Does Yoga Work for Weight Loss? The Answer is Yes!

Yoga for Weight Loss

If you’ve never considered yoga for weight loss before, maybe you should. “Yoga” likely conjures up images of slow, soothing movements, meditation, and even somewhat strange poses. “Fat loss” is NOT usually one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about yoga. However, before you dismiss yoga for weight loss, you should know that studies show people are able to burn calories when practicing certain forms of yoga.

What is Yoga?

Let’s begin with a quick overview. What, exactly, is yoga? The word yoga means to “yoke” or “unite” the body and spirit. Yoga is a series of gentle exercises that combine meditation and breath control with movements and postures, which are designed to help you form a connection between your mind and body. Why is this beneficial? Because when you learn breath control, you learn how to relax and focus your attention on the moment.

Yoga is also a strong physical practice of stretching, maintaining holds, learning breathing techniques, and employing flexibility moves that help you connect with and become aware of your body. A mind-body connection is one of the most powerful forces in the practice of mindfulness.

Why Is Mindfulness Important for Weight Loss?

Mindfulness is an essential tool when it comes to dieting and weight loss. Mindfulness helps you get in touch with your body during yoga sessions, but it can also help you when you’re off the mat, including when it comes to food consumption. Creating a connection that allows you to observe what is happening without reacting to it can help you change your relationship with a variety of life’s challenges. When it comes to eating, you may begin to notice and change your eating patterns, which can result in weight loss. Yoga helps you learn new patterns of thinking, which can help you change your awareness, not only of your body, but of your relationship with food as well.

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Being mindful when you eat (paying attention to each bite and enjoying your food and meal times) can help you derive more satisfaction from your meals and feel satisfied with less food. The practice of yoga helps you develop this kind of relationship with yourself and your food.

But, that’s not the only way yoga helps you with weight loss.

Yes, you also burn calories with yoga. How many calories? Well, that depends on the type of yoga you’re doing. However, a 150-pound person can burn an extra 100 calories in just 30 minutes of even a gentle yoga session. So, yoga for weight loss is a real positive.

The Different Types of Yoga

While there are many types of yoga, some poses are more effective for weight loss than others. That said, each style of yoga has its benefits.

  • Anusara—this relatively new style of Hatha yoga is based on the universal principles of body alignment and experiencing more joy and bliss both in your yoga practice and daily life.
  • Ashtanga—links movement to breath and is often described as a modern-day form of classical yoga, which originated in India.
  • Bikram—often called “hot yoga,” this is a type of Hatha yoga using a specific set of 26 postures and breathing exercises that’s performed in a hot and humid room (set at 105 degrees with 40% humidity).
  • Hatha—is one of the most common, mainstream forms of yoga. It’s a great style for beginners which combines physical exercises with breath control.
  • Iyengar—another form of Hatha yoga that emphasizes precision and alignment. It’s thought to be ideal for people with neck and back problems.
  • Jivamukti—yet another form of Hatha yoga that’s quite vigorous. It typically involves a theme with each session and teaches aspects of yoga.
  • Kripalu—promotes learning about your body with an emphasis on meditation and breathwork. It focuses not just on the movement but on an inward focus. It is also considered a form of Hatha yoga.
  • Kundalini—literally means “coiled snake” and is believed to help release energy coiled at the base of the spine.
  • Power—is a popular yoga style designed to burn calories and fat as it strengthens the body with a fitness-based approach. This is a premium yoga for weight loss.
  • Prenatal—is to assist in keeping pregnant women healthy and flexible and to aid them in getting back into shape after pregnancy.
  • Restorative—designed to promote relaxation through a series of gentle poses. Props are encouraged to help make the poses easier.
  • Sivananda—is a practice that brings diet and exercise, thinking, breathing, and relaxation together for maximum impact. This is another form of Hatha yoga focused on health and wellness.
  • Viniyoga—a faster-paced, therapeutic style of Hatha yoga that’s great for weight loss.
  • Yin—a slow-paced, passive form of postures, also known as asanas, designed to stretch and release tension from joints with the use of gravity.

