Mention a hybrid yoga 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.
About Our Pro
Teacher and model Koya Webb is a vinyasa teacher in Los Angeles who studied Ashtanga Yoga with Caroline Klebl. She has worked with Stevie Wonder, India Arie, Ashley Judd, and many others who are passionate about healthy living. She is also a certified health coach and sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience. You can find her at koyawebb.com.