As yoga becomes more and more popular over time, people become aware of its many health benefits. Since yoga is associated with gentle movements and mindfulness, many people assume it cannot help anyone reach their fitness goals. Is it possible to practice yoga to lead to weight loss?
Yoga does help with weight loss, but only intense, challenging yoga forms burn significant calories in a single session. However, yoga improves overall health and has been linked to lowered blood pressure, decreased stress, and increased muscle mass.
The rest of this article will explore how yoga can lead to weight loss and what types of yoga are best for achieving this goal. It will also offer helpful tips for making the most out of a yoga fitness routine and highlight additional benefits to regularly practicing yoga.
Although yoga continues to grow in popularity, many people still do not consider it a good form of exercise; instead of looking at it to de-stress and improve flexibility. While this is true, yoga is still considered a legitimate form of exercise. According to WebMD, most forms of yoga are classified as strength workouts rather than aerobic workouts. However, research shows that strength workouts are just as effective as aerobic workouts in maintaining overall health.
In fact, in recommendations from the US Department of Health and Human Services, two and a half to five hours of moderate-intensity workouts are shown as equivalent to shorter vigorous-intensity workouts. Yoga fits into this perfectly, offering a way to get in the recommended amount of physical activity per week without risking the injuries associated with high-intensity training.
Furthermore, yoga has been consistently linked to weight loss. A National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health review of yoga weight control programs found that consistent yoga practice led to moderate, gradual weight loss. A different study by the same center also found that yoga helped reduce the body mass index (BMI) in overweight or obese individuals, further strengthening yoga ties to weight loss.
Yoga may be especially beneficial for weight loss in middle-aged individuals. Studies from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found that yoga can help prevent what is commonly known as the middle-age spread and promote weight loss in overweight people between ages 45 and 55. While most people in this age range can expect to gain about a pound a year, participants who practiced yoga gained less weight than individuals who didn’t.
So how many calories does doing yoga burn? Prevention Magazine estimates that yoga can burn between 180 and 600 calories an hour. This large range stems from the fact that there are so many different types of yoga. For example, you’ll burn less calories doing restorative yoga than Bikram yoga. This article will cover the best types of yoga for burning calories a little later on.
Let’s take a closer look at exactly how yoga leads to weight loss.
If you’re at all familiar with weight lifting, you may have heard the term “training to failure” or “training to exhaustion.” Simply put, this refers to repeating a motion until the body cannot do it any longer. Training to failure is necessary to build muscle and gain overall body strength. While you’re unlikely to be lifting heavy weights during yoga, holding poses for a long time produces the same effect by pushing muscles to their point of exhaustion.
Why is building muscle important to losing weight? Larger muscles burn more calories even at rest, explains The Mayo Clinic. Building muscle speeds up your metabolism, so even when you’re not working out, you’re burning more calories than someone with less muscle mass. Creating a calorie deficit is critical to weight loss, so having a body that burns more calories is advantageous.
Most forms of yoga utilize pulsing movements in addition to holding poses. While these small movements aren’t dramatic, they create an incredible burn and lead to great results. Pulsing fatigues muscles faster than holding a difficult pose, explains Women’s Health, helping you build endurance and muscle mass.
During pulses, the muscle is continuously contracted, as opposed to the moment of release in full range motions. Pulsing brings blood to the muscle, which can increase its growth. These micro-motions also help target small parts of the body that are already pretty strong and take more work to train, like at the top of the knee.
An unexpected way yoga helps with weight loss is by getting individuals into the right mental state to eat mindfully. Yoga promotes the mind-body connection. This enables those practicing it to pay closer attention to their bodies, only eating when they’re hungry and stopping when they’re full, leading to weight loss. According to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, this wasn’t found with other forms of physical activity.
Yoga also helps to reduce overall stress, which can lead to emotional and binge eating. By achieving greater mental peace and becoming more aware of your body, regular yoga practice can help set up healthy habits that will lead to weight loss and healthy weight maintenance over time.
While I mentioned earlier that most forms of yoga are not considered aerobic workouts, there are some exceptions. Certain variations provide very intense aerobic benefits in addition to strength training benefits. These types of yoga are great options for anyone looking to lose weight a little faster than with the traditional practice that incorporates aspects like breathing and meditation. Let’s take a closer look at some of the highest calorie-burning forms of yoga.
