It usually goes like this: People try yoga as cross-training for another activity and before long are looking for ways to balance out all the yoga. LA-based teacher Karly Treacy suggests yogis try boxing for cardio and explains why the two are a more natural fit than you might you think. She even developed the perfect sequence to stretch you out post-spar.
I came to yoga by way of running, initially using the practice as a means of stretching for marathon training. Today, my yoga practice has a much different emphasis and comprises 80 percent of my physical exertion. The other 20 percent is boxing for cardio.
I can no longer run like I once did (the impact and repetitive motion has taken a toll on my knees, hips and lower back). And while yoga is now essential to my mind-body health, its benefits do not extend to cardiovascular fitness. A 2013 study in The Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy found that although we feel the heart rate increase in vinyasa yoga classes, it doesn't come up high enough or for long enough to provide true cardiovascular benefits. It's important for yogis to engage in cardio to reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Cardio also helps us to maintain a healthy weight and makes our bodies more efficient. Cardio “cross-training,” whether it’s running, SoulCycle, CrossFit, boxing, or something else is the “yang” to yoga’s “yin."
Could Boxing Be the Best Cardio Cross-Training for Yoga?
I have found that the cardio fitness I gain from boxing feels very similar to what I got from running with far less impact (most of it is absorbed by the bag or the gloves). The other piece about boxing that makes it perfect for yogis—and preferable to running for me—is that it forces me to be absolutely present. It is not possible to think about anything else when I am working with mitts or body sparring with my trainer. I am completely in the moment.
I quickly realized my boxing was also physically benefiting my yoga practice. It has greatly improved my cardiovascular fitness and made my body more efficient, making the challenge of multiple vinyasas and longer holds much easier. My arms and shoulders have also gotten much stronger, which has translated to greater ease in arm balances and holding poses like Plank or Chaturanga.
Life is going to throw us curveballs and create stress. Our cardio exercise and yoga practice should relieve that stress and add an element of fun. Boxing does it for me. If you want to try it, consider shopping around for a boxing gym. I was looking for positive energy, friendly motivation and of course willingness to work with an absolute beginner when I tried out classes at different boxing gyms. I eventually settled on my gym, Box N' Burn. And 3 years later, the hours I spend there are still some of my favorite in the week!
A Yoga Cross-Training Sequence for Boxing
Once I began boxing, I noticed I needed to rebalance my body after a sparring session to release tight inner thighs (especially of the back leg of my boxing stance), chest muscles (from all of the forward motion) and outer hips. To unwind and minimize any negative effects on your asana practice, try this quick sequence to stretch out post-spar.