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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.
Runner’s Lunge Stretch
Step one foot forward stacking that knee over the ankle and let the back knee rest on the mat. With the two hands, frame the front foot, then let the hips shift forward to open up the front of the back leg thigh. Check to see that the front knee is directly over the ankle. Breathe deeply. On an exhale, draw the lowest belly in and up deepening the opening in the front of the back leg. Hold for 12–15 breaths.
Half Monkey Pose
From the Runner’s Lunge, shift the weight back, bringing the hips directly over the back knee and straightening the front leg. Flex the front foot. Hold 10–12 breaths.
Half Monkey Pose Variation
Ardha Hanumanasana Variation
In Ardha Hanumanasana, from deep inside the front leg hip socket, externally rotate the leg. Imagine you could pull the front leg thighbone deeper into the hip socket as you fold forward. If your spine is rounding over the front leg, use blocks to support your hands so you can lengthen your spine forward. Hold for 10–12 breaths.
From Downward-Facing Dog, step one foot forward and spin the back heel down. Check to see that the feet are aligned heel to heel and the back foot is angled toward the same side front corner of the mat. Inhale and rise to Warrior I. Interlace the hands behind the back, inhale to lift the heart to the sky, stretching across the chest, exhale and fold to the inside of the front leg. The outer hip of the front leg likes to swing away from the folded torso, gather it back in to center even if that means lifting up out of the fold a bit. Hold for 8–10 breaths.
Note: If the shoulders are very tight and it is difficult to interlace the hands behind the back, use a yoga strap or a towel.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Lying on your back, bend your knees and plant your feet hip-width apart. All 10 toes are facing straight ahead (not turning out or in). Ground down through all four corners of the feet evenly. On an inhale, lift the hips. Then walk the shoulders beneath you, once again interlacing the hands behind the back. If the shoulders are tight, use a strap. Shift from the center of the shins back toward the shoulders, feel the sternum move toward the chin and an opening across the chest. Hold for 10 breaths.
Start in Dandasana, seated with the both legs extending straight forward. If you are rounding into the lower back, sit up on something—a blanket, bolster, or your rolled up yoga mat—to give lift to the hips. Keeping the left leg extended, externally rotate the right leg and take the sole of the right foot to the left inner thigh. Feel both sitting bones ground evenly into your mat or support. Inhale and lift the arms to the sky lengthening the side waists. Twist your navel toward the extended leg knee and with a long spine, fold over the extended leg. As you inhale, lengthen the spine, as you exhale, perhaps twist toward the extended leg a bit more. Hold for 8–10 breaths.
Supported Backbend Over Blocks
Place one block at the bottom tip of the shoulder blades to lift and gently open the chest and another beneath the head. Lie back and rest. Adjust the height of the blocks so you feel a stretch but can easily relax. The legs can either be extended straight forward or bent with feet flat on the floor if that feels better. Let this passive, well-supported posture open the chest muscles, which tend to get very tight.
About our expert
Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Karly Treacy began her practice more than 20 years ago. A student of Annie Carpenter, Karly understands the awareness of body and strength that comes from precise alignment. A mother of three, Karly credits yoga for teaching her that all of life is a practice, especially motherhood and that our children, our bodies, and our environment all are our teachers.