Just like any other dynamic exercise, it is important to cool down after a stimulating yoga practice. A post-workout cool down is a must for athletes and sportspersons, and the same applies to any practitioner. Stretching tight and sore muscles after a dynamic session will avoid achy or stiff muscles the next day, ensuring you don’t skip your next workout or choose to take it easy. It also enables faster recovery. On a consistent basis, it will enhance performance and protect against muscular imbalances.
Benefits of cooling down after a yoga session
During a session, your muscles are contracted greatly. After a class, they remain in a state of contraction for some time. Until the muscles have restored, they have not recovered. When you do not stretch the muscles, it slows down the recovery process. This affects the impact and gains of the exercise session.
All the muscles get relaxed
Cooling down with yoga poses allow all the muscles to be targeted from different angles. This ensures all muscles get relaxed after an intense session. Using props also ensures the stretches are more effective.
Focusing on the breath, doing breathing exercises for a few minutes or practitioner deep breathing relaxes the muscles even more. It releases tension and allows blood pressure, heart rate and respiration to come back to normal.
Balances the nervous system
During a dynamic session, your autonomic nervous system gets activated. This keeps your body in a fight or flight state. After some time, this can feel very draining and exhausting. Relaxation and cooling down postures activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This activates the rest and digest response. This balance is important to ensure your mind and body remains energetic, relaxed, calm and centered. Apart from this, cool downs also prevent lightheadedness after an intense workshop. They allow blood flow to come back to normal, preventing fatigue after a session.
Yoga postures to cool down after a session
Here are a few yoga poses to practice at the end of a session
This is one of the most relaxing poses to do. It also acts as a counter pose for backbends, and intense inversions. It relaxes the back, restores blood flow to the brain and calms the nervous system.
How to do child’s pose:
- From thunderbolt pose or Vajrasana, bend forward bringing your forehead onto the head. Stretch the hands out in front or place the hands at the base of your spine.
- If you can’t reach the mat, you can place your palms in a fist and place the forehead on the fist.
- Relax here for a few minutes and try to take deep breaths.
- Now to come out of the posture slowly lift up, come back to Vajrasana and then release the legs by straightening them out.
Thread the needle pose
This posture stretches the upper back. It relaxes the entire spine and the twist in the back is also relaxing.
How to do thread the needle pose:
- Come up to all fours to transition into a gentle twist.
- Inhale, take your right hand up to the sky. Exhale, thread your right hand under your left shoulder and bring your head down to rest on the mat.
- If it feels comfortable, you can extend your left hand forward.
- Start to draw out your exhalations, letting go of tension and dropping deeper into the pose on every exhalation.
- Stay in the posture for a minute or so before switching to the other side.
Downward facing dog
This posture can be done as a warm-up and a cool down pose. It improves blood circulation and stretches all the muscles from the legs to the back, shoulders and arms.
How to do downward facing dog:
- First come into the starting position of cat-cow pose (on your palms and knees). From here, push back through your hands and lift your hips. Straighten your legs.
- Keep the palms firmly on the mat with the fingers spread. The feet will be on the mat. If you find this difficult, you can also only place your toes on the mat.
- Keep the shoulders away from the ears. Look towards your abdomen.
- Engage your thighs and core to hold the posture. Keep taking slow deep breaths.
- To release the posture, exhale and bend your knees. Come down to the child's pose.
Reclined pigeon pose
This posture is relaxing for the back and stretches the hips and thighs. Practice with both legs and stay in the pose for a few minutes each to feel the stretch in the leg muscles.
How to do reclined pigeon pose:
- Lie down on your back with your legs straight and arms beside the body.
- Now place the right foot on the opposite thigh. It will look like the figure four.
- Flex your toes and lift the left foot off the ground. Now take the right arm through the opening between the legs and bring the left arm to the outside of the left leg. Grab either the left shin or the hamstrings with both hands.
- Keep the back and head firmly on the mat. Keep pulling the left shin towards your body as you press the right knee slightly away from you.
Reclined cobbler’s pose
An extremely relaxing posture, Supta Baddha Konasana is great to end your session with. It relaxes the back, hips and groin region. It is a deeply relaxing, restorative pose that helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety or return your body from an activated state to a more calm one post-exercise. Stay here for a few minutes and focus on your breath. Let your hands rest by the side of the body and just breathe.
How to do reclined cobbler’s pose:
- Lie down on your back. Now bend the legs and bring the feet as close to the groin as you can. Join the soles of the feet together.
- Relax the hand beside the side of the body.
- Now slowly try to bring the feet closer to the groin if you can.
- Keep your attention on the stretch in the groin, inner thighs and back.
