Even if you’re not a fan of yoga workouts, you can still reap their mobility-building (and mind-calming) benefits with a yoga cool-down. You should be taking time to cool down after a workout anyway, so why not broaden your routine a little bit?
Unlike a regular stretch routine, yoga connects breath with movement, so it not only temporarily lengthens and relaxes your tight muscles, but it can also help put your mind at ease. It also activates your parasympathetic nervous system—which is responsible for slowing down your heart rate, conserving energy, and helping you relax and digest.
“Yoga is a mind-body practice,” Danielle Pagliuca, a NASM-certified personal trainer and registered yoga teacher based in Hoboken, New Jersey, tells SELF. “Using yoga as your post-workout cool-down, as opposed to a regular stretch routine, has mental benefits, such as increased mindfulness and body awareness.”
That’s because breathwork is at the core of yoga, Pagliuca says. Establishing a connection with your breath—focusing on that purposeful inhale and exhale of air in and out—can help you harness a sense of control, which is especially important in these chaotic times.
There are physical benefits, too. Also, after a workout, your muscles might feel sore and tight, but doing some yoga can enhance your flexibility, which is the ability to move a joint through its complete range of motion, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
In fact, a small 2016 study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that when college athletes took yoga classes twice a week over the course of 10 weeks, they improved their shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle flexibility. (If you have mobility limitations, you may find yoga moves extra challenging—which may signal the need to incorporate more mobility work in your regular routine, says Pagliuca.)
When it comes to what types of yoga poses to include in your cool-down, it will depend largely on what muscles you trained during your workout, Pagliuca says. “For example, if your training session included a lot of grip work (think moves like the pull-up, overhead press, or farmer’s carry), you may want to focus on your wrists and forearms. If you just finished a run, you may want to focus more on your quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves,” she says.
However, regardless of your workout, Pagliuca says yoga lends itself to all types of training, whether it’s running, cycling, HIIT, or weightlifting. “Focused breathwork, increased mindfulness and increased body awareness can benefit any individual, whether you are a seasoned athlete or someone just getting started,” she says.
Here’s a yoga flow Pagliuca designed that you can do at home to help you recover post-workout.
Demoing the moves below are Hejira Nitoto (photo 1), a mom of six and a certified personal trainer and fitness apparel line owner based in Los Angeles; Shauna Harrison (photos 2 and 3), a Bay-area based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF; Caitlyn Seitz (photo 4), a New York-based group fitness instructor and singer/songwriter; and Jessica Rihal (photos 5-8) a plus-sized yoga instructor (200-HR) and a strong advocate of fitness/wellness for all bodies.
What you need: A yoga mat.
- Hold each pose for 8-10 breaths before going into the next. Complete 1-2 rounds total.