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Turn your yoga class into a cardio workout

Turn up the heat with just a few minor adjustments and a whole lot of grit.

Feel the burn. Just hover your knees. Who knew that your favourite table top position often prompting Cat Cow Curls, Puppy Pose and Thread The Needle, was hiding a dark side? Known as Bear Taps and Bear Twists, a table top can instantly become an abdominal, bicep and quadricep scorcher.

Take the incredibly satisfying Sphinx Pose that gifts you a stress relieving backbend and a magnificent stretch for the chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen. What I love about this next transition, is that one moment you are stretching the abdominal muscles, and the next minute you have them climbing up Mount Everest. From Sphinx, tuck your toes under, lift you knees as you activate the quadricep muscles, and while maintaining a neutral pelvis, float your hips off the floor to bring them in line with your shoulders. Looking down at the ground to keep your neck in line with the rest of the spine, move from Dolphin Plank to Dolphin by walking your toes in closer towards your elbows. Once in Dolphin, take your chin over your hands for a Dolphin Dip, come back into Dolphin, followed by Dolphin Plank, finishing in Sphinx. Repeat.

Switch the feet. For those who are regular Activ Life yogis, you'll hear this cue from time to time. I'll use it to lead with the opposite foot in a Crescent Lunge to give the other a reprieve if we're venturing into long flow sequence. So say for example your right foot is forward, bring your fingertips to the mat for balance and control, and then jump high to switch your feet so your left foot is now forward. In a yoga class I would perhaps carry on with a Warrior I or II, but if you wanted to raise your beats per minute (bpm), stay in your lunge and continue switching the feet for 30 seconds or 10 rounds each side. Rest, or carry on with your yoga flow if you're "jelly legs" can withstand the pending Warrior.

Chairs. For those with office jobs, you spend a lot of hours sitting in a chair. Why is it then, when the chair is removed, that our bodies feel the heat? Because we don't engage the correct muscles to support our bodies correctly when we sit a chair hence poor posture, lower back aches, tight shoulders, headaches from sore necks... I could go on. That's why I love this next yoga-turned-cardio exercise that starts with a Chair Pose, arms reaching out in front as opposed to up alongside your ears. Keeping your knees bent, weight back in the heels, spine straight and lengthening to the sky, core engaged, walk sideways to the left. Step the right foot to meet the left, the left foot steps out hip-width apart, the right foot steps in to the left. Take four steps to the left and on the last chair (before stepping back to the right), jump squat. Continue for 30 seconds, making your way back to Chair on your mat and continue your yoga class.

Turn up the heat in Boat Pose. While the rest of the class is holding their Boat and you feel then urge to give your abdominals a little more attention, lower down into Low Boat, straightening your legs and hovering your heels as you bring your back closer down to the floor, chin is tucked in and reaching the arms forward.

What's another name for a Chaturanga? Push up. When you lower down to elbow height in Chaturanga, before flipping over the toes into Upward-Facing Dog, lift straight back up into Plank. To juice things up a bit in Plank, hover alternate knees off the mat, keeping the other leg strong and straight. You could even dig deep and find a Plank Jack here by hopping both feet away from each other and then back together. Keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your core engaged the whole time. Practice 10 jacks and then carry on with your Chaturanga transitions. Perhaps instead of stepping to the top of the mat, you practise floating the feet forward, keeping you hips in the air for as long as possible, feet landing without a sound as your activated abdominal muscles assist with control.

After all that, now it'a time to take a moment to rest, regain breathe and relax in a seated position. You use this opportunity to place your hands on a block either side and float up, hovering off the floor (see photo), maintaining your breathe, with complete control and focus. As the teacher guides everyone into the next movement, you lower down slowly and continue on with the rest of the class.

For many, a Power Yoga class fills the cardio quota, but for others, there's always plenty of extra room to build in anaerobic exercises that involve quick bursts of energy and are performed at maximum effort for a short time. Above are just a few examples, but there are plenty more that you will discover in your next Activ Life yoga class.

Strengthen your heart and blood vessels. Improve the flow of oxygen throughout your body. Lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Strengthens bones. Burn fat. Build muscle. Increase stamina. Reduce fatigue. Boost your mood. And most importably, feel good about yourself.

Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: Can yoga tone my body? and How can I keep up a regular yoga practise?

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