Yoga Benefits

Yoga has numerous benefits—too many to list. So, here are just some of the reasons people get involved with yoga, which again, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of advantages. You’ll notice, yoga for weight loss is among those many benefits!

  • Weight loss and management
  • Expanded mindfulness
  • Deeper breathing
  • Increased flexibility
  • Stress relief
  • Better balance
  • Increased strength
  • A stronger mind-body connection
  • Better circulation

Yoga for Weight Loss: What is Best?

Ashtanga and Power Yoga are two of the best styles of yoga for weight loss. Try these moves to boost your fat burning (**Thanks to our own Clarissa Schneider for the awesome yoga pose photos).

1. Plank—start in tabletop position and lower your elbows onto the ground while keeping your palms straight out in front of you, aligned with your elbows, and face down. Straighten your legs out behind you to balance your body weight on your toes and forearms. Pull your tummy in and up while keeping your back and hips in a straight line. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

2. Crescent Pose—from a standing position with feet hip-width apart, slowly bend forward and place your hands on the floor (bend your knees as much as needed). While bending forward, exhale and step back with your right leg as you bend your left knee until it forms a 90-degree angle. You can rest your right knee on the ground for better balance or keep the knee lifted off the ground for a high lunge, which is more challenging. Sweep your arms forward and up overhead as you curve into a slight back bend. Keep your abs pulled in and up and focus on your center, and raise your heart toward the sky as you look up. Remember to keep your shoulders down and relaxed, and breathe deeply for a count of 5 before you return to standing by straightening both legs and bringing the right leg up to meet the left. Repeat on the opposite side.

3. Chair Pose—for those of us who squat regularly, this will likely feel familiar, though you won’t squat down quite as far. Begin by standing with your feet together and your legs “zipped together,” active, and strong. Raise your arms straight into the air toward the ceiling in line with your ears. Pushing your hips back as you bend your knees, lower your bum until your thighs are at about a 45-degree angle with the floor. Again, breathe deeply for a count of five, letting your body ground down as you exhale and lift and lengthen as you inhale. Then return to standing.

4. Warrior Pose I—begin with your feet together and your arms by your sides. Take a large step back with your right foot and place it at a 45-degree angle directly behind your left foot. Keeping your right leg straight, bend your left knee until it is at a 90-degree angle. With your torso facing forward, raise your arms straight above your head with your palms facing each other. Look up if it feels good or continue to look forward. Hold this pose for 5 deep breaths, return to standing, and repeat on the opposite side.

5. Warrior Pose II—begin in the same way as Warrior Pose I by standing straight with your arms by your sides. Take a large step back with your right foot and place it at a 45-degree angle directly behind your left foot. Keeping your right leg straight, bend your left knee until it is at a 90-degree angle. Next, straighten both arms out so the left arm is directly over the left thigh and the right arm is lengthening behind you over the right leg, so your arms are parallel with the floor. Look forward over the middle finger of the left hand. Hold this pose for 5 breaths in and out (if you can!), and return to the start. Repeat on the opposite side.

Yoga for Weight Loss

These poses can feel a bit challenging when you’re beginning, so take it slowly and remember it’s a practice. It may also be worth it to sign up for a yoga class to get a good feel for the movements and alignment. Whether you decide to give yoga a try at your gym, a yoga studio, or even in your own living room, you can enjoy a variety of benefits—including increased strength, balance, flexibility, and yes, even weight loss.

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References

  • The Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga
  • Braun T, Park C, Conboy LA. Psychological well-being, health behaviors, and weight loss among participants in a residential, Kripalu yoga-based weight loss program. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. 2012 Jan 1;22(1):9-22.
  • Kolotkin RL, Crosby RD, Williams GR, Hartley GG, Nicol S. The relationship between health‐related quality of life and weight loss. Obesity. 2001 Sep 1;9(9):564-71.
  • Kruger J, Blanck HM, Gillespie C. Dietary and physical activity behaviors among adults successful at weight loss maintenance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2006 Jul 19;3(1):17.
  • Amazing Power of Flexibility Exercises