Apple Watch and yoga: A guide to staying fit and flexible with Apple's smartwatch

We put the Watch Series 4 to the yoga test
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Along with new sizes and serious health tracking features like ECG, the Apple Watch Series 4 brings better support for tracking a wider range of activities. One of those new activities is yoga.

While runners, cyclists and swimmers are well catered for with Apple's smartwatch, the same could not be said for anyone who preferred an early morning Bikram session to hammering a run out on the treadmill.

Essential reading: Apple Watch tips and tricks

But how good is the new Apple Watch for yoga? Is it worth grabbing the smartwatch when you need to find some inner peace? We've been putting the Watch Series 4 to the yoga test to find out.

Got any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.

Yoga tracking with the Apple Watch

Apple Watch and yoga: A guide to staying fit and flexible with Apple's smartwatch

One thing to note first is that while the Watch Series 4 has automatic exercise detection – that is, noticing you’ve started an exercise and asking if you want to track it without you having to tell it first – this isn’t the case with yoga tracking.

You won’t get a notification asking you if you’ve started your vinyasa flow once you get into downward dog. But that’s not so surprising; it’d take a pretty intricate set of sensors to recognise that. It will, however, give you an alert telling you that there's an exercise in progress if you've started to run or walk briskly, asking if you want to track it. Just not with the other forms of fitness.

Nevertheless, the native Apple Watch yoga app works in the same way as all the other fitness tracking options, such as outdoor running and HIIT. Before you start your practice, when you’re sitting on your mat, crossed-legged and waiting for your teacher to kick off the class, select “start yoga workout” from the fitness app, it’ll countdown from three, and you’re ready to go.

Apple Watch and yoga: A guide to staying fit and flexible with Apple's smartwatch

The good thing here is that you don’t need to look at the watch again until your practice is over and you tell it to stop tracking. It'll also remain silent throughout – a feature that is imperative during a yoga class. You don’t want to be that person interrupting the class's sun salutation sequence. We should note that the Apple Watch doesn’t produce any notifications or alerts during the practice, either.

The bulk of the data you get from tracking a yoga session comes once you’ve ended the tracking – although, still, it isn’t all that comprehensive. The Apple Watch is able to track your heart rate in beats per minute (BPM), displaying the average during the time it took to workout, and then converts this to display the active and total calories burned during the exercise (“active” calories being those that you burned working out and “total” being the active calories plus the resting calories – those you would have burned anyway just by breathing).

For example, in an 1 hour yoga class at ChromaYoga, we burned 333 active calories, 446 total calories with an average heart rate BPM reading of 111. Apple Watch also saves the location this took place using the onboard GPS, and adds it to the Apple Health app’s calendar. But that’s about it.

The yogi take on smartwatches

Apple Watch and yoga: A guide to staying fit and flexible with Apple's smartwatch

While heart rate and calorie markers work well in tracking how active you’re being generally, counting towards your weekly total for instance, they aren’t really things that yoga enthusiasts will find all that useful. For the Apple Watch to track yoga in a more effective and meaningful way, it would have to give you insights into the crucial factors that are involved in the ancient practice.

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Experienced yoga practitioners would like to see an alternative data set, as heart rate tracking and calories burned isn’t something yogis are particularly interested in. But who knows yoga better than a yoga teacher? We spoke to one to get their perspective on where the Apple Watch, and smartwatches in general, could improve when it comes to tracking yoga practice.

Matt Feczko, a London-based teacher and founder of Lunges in Leggings, is no stranger to the blend of technology and yoga, working as a product manager for Microsoft in the past and now working at a tech startup in addition to his fitness and yoga instructing roles. He told us that one of the most beneficial ways wearables such as the Apple Watch could work in yoga would be through tracking breath.

“When we breathe, it slows down our sympathetic nervous system and turns on our parasympathetic nervous system, allowing our body and mind to enter a more relaxed state. It’s the most powerful tool we have for our physical and mental health,” said Feczko.

“In yoga, breathing properly helps us into physical positions, but it also allows our mental state to reach the same place as our physical body.

“It reduces stress, it brings calm, increases oxygen in the blood stream, lowers adrenaline and makes us happy.”

Breathing is therefore a crucial factor when it comes to yoga practice, especially for newbies as it’s often the aspect that people find the hardest to grasp. First timers will likely breathe too fast, finding it difficult to get into certain positions, or exhausting themselves too quickly. While Apple's smartwatches, along with other wearables, now offer guided breathing features, these are not put to use for yoga.

“When we learn to breathe can we finally understand how our mind and body work together,” Feczko explained. “It’s the breathing that’s critical to the rest of our lives.”

In terms of wearables, Feczko said he’d like to see future devices tracking how you breathe in yoga, such as the rhythm and the speed.

“If you’re breathing too fast, it could give you a subtle reminder to slow down, such as a simple vibration or pulse. And maybe there could be a more soothing way than a vibration reminder, such as a gentle warming of the Watch, or maybe it could be embedded with the ability to release scents! Who knows!”

As the addition of trackable yoga workouts is brand new to the Apple Watch, we can only imagine there’s a lot more to come in future iterations of the smartwatch.

How we test

Lee Bell


Lee is a writer and editor for specialised technology publications.

Since 2012, he has been covering London's buzzing tech scene, reporting on the latest innovations in consumer tech, such as apps, artificial intelligence, health tech, the Internet of Things and the smart home, internet security, semiconductors, startups, transport and telecoms.

You can find him writing for publications such as GQ, Esquire, Men's Health, The Times, The Sun, The Mirror, Wired UK, MailOnline and The Metro, covering topics such as health and fitness, entertainment, science, space, and travel.

See Lee's full portfolio here

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