Ashtanga yoga is one of the most challenging, dynamic forms of yoga. The focus is on performing a nonstop series of poses, leaving little time for participants to catch their breath. The goal is to increase internal body temperature through a continuous flow of motion to purify the body and purge it of toxins. This vigorous aerobic workout will not only get you sweating but will burn tons of calories.
While Ashtanga yoga is fairly challenging, Yoga Journal explains that it is based on six series of movements, allowing individuals to move at their own pace if necessary. However, keeping up with the constant motion will help you build strength, endurance, and flexibility. You’ll also be taught a special breathing technique designed to focus the mind and control air’s flow through the body.
Bikram yoga has exploded in popularity in the past few years, so you’ve likely heard of it before. This form of yoga is unique, as it is practiced in a room set to at least 105 °F (40.5 °C) and 40% humidity. Also known as hot yoga, Bikram yoga is extremely demanding, as students are led through a repetitive series of 26 poses over the course of 90 minutes.
While the heat makes this form of yoga feel much more intense, it also makes muscles more pliable by increasing blood flow. According to the American Heart Association, heat also dilates your blood vessels to fill your muscles with oxygen and prevent injury. At the same time, however, the heat may be too much for individuals with diabetes or hypertension. Make sure to check with your doctor before attending a Bikram class.
Power yoga is often used as a blanket term to cover different forms of Vinyasa flow yoga, like Ashtanga yoga. Invented by Beryl Bender Birch in 1955, Birch used the term “power” to help Americans understand the idea of yoga that was challenging and highly athletic. Today, it’s one of the most popular forms of yoga and is offered throughout the country.
As with Ashtanga yoga, Power yoga involves a constant flow of motion as students move from pose to pose. Power yoga focuses primarily on fitness, so teachers have more flexibility to design pose sequences that will challenge students and burn more calories. Adding two to three power yoga sessions into your exercise regime is a great way to increase muscle and, consequently, burn more calories.
If you’re interested in the challenge and calorie-torching nature of power yoga but want to explore yoga’s spiritual side, Jivamukti yoga is a fantastic option. This style of yoga stays true to the Vinyasa flow practice of swiftly moving from pose to pose, raising the body temperature, and increasing overall strength. However, the overall goal is to bring ancient teachings into a modern setting, explains the Yoga Journal.
To achieve this goal, Jivamukti yoga classes incorporate yoga’s spiritual and meditative aspects throughout the challenging session. This includes chants, reading of ancient texts, music, meditation, and more. Beginner classes typically focus on standing poses, including inversions and backbends. Students say they leave Jivamukti classes feeling both physically and spiritually fulfilled.
To get a taste of what high energy yoga for weight loss looks like, check out this YouTube workout that combines moves from different styles of yoga:
Although exercising in any capacity is a step in the right direction to losing weight, in order to see changes, you’ll need to take some time to plan for success. Yoga is no different. A 2013 study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health identified multiple factors that made participants’ yoga practice lead to greater weight loss. Let’s look closer at these factors, as well as other general factors that make a fitness regime easier to stick with.
While you may think that getting a good yoga workout requires a trip to a fancy yoga studio, you can actually get in a good sweat at home. The study mentioned above-found home practice to be one of the major factors for a successful yoga workout program. While you may need to go to a studio for specialty yoga like Bikram, YouTube is full of easy yoga videos that don’t require any equipment but a yoga mat. Get started with this guide for complete beginners:
Working out at home means eliminating the excuse of leaving the house to go to the gym. Sometimes after a long day of work, it can seem like too much of a bother to get dressed and leave the house. Having an exercise option that can be done at home, even in apartments where noise is a concern, makes it easy for even the laziest person to get active.
It goes without saying that any workout routine has to be done regularly to produce results. While you don’t need to do yoga seven days a week to lose weight, you should shoot for three or four times a week. It’s also best practice to do other workouts throughout the week to train different muscle groups, even if it’s just walking around your neighborhood.
Active rest days are another great way to stay active without feeling like you’re working out constantly. Give yourself days off from yoga, especially if you’re sore, but find ways to keep moving throughout the day. Go on a bike ride with friends or even walk around a museum to get your steps in. Staying active doesn’t always mean intense, sweaty gym sessions.
Another important factor for success listed in the study was utilizing a wide variety of yoga poses and elements. Having a large repertoire of exercise options is smart advice for not only yoga but also all types of fitness plans. For yoga, this can mean drawing poses from the different yoga styles detailed above and incorporating both standing and seated poses.
