It’s undeniable that rest days are an important part of a well-rounded fitness routine. And while it might sound like the perfect opportunity to sit on the couch all day, expert trainers actually recommend people stay somewhat active on their rest days, especially if they can find a low-impact activity that still gets their body moving. That’s pretty much exactly why yoga is often considered the ultimate rest day activity.
“The reason why yoga has the reputation of being a rest day activity for those who perform other types of exercise is because yoga is thought to be particularly low impact,” explains Ali Owens, a yoga instructor for Yoga Wake Up. “It has the reputation of being for ‘flexible’ bodies and being all about ‘stretching.’” While this is certainly true of some types of yoga, she says, it’s definitely not the case for all, or even most types. That means that not all forms of yoga are low-intensity enough for a true rest day. What’s more, the biggest benefits from a yoga practice come when you’re doing it more than once a week. Here, expert yoga instructors explain why yoga doesn’t deserve its “rest day only” rep.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY
If you’re really trying to take it easy on your rest day, certain types of yoga might not be the best choice. “Loads of people think yoga is super chill and that you don’t really work that hard, but to be honest, it really depends on the type of yoga you’re practicing,” explains Lola Berry, yoga instructor and author. “If you’re doing a heated power vinyasa class, then you will most definitely get a sweat on and probably feel pretty sore the next day,” especially if you’re not accustomed to the movements.
That being said, yoga can be a great choice for your rest day if you pick the right type. “Restorative or Yin yoga, which is much calmer, slower and has a more meditative quality, is fantastic for a rest day,” Berry says. “It’s hard to slow down, but that’s often what the body needs. I think a rest day is a great time to focus on longer holds, which work on the ligaments, fascia and tendons.” In contrast, a more intense Bikram, power or vinyasa yoga class — much more popular choices — would focus more on working muscles and would likely be too intense for a recovery workout.
THE CASE FOR DOING YOGA MORE THAN ONCE A WEEK
While setting time aside once a week to stretch and recover is definitely a good thing, experts say that to reap the true strengthening and injury prevention benefits of yoga, you really need to make it more than just a rest day activity. “You need to practice certain yoga postures consistently in order to see results,” Owens says. “I have a lot of people who come to me only when they are injured, and once they have recovered, stop practicing. Pretty soon after, they come back with the same or a new injury. This is because yoga can be great for preventing injury if practiced regularly.”
Plus, that’s not all you’re getting when you make yoga a regular thing. “The benefits of a daily yoga practice include but are not limited to: increased flexibility, energy, mobility, heightened state of consciousness, more mindfulness, awareness, attention, a decrease in stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue and an overall sense of wellbeing and joy. That’s not to say that you won’t receive these benefits when practicing once a week, that’s better than not doing it at all, but you’ll see all of these things happen for you more quickly when you practice more often,” Owens says.
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It’s also important to note that you don’t have to practice for a full hour at a time every time you do yoga. “Maybe you do a shorter 15-minute session 2–3 times a week mixed in with your other workouts,” suggests Stephanie Scott, co-owner and yoga instructor at Studio 6 Pilates and Wellness. “You’ll likely see more progress than if you do only one class a week.”
WAYS TO MAKE IT HARDER
If you think you can’t get a cardio workout from doing yoga, you’re mistaken. “Yoga can be cardiovascular in nature,” Owens says. “Surya namaskars (aka sun salutations) are designed to warm up the body and increase your heart rate.” Of course, this depends in part on your fitness level, she says. It might be harder for some (particularly those who are already very fit) to get a significant heart rate spike from sun salutations alone, but there are plenty of modifications you can try to get an added boost.
“There are a few things you can do during your practice to help encourage that push,” says Laura Amis, co-owner and yoga instructor at Studio 6. She suggests doing poses or sequences with your arms above your heart or head rather than at your sides, increasing the tempo of your pose sequence or sustaining plank positions for longer than you would normally. Adding a double pushup in chaturanga is also a popular option to build a little extra momentum. Lastly, Amis suggests challenging yourself to go deeper into standing poses, for example sitting lower in chair or goddess pose. With careful planning, you can make yoga part of your regular workout routine, so you not only reap the flexibility and mobility benefits, but also get a decent workout at the same time.