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It’s easy to get so focused on yoga philosophy that you forget that this practice is a physical workout. But it is. Like other forms of exercise, yoga improves strength and cardiovascular fitness. As such, it’s important to end yoga sessions with a proper cool down.
Here we provide several reasons to not skip this important step when doing yoga. We also share several yoga poses good for cooling down, as well as how to add them to the end of a yoga class.
A typical cool down consists of multiple stretches. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that stretching after exercise provides several benefits (1). In addition to aiding in muscle recovery, it also supports mental relaxation and helps increase flexibility. Flexibility is important for mobility and can reduce injury risk.
Many people struggle with tight muscles. They might sit a lot, for instance, and have tight hips as a result. The right cool down stretch can help these muscles release. This promotes greater hip flexor flexibility, improving hip range of motion.
Additionally, certain styles of yoga can be quite intense. One study found that during a Vinyasa yoga session, participants sustained a heart rate between 68.% and 71.7% of their maximal heart rate (2). Engaging in a cool down can help the heart return to a normal rate safely and healthfully.
Many yoga styles are slower-paced. Restorative yoga and Yin yoga are two. So, is a cool down still needed after these types of sessions? Yes, and here’s why.
Remember that post-workout stretch exercises don’t just help the heart slow down. They also promote greater flexibility. Since you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, adding a cool down to a regular yoga practice is a good way to enhance this fitness element.
That said, care should be taken when stretching after hot yoga. Hot yoga increases both heart rate and body temperature. This boosts circulation, making it easier for the muscles to elongate. It also makes it easier to stretch too far.
To avoid injury, it’s important to pay attention to your body. When doing a deep stretch, go slowly and notice how you feel. If you start to experience pain, ease up or pull back. This is your body telling you that it’s gone far enough.
Certain yoga poses can help provide a proper cool down. In each, you stay in one position for an extended period of time, providing an effective stretch. This makes them one to consider when deciding how to end a yoga class. Not to mention, these poses are easy enough for even beginner yogis to do.
Here are nine yoga poses that can be included in a cool down:
Child’s pose. This pose is a hip opener. It also stretches the lower legs and lengthens the spine. To do it, you kneel, then sit back on your heels while leaning your upper body forward. Arms are extended above the head. You can rest your forehead on the floor or a yoga block, whichever is more comfortable.
Corpse pose. This pose reduces muscle tension. It also aids in exercise recovery. It involves lying on your back with your feet apart. Arms are at your sides with palms facing up. Take deep breaths in and out. Stay in this position for several minutes to allow the body to relax.
Easy pose. If the goal is to stretch the lower body, this pose delivers. It helps elongate the ankles and knees. It also stretches the hips and back. To do it, you sit on the floor with your feet crossed at the ankles. Rest your right hand on your right knee and your left hand on the left knee. Sit in this position while practicing yogic breathing (deep breath in followed by a deep breath out).
Hero pose. This pose stretches the entire leg, from the ankle to the thigh. Proper position involves kneeling, then sitting back so your buttocks are on the floor between your feet. Your shoulder blades are pulled back and down. You can rest your hands in your lap or place them on your knees with your palms up or down. To make this pose easier, sit on a yoga block.
Legs up the wall. This yoga posture is good for relaxing the body after an intense workout. It works by reducing the post-exercise stress response. It involves lying on your back with your butt against a wall, then extending your legs upward.
Pigeon pose. This pose helps stretch hip flexor muscles. It involves sitting on the floor and folding your right leg in front of you, so the right foot is in front of the left hip. The left leg is extended behind. Lean into a forward fold while keeping the hips level. When you’re done, switch sides, placing the left leg in front and the right leg behind you. This helps ensure that you stretch each side equally.
Screaming toe pose. This stretch is good for the toes, feet, and ankles. To do it, you kneel, then sit back on your heels. Sit with your shoulders back. Rest your palms together in front of the chest. Breathe in and out and allow your body to relax.
Supported bridge pose. This yoga pose targets the hip muscles. It also stretches the spine. To do it, you lie on your back with your arms at your side and knees bent. You’re your hips and place a yoga block under your lower back, near your sacrum. Stay in this position for several breaths.
Tree pose. This pose stretches the buttocks and thighs. It also helps you feel more stable and grounded. That makes it a great way to end any workout, yoga included. To do Tree pose, stand on the left foot. Bring the right foot up and place the bottom of that foot against the inside of the left inner thigh. You can either place the palms of the hands together in front of you or extend them overhead. Hold this position for several breaths. Then transition to the left side to stretch those muscles as well.
One of the questions some yoga teachers have is how to add a cool down to their client’s workout. Put another way, what’s the best way to incorporate this element into a yoga class?
First, it’s important to consider sequencing. It should be easy to transition from one cool down yoga pose to the next. Additionally, like with the main body of the class, the cool down should be performed on a yoga mat.
While dynamic stretching is used for a warm-up, static stretching is preferred for the cool down. During a static stretch, you hold the pose without any movement (such as bouncing). Aim to hold each yoga stretch for at least 30 seconds. If it’s comfortable, you can also hold them longer.
The length of a yoga cool down is similar to other types of workouts. Aim for 10 minutes. This gives the body adequate time to slow itself. You can also incorporate a breathing exercise or two to enhance the relaxation response.
Understanding how to devise a proper cool down is part of creating a safe and effective yoga class. It’s also part of being a solid yoga teacher.
If you are interested in teaching yoga, you can become a teacher through the ISSA Yoga & Wellness Academy. This 200-hour yoga teacher training course covers sequencing, cueing, and everything else you need to know to lead your own yoga classes.
Warm up, cool down and be flexible. OrthoInfo. (n.d.). https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/warm-up-cool-down-and-be-flexible/
Tsopanidou, Angela & Theodorakou, K. & Donti, O. & Zacharogiannis, Elias. (2018). Heart rate response during a vinyasa yoga session. Science of Gymnastics Journal. 10. 99-110.