Can Yoga REALLY Help You Lose Weight?

There’s no doubt yoga is a calming experience. It can also be great for flexibility and core strength. But can it also help you lose weight? The answer: maybe.

If you’ve ever completed a single Sun Salutation series, you know yoga is far more than just simple stretching. While yoga might look easy to the uninitiated, anyone who has tried it understands it can be a seriously tough experience.

When it comes to weight loss, however, there is plenty of debate over how effective yoga really is. While there are many programs and classes that claim yoga helps you lose weight, critics point out it burns far fewer calories than cardio exercise. Let’s take a look at what the research says.

Can Yoga Help You Lose Weight?

At its most basic, losing weight comes down to whether your calorie intake is lower than your calorie usage. You can tip the balance towards fat burning by reducing the calories you consume or burning more calories during the day (ideally both).

When it comes to raw calorie burning, yoga can’t keep up with other forms of cardiovascular exercise. According to WebMD, yoga burns around 150 calories in an hour (for someone weighing 150 pounds). For comparison, just walking at a medium pace for an hour can burn over double. You’ll still burn calories when doing yoga, but you would burn a lot more doing other forms of exercise.

Despite the relatively low number of calories burned, a large study of 15,500 adults showed that practising yoga over a period of four years (at least one 30 minute session per week) resulted in a weight gain of 3lb less than average for people of a normal weight. For people who were overweight, the weight gain was 18.5lb less than average.

This led researchers to conclude that:

Although causal inference from this observational study is not possible, results are consistent with the hypothesis that regular yoga practice can benefit individuals who wish to maintain or lose weight.

What this means is that there still needs to be  research into whether yoga directly stimulates weight loss, but it seems beneficial. The weight loss effects weren’t huge, but they were noticeable.

There is debate over why yoga might cause weight loss though. Aside from burning a small amount of calories, some people think it’s because yoga teaches mindfulness. When you are more mindful in your daily life, it might be easier to avoid the temptation of tasty but short-lived treats. The more you’re aware of what you’re eating, the less likely you are to over-eat.

With that said, weight loss ultimately comes back to your calorie intake. While yoga might help you eat less, it doesn’t burn many calories directly so it can’t counteract a bad diet. Restricting calories (using a diet such as intermittent fasting or the Half Day Diet) and performing cardiovascular exercise is likely to help you lose weight much faster.

Side note: Aside from weight loss, yoga may help prevent cardiovascular disease in people who are obese. 

Which Type of Yoga Burns the Most Fat?

Different types of yoga burn varying amounts of calories. Athletic people may enjoy Bikram, Vinyasa (or variants such as Yoga Burn) or Ashtanga yoga, as these involve series of poses that can raise your heart rate.

For raw calorie burn, power yoga might be a good choice. It’s a combination of aerobic exercise and yoga poses that helps to burn maximum calories – although it probably isn’t suitable for beginners.

Even restorative yoga, which is less intense than vinyasa yoga, may help with weight loss. A study in 2013 showed that women who did a 48 week restorative yoga program lost “significantly more subcutaneous fat” during the initial 6 months than those who just did a basic stretching routine.

Tips for Losing Weight with Yoga

If you’re ready to try yoga but are finding it hard to take those first steps, here are some tips:

  • Don’t care what anyone else thinks. One of the most common reasons people avoid any type of public exercise is fear of being judged. This is especially true with yoga, where the thought of entering a class of trim and flexible yogis can be intimidating. The reality is that most people either won’t care how experienced you are or respect that you’re trying to change in the first place.
  • Don’t wait until you’ve lose weight to start. Any healthy person can start yoga, so don’t think you need to the classic “yoga body” just to start. Remember, everyone was a beginner at some point.
  • Don’t spend your savings on expensive yoga gear. You don’t need anything more than a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms to do yoga. Sure, if you love yoga there’s nothing wrong with splashing out. But expensive yoga parts aren’t a requirement to get started.
  • Don’t see yoga as a competition. You can’t be “bad” at yoga – and it certainly isn’t a competition. All that matters is that you work on improving your poses at your own pace.
  • Do look for a good teacher. The right teacher can make the difference between success or failure. Ideally, you should find a real-world teacher – at least to start with. There are some excellent online tutors too though.

The most important thing is to make yoga a regular practice. You won’t make the progress you want if you don’t make it a priority.

Summary

There are many benefits to yoga, including greater mindfulness, improved flexibility and increased strength. While yoga may help you lose weight by burning extra calories (compared to resting) and teaching self-awareness, a class is never going to equal the calorie burn of cardiovascular workouts.

Even so, studies seem to show that yoga can have a positive effect on people trying to lose weight. This, combined with the other benefits, mean that including yoga in your weekly routine could be a great choice. Yoga doesn’t burn enough calories to counteract a bad diet though, so your daily calorie intake is the first thing to adjust if you want to lose weight.


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