So why is the variety of yogas so important in fitness? There are quite a few reasons that it’s so important to keep your workout routine fresh, including:
- It Keeps Your Workout Fun: Doing the same workout every day will get boring, really fast. If you keep introducing new exercises, even if they’re challenging, you’ll probably enjoy the deviation from your normal routine. According to Time Magazine, if you have fun working out, you’re significantly more likely to stick to your routine.
- It Forces You to Be Present: When you get used to a workout, you start to tune out. Going through the motions and not being aware of your body can lead to poor form, causing injuries. Staying mentally present during your workout is not only safe, but it also forces you to check in with yourself and take a mental break in a busy schedule.
- It Combats Adaptation: If you’ve found yourself plateauing on your fitness journey, adaptation may be to blame – especially if you’ve been doing the same workout for weeks. The human body adapts very easily, meaning that your body will eventually become used to the exercise you’re doing and stop reacting to it.
Switching up your routine essentially shocks your body into action, allowing you to keep gaining muscle, losing weight, and developing skills. Men’s Journal suggests changing your routine every six to eight weeks.
It can be easy to lose momentum with any fitness program if you’re struggling with the moves. One of the best things about yoga is how beginner-friendly it is, in large part, to how difficult moves can be modified with props. These props help to support posture and aid students with limited flexibility. Two of the most helpful are:
- Yoga Blocks: These props function to “raise” the floor or help shorten a range of motion for individuals with limited flexibility. If you’re unable to reach your hands to the ground in a particular pose, you can instead place them on the yoga blocks. This Gaiam Essential Yoga Block Set is light and non-slip, so you’ll be secure even in the sweatiest Bikram yoga class.
- Yoga Straps: These cotton straps aid in stretching and are especially helpful for individuals with any sort of injury or weakness, as well as general inflexibility. You can use the strap to extend your reach in nearly any difficult pose. Amazon.com offers this Clever Yoga Strap for Stretching, which comes in eight or ten feet lengths depending on your needs.
While weight loss is a great benefit of practicing yoga, this exercise offers many more incredible benefits. These benefits are both physical and mental and apply to people of all ages. Yoga is an exercise that almost anyone can do – and with all benefits like these, it makes sense to give it a try. Benefits of a regular yoga practice include:
- Improved Balance and Flexibility: Balance is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for us as we age and are at risk of serious injuries due to falls. Flexibility is crucial to maintaining a range of motion that allows for daily tasks. The slow, measured pace of yoga is great for building up the muscle strength needed for balance and flexibility.
- Stress Relief: Stress is incredibly toxic to the body. It negatively impacts nearly every system in the body, so reducing stress can quite literally save your life. Yoga focuses on breathing and staying present, which can help to calm a worried mind. If you’re feeling especially anxious, look for the types of yoga that incorporate meditation and breathing exercises, like Jivamukti yoga.
- Better Sleep: Johns Hopkins Medicine asserts that a bedtime yoga routine has been linked to better sleep as it prepares your body and mind to wind down for the day.
- Lower Blood Pressure: According to WebMD, yoga has been linked to lower blood pressure and slower heart rates. This is especially beneficial for people who have had a stroke or have heart disease. Since high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease, yoga also improves overall heart health.
With dedication and a little planning, a yoga routine can offer not only weight loss, but an overall improvement to the quality of life. The exercise is easily modified, so individuals of all ages and athletic abilities can participate. With lots of different styles of yoga to explore, there is truly something for everyone.
- WebMD: Yoga
- US Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Yoga: What You Need to Know
- Wikipedia: Body Mass Index
- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: Regular Yoga Practice May Help Prevent Middle-Age Spread
- Prevention: How to Boost the Number of Calories Burned During a Yoga Workout
- Wikipedia: Training to Failure
- Mayo Clinic: Weight Loss
- Women’s Health: Does It Actually Do Anything When You ‘Pulse’ In A Workout Class?
- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: Regular Yoga Practice is Associated with Mindful Eating
- Yoga Journal: Find Your Match Among the Many Types of Yoga
- American Heart Association: Warm Up, Cool Down
- Wikipedia: Beryl Bender Birch
- Yoga Journal: Jivamukti Yoga
- Time: 6 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Enjoying Your Next Workout
- Men’s Journal: 6 Signs It’s Time to Switch Your Workout Routine
- John Hopkins Medicine: 9 Benefits of Yoga
- WebMD: The Health Benefits of Yoga
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