Can yoga help you lose weight? Here's everything you need to know
Yoga can be a good form of exercise. But if weight loss is your goal, it's natural to wonder if your daily practice can help burn calories and fat. Find out which yoga asanas can help with weight loss.
Yoga might seem like the polar opposite of a fast-paced, high-intensity cardio or weightlifting workout, the two kinds of exercises usually recommended for weight loss. Unlike these exercises, yoga leaves the body feeling refreshed instead of wiped out, loose instead of tight, flexible instead of sore. Studies suggest it's even good for your mental health, helping you deal with stress and anxiety. While weightlifting and cardio are fun and effective for weight loss, they're also not for everyone. If yoga sounds more appealing and weight loss is your goal, it's natural to wonder if your daily practice can help you shed weight and burn fat.
Yes, you can lose weight with yoga
"Yoga can be a good source of exercise," says Anjali Mittal, a yoga instructor and physical therapist from Delhi. At the most basic level, she says, yoga is a form of movement that helps you burn calories, which is a major part of losing weight. Though your exact amount of burned calories will depend on your height, weight, and gender, says Mittal.
But there's more behind the relationship between yoga and weight loss than first meets the eye. An effective practice also fosters a mind-body connection that makes you more mindful in every facet of your life. Yoga brings you into a heightened state of awareness, says Mittal. "Moving through different poses and holds increases your awareness of your body, and that can translate to other effective weight-loss habits, like eating healthy, which is key for losing weight, no matter what exercise you're doing. The harmony between mindfulness on and off the yoga mat is what can make it more effective for weight loss than other forms of exercise," explains Mittal.
Moreover, yoga has long been regarded as an effective way to relieve stress, and that on its own can be a weight-loss tool. "Having a less stressful life, and fewer stress hormones such as cortisol, can help anyone lead a healthier lifestyle," says Mumbai-based dietician and clinical nutritionist Geetanjali Shah. Cortisol is an appetite stimulant, hence why we tend to eat (and overeat) when we're stressed out and to crave unhealthy foods in particular. Shah says a relaxing yoga practice can help you deal with stress in a healthier way and even avoid it, as well as avoid the related weight gain, altogether.
Which yoga asanas are best for weight loss?
If you're looking for pure calorie burn, Shah and Mittal agreed that fast-paced Vinyasa yoga is the practice to choose. "A good Vinyasa yoga session will take you through a variety of movements, with a focus on integrating your core and weight-bearing on your hands and feet," Mittal explains. You get a core burn, work your triceps and use your arms to hold up your bodyweight as you stretch. This kind of weight-bearing move "increases heart rate and builds muscle," says Mittal. The more muscle you build, the more calories you'll burn even after you're done exercising.
Power yoga is another good choice, says Mittal, though it's more intense and better suited for people who are already in good shape. "In power yoga, there is less meditation and more of a focus on standing poses and faster-paced movement," she explains. Your heart will pump even harder than in a Vinyasa class, which is good news for losing weight. Mittal also says that although a more gentle yoga practice, such as Hatha, won't burn as many calories, it can benefit your mental health and decrease stress levels. "It can help you be more mindful, which has weight-loss benefits as well," she says.
How often should you do yoga to lose weight?
For the best weight-loss results, Shah recommends doing yoga three times a week. Continue to stay active and get your heart rate on the other three to four days as well, whether through cardio or weightlifting workouts of 45 minutes to an hour. And keep your nutrition in mind, too. "Exercise alone without dieting makes losing weight hard," says Shah. "Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. If you eat clean and burn calories, though, the results will come, and yoga has a place in the process," she adds.