Think of your workout as a meal. Your warm-up is your appetiser, the actual sweat session is your entree, and your cooldown is—wait... cooldown? "Most people skip stretching because they don't think it's important," says Dr John Porcari, an exercise and sports science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. "But gradually returning your body to its natural resting state is the best way to prevent cardiovascular and muscular mishaps."
So may we introduce to you: yoga for dessert. That's right, yoga—the age-old practice of controlling your breath, opening up your body, and quieting your mind—has become the cherry on top for boxing, indoor cycling, and boot camp. Trace it back to a growing emphasis on the mind-body connection and an increasing interest in restorative and recovery-enhancing techniques. In fact, instructors at buzzy niche studios (like NYC's Box + Flow and Studio 360) and big-name gyms (including Crunch) are replacing the standard quad-stretch-shoulder-roll quickie with 10 to 20 minutes of slow-flowing poses.
Smart thinking, since research shows that a single bout of yoga can reduce post-workout muscle soreness, thanks to improved flexibility. "Yoga gives your muscles a chance to relax and lengthen after they've been contracting throughout your workout, which should help you maintain range of motion even after intense exercise," explains Porcari. "It also helps lower your heart rate, so you can enter recovery mode faster." In other words, you'll be in better shape to max out your next workout, whatever it may be.
Of course, the mental benefits deserve a shout-out too. When you go-go-go during your session, then skedaddle, you don't get the full de-stressing perks of your hard work. "Exercise excites the nervous system, while a subdued yoga flow calms it," says Ryanne Cunningham, founder of Flow Yoga Studio in DePere, Wisconsin, and author of Yoga for Athletes. "That's crucial to finishing your workout feeling optimistic, peaceful, and inspired—and hopefully, a little more appreciative of what your body just did for you."
But there's more! Even if you aren't a yogi, it's practically impossible not to look forward to a wind-down when you've been pushing yourself for half an hour or more. "You might even find yourself cranking up your intensity just to 'earn the reward,'" says Cunningham.
She created a short and sweet sequence exclusively for WH that'll complement any strength or cardio program. You're in for a treat.
ZEN IN 10
Yes, just 10 minutes! Directly after your workout, focus on slowing your breath bit by bit. Inhale for three seconds, hold for three, then exhale for three; add a count each round until you're inhaling, holding, and exhaling for six breaths. This gradually gets you from panting heavily to calm and focused. Then perform this flow in order, starting with your vinyasa and going back to it between every sequence. Repeat each sequence on the other side, vinyasa included, until you've made it to your final sequence, then repeat the entire flow twice. Optional: End with a minute or two in savasana (lying on your back).
Start in a pushup position, hands under your shoulders (a). Keeping your core engaged and elbows close to your sides, bend your elbows to slowly lower your body in one straight line until your arms form a 90-degree angle to the floor (b). Roll over your toes and straighten your arms to draw your chest forward, keeping your hips and legs a few inches off the ground (c). Plant your toes and push your hips up and back to finish in downward dog (d).
RELATED: 15-Minute Workout: Yoga Body Express
WARRIOR II TO WARRIOR II WITH ARM STRETCH
From downward dog, place your right foot between your hands. Ground your heels and lift up to stand. Bend your right knee and angle your left foot to face the top left corner of your mat. Extend your arms in opposite directions (a). Lift your right arm and bend your elbow to rest your palm on your upper back. Place your left palm on your right elbow. Push your hips slightly forward to feel a stretch in your right side (b).
Extend your arms and bend your right knee to return to warrior II. Push your right foot into the mat as you straighten your right leg. Shift both hips back as you tilt your upper body forward and reach for the front of the room with your right hand. Rest your right hand on your shin or ankle and reach your left arm toward the ceiling.
PYRAMID TO REVOLVED TRIANGLE
From downward dog, lift your right leg up and step your right foot behind your right hand. Step your left foot in about a foot, feet staggered. Lift up to standing, keeping your hips facing forward. Touch your palms together behind your back, and slowly fold over your right leg (a). Place your left hand to the left of your right foot, then raise your right arm directly up as you twist your torso toward the ceiling, pushing your hips back(b).
From downward dog, lift your right leg, then bend your right knee to open up your hip. Bring your right leg forward and place your right knee down on the mat behind your right wrist. Gently guide your right foot a little closer to your left wrist. Lengthen your left leg so it's in a straight line directly behind you, and uncurl your toes. Keeping your hips square, press your fingertips into the floor. (Optional: Lower onto your forearms to deepen the pose.)
Swing your left leg around and plant your left foot on the mat on the outside of your right thigh. Place your left hand on the mat behind your hips and hook your right elbow on the outside of your left knee. Keeping your spine tall, gently twist toward the left, using your elbow to draw your knee back and twist a little deeper.
PLOW TO SHOULDER STAND
From downward dog, lower onto your knees and come to a seat on your mat. Lower onto your back and extend your arms, palms down, by your sides. Slowly lift your legs up and behind you until your toes touch the floor (a). Plant your toes into the floor, then walk your elbows in closer together and place your hands on your middle back. Raise one leg toward the ceiling, then the other. Walk your hands along your back toward your shoulder blades to keep the weight off your neck (b).
SEATED FORWARD FOLD
Lower your legs to the floor behind you (back into plow) and place both hands down onto the mat. Slowly bring both legs back onto the mat; extend your legs and bring them together. Come to a seat and flex your feet. Reach your arms overhead, then fold forward over your legs, reaching for both feet
This article originally appeared on Women's Health