of high-intensity intervals three times a week boosts aerobic capacity, mitochondrial function (cell ability to take in oxygen and make energy), and muscle mass.
HIIT can also help if weight loss or maintenance is a goal; adding it to your running, cycling, swimming, and fitness-focused yoga routines burns additional calories, especially during the two-hour recovery period after your workout (up to 15 percent more), according to the American College of Sports Medicine. For best results, the college recommends that HIIT workouts (including rest) last from 20 to 60 minutes, with high-intensity elements each taking five seconds to eight minutes, depending upon your endurance. With HIIT, you have to give it your all, performing at 80 to 95 percent of your maximal heart rate (the number of times your heart can beat a minute without overexerting) during high-intensity moments. Aim for recovery periods at 40 to 50 percent of your maximal heart rate.
Fitness instructor and yoga teacher Koya Webb first relied on HIIT to build strength and endurance as a college track and field athlete—until she was waylaid by a stress fracture in her lower back. Suffering from depression, Webb sought help from a health counselor, who recommended that she try yoga to lift her mood. It worked, and it helped to heal her body, too, says Webb. Within a year, she was able to return to the track, eventually earning a state championship title and a degree in exercise science, before developing a system of yoga-HIIT.
Webb’s method combines the cardiovascular, strength-training, and energetic benefits of HIIT with the flexibility and de-stressing benefits of asana. The end result: a powerful practice that adds more stability, sustainability, and dynamism to your asana, says Webb. “If you’re stuck in a rut, HIIT can add a sense of get-up-and-go to your life and yoga practice,” she says. On the flip side, if you’re always on the go and don’t take proper time for recovery or self-reflection, adding mindfulness to your workouts can help you relax and reconnect, she adds.
Experience yoga-HIIT with Webb on the following pages. “Start by thinking about something you want more of in your life,” she says. “Inhale and feel that intention in your body.” Practice three times per week, focusing on your breath and taking 10-second breaks after each exercise.
1 UTKATA KONASANA JUMPING JACKS Goddess Pose Jumping Jacks
A Start in Goddess Pose with your feet turned out 45 degrees and your knees aligned over your ankles. Extend your arms straight out while moving your shoulders away from your ears. Your wrists should line up with your toes, or ankles and knees. Engage your core by pulling your belly into your spine, and sink your hips to knee level. B Jump up, spreading your arms and legs outward.
C Land with your feet together under your hips, bringing your hands overhead. Then, jump back to Utkata Konasana—one of the most strengthening and empowering poses in yoga because it opens your hips and uses the largest muscles in your body, says Webb. Adding jumping jacks to your Utkata Konasana tones your entire body and inspires fierce confidence. Complete 10 times.
2 PLANK ELEVATORS
A Start in Plank Pose with your shoulders over your wrists, your feet hip-distance apart, and your core engaged. B Draw your navel in toward your spine as you lower down to your forearms, first with the left arm (shown) then the right. C Return to Plank Pose by placing your hands where your elbows were, right first then left, and press up. For each repetition, alternate which arm you use first. Plank Elevators strengthen your biceps, triceps, abdominal muscles, hamstrings, and glutes, with an added cardio benefit. Complete 5 full Plank Elevators (down and up on both sides) and end in Plank Pose before shifting back to Balasana (Child’s Pose). Rest for a few breaths.
3 MALASANA SQUATS Garland Pose Squats
A With your feet wider than your hips and toes pointing out 45 degrees, lower your tailbone and squat low to the ground. Place your arms between your thighs and bring your palms together, using your elbows to press your knees away from your midline. B Engage your core and inhale as you press through your feet to stand up. Squeeze your booty at the top. Lower back down slowly with control. Malasana squatting is one of the most effective ways to tone your entire lower body. It works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles while strengthening your lower back and core. Repeat 20 times.
4 ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA PUSHUPS Downward-Facing Dog Pose Pushups
Start in Downward-Facing Dog with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your fingers are spread wide. A Come up high on your toes as you engage your core, push your thighs back, and relax your shoulders away from your ears. B Inhale and bend your elbows so your forearms and biceps are at a 90-degree angle; then exhale as you straighten your arms. Down Dog Pushups strengthen your chest, arms, shoulders, and core while stretching your back and hamstrings. Repeat 10 times.
5 CRESCENT LUNGES
A Start in Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) with your back knee on the ground under your hips, your toes tucked under. Align your front knee directly over your front ankle, with your front shin perpendicular to the floor. Your knees and feet should be hip-width apart. B Engage your core and press through your feet to lift your back knee. C Lower back down slowly but don’t let your knee touch the ground. Widen your stance as needed to make sure that your front knee does not move forward past your front ankle. Crescent Lunges stretch your legs, groins, and hip flexors, while strengthening and toning your thighs, hips, and booty. Repeat 20 times on each side.
6 PARIPURNA NAVASANA ABS Full Boat Pose Abs
A From seated, come into Paripurna Navasana by engaging your core and extending your legs up toward the ceiling. Lengthen your arms alongside your legs. B On an exhalation, with your belly pulled in toward your spine, slowly lower your legs and upper body until they hover just above the ground, or until you can no longer keep your belly engaged. Inhale to come up. This pose strengthens your abdominal muscles, lower and upper back, and inner thighs. Repeat 10 times.
7 USTRASANA HIP THRUSTS Camel Pose Hip Thrusts
A Start sitting in Virasana (Hero Pose) with your knees hip-width apart and your feet to the outside of your booty. Place your hands on your hips. Inhale and engage your quadriceps, inner thighs, and glutes as you press your hips forward and come onto your knees. Keep your abs engaged. B Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor, or come onto your toes for more stability. Keeping your upper body straight, lean back about 5 inches. Then, on an exhalation, slowly lower your hips back down toward your heels, but without touching them. Ustrasana Hip Thrusts strengthen your glutes, hips, and, thighs, which takes stress off of your lower back. Repeat 20 times. When you’re done, spend 5 minutes in silence, simply breathing.