- Stay here for a few slow, deep breaths. This will help you relax in the posture.
Supine Spinal Twist
This is a wonderful posture to stretch the back out. The twist will relax all the back muscles and bring your body back to a balanced state.
How to do supine spinal twist:
- Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees pointing up toward the ceiling.
- Press into your feet to lift your hips slightly off the floor and shift them about an inch to your right. Exhale and draw your right knee into your chest and extend your left leg flat on the floor.
- Exhale and cross your right knee over your midline to the floor on the left side of your body. Your right hip is now stacked on top of your left hip. You can hook your right foot behind your left knee if you like.
- Open your right arm to the right, keeping it in line with your shoulders. Rest your left hand on your right knee or extend it to make a T shape with the arms. Turn your palms toward the ceiling.
- Turn your head to the right, bringing your gaze over your shoulder to your right fingertips. As you exhale, release your left knee and your right shoulder toward the floor. After staying here for a few breaths, release the posture and repeat on the other side.
Happy baby pose
Also a very relaxing posture, this asana relaxes the pelvic floor muscles. You can roll slightly from side to side, massaging the sacrum or hold still and take deep breaths.
How to do happy baby pose:
- Lie on your back and keep your spine neutral.
- Bring your knees toward your chest. As you bring your knees up, keep your hips soft so that your legs come up but your hips stay down. Keep your spine neutral with your tailbone on the mat.
- Flex your feet and show the soles of your feet to the ceiling.
- Wrap your first two fingers around your big toes and pull lightly down. Your feet stay flat to the ceiling but your hips release allowing your knees to come closer to your chest as you relax. You can also bring your hands up to the outside of the foot and grasp the foot around the arch.
- Take your time and breathe deeply. Enjoy the easy stretch in your hamstrings.
Known as Setu Bandhasana, this posture helps with the postural muscles, stretches them and increases mobility in the spine and hips. It also opens up the chest region, improving breathing. It is an extremely relaxing posture to do for a few minutes at the end of a yoga session.
How to do bridge pose:
- Lie on the back, bend the knees and bring the heels closer to the buttocks. Keep the heels firmly on the mat. The feet should be hip width apart on the floor with the knees and ankles in a straight line.
- Hold the ankles with your hands.
- Inhale and slowly lift the buttocks and hips up. Now lift the back and arch the back upward as you raise the lower, middle and upper back off the floor.
- Now lift the chest as high as possible towards the chin without straining. Ensure that the feet and shoulders lie firmly on the ground. Keep the inner thighs and glutes active and engaged. The thighs should be parallel to each other.
- Gently roll the shoulders and support your weight with the shoulders, arms and feet.
- Stay here for a few deep breaths.
Legs up on the wall pose
A popular restorative posture, this easy inversion improves circulation, making it an excellent choice for adding to a cooldown. This pose also reduces your body's stress response which is often activated during intense workouts.
How to do legs up on the wall pose:
- Lie down with your buttocks close to a wall and legs falling to one side. Now slowly lift the legs up along the wall. Adjust your position to make sure you are as close to the wall as possible. Make sure you are comfortable.
- Now relax the throat and head. Keep the arms on the side of the body or above your head - whichever is comfortable for you.
- Stay here for a couple of minutes. Try to take slow, deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, slowly drop the legs to one side and push yourself away from the wall.
Savasana is the ideal posture to end any yoga session with, especially high intensity ones. This pose works to aid recovery, returning your body to a calm state and acting as a transition to return to your daily activities. It restores your body’s balance, peace and calmness. You can simply lie here and take slow, deep breaths or practice guided relaxation (Yoga Nidra) in this posture.
How to do corpse pose:
- Lie down on your back and keep your legs slightly apart
- Bring your arms alongside your body, but slightly away
- Tuck your shoulder blades onto your back for support
- Now release and completely let go onto your mat
- Breathe naturally and relax here
Other yoga practices to cool down
Yoga Nidra is one of the most effective practices to cool down the mind and body after a dynamic workout. Many teachers conduct short yoga nidra sessions towards the end of a class, or you can practice from a recording too.
Apart from this, practicing cooling breathing exercises like left nostril breathing, oceans breath and humming bee breath will also relax the body and restore a sense of calm and balance. Alternate nostril breathing is a wonderful balance breathwork exercise that will restore balance and calm. If you have time, you can also practice a short meditation towards the end of a session.
A cool down is a seamless way to transition between your workout and a return to daily activities, calming you and ending the session on a relaxing note. Similar to warm-ups, cool down exercises should not be avoided or ignored. You can make use of props like cushions and blankets to make your cool down poses more relaxing.