Yoga for weight loss: does it really work?
When you want to lose weight, it makes sense to approach it with a combination of eating well and exercising regularly. But, of course, to maintain healthier habits, they have to work for you. If you don’t like sweating it out on a stationary bike or treadmill, it’s understandable that you want to try something like yoga for weight loss. Sure, yoga is about finding your spiritual center and mind-body connection, but it’s also a type of workout that can help you burn calories.
“Yoga may provide some benefits when it comes to weight loss,” says Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, physician specializing in obesity medicine and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. And research backs it up. Yoga appears to be most beneficial for weight when combined with a behavioral intervention for weight management, she says, citing a study 2021 showing that this practice combined with a diet reduced in calories and fat could help in weight loss.
But its effectiveness for weight loss really depends on the type of yoga, says Alli Bradley, yoga instructor from Private Yoga Soho, adding that there are many different types. “If people are looking for yoga as a weight loss tool, I suggest Vinyasa and less of a restorative type of yoga, just because it’s more active,” she explains. “It builds more heat and muscle.”
Meet the experts: Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in obesity medicine. She has received numerous awards for her work, including from the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians. She holds teaching positions at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Alli Bradley offers private yoga classes that combine several styles, including vinyasa and restorative yoga. She has completed 200 hours of yoga training at a studio in New York and is also trained in dance, somatics and energy healing.
The Benefits of Yoga
Yoga has a lot to offer, but there are a few particular aspects of the practice that make it good for weight loss.
It burns calories. It’s hard to put an exact calorie count on yoga torches, given that there are so many different practices and how different each class can be. But Dr. Stanford says maybe you can expect 120 calories for a 30 minute session. “Overall, yoga burns fewer calories than many forms of exercise,” she says. “However, higher intensity sessions with a longer duration can burn more calories.” Keep in mind, however, that if weight loss is your goal, you should do other workouts besides yoga. “The type of exercise most likely to promote weight loss is high-intensity interval training,” she says.
It breaks the stress. Stress causes your body to store fat, especially in the midsection, says Dr. Stanford. According to a 2011 study in the Obesity Diary. “Yoga is considered a mindful practice that reduces stress,” says Dr. Stanford.
It can help with your sleep. Being mindful and less stressed can improve your sleep, Dr. Stanford points out, and it leads to better regulation of brain pathways that regulate weight. People who regularly slept less than the recommended seven hours per night were more likely to have higher average body mass indices and develop obesity than those who slept more, for example. research 2018 published in the journal BMJ Open Sports and Exercise Medicine.
How to get started with yoga at home
In fact, you don’t need much. Bradley suggests getting a high-quality yoga mat, meaning one that provides enough cushioning for your body so you can comfortably work through the moves without slipping. You may also benefit from a block and strap to help if you have tight hamstrings or hips.
Finding the right yoga class and instructor for you is individual. Many cities and towns have local studios, but you can also find yoga classes online that you can stream, like on the Peloton app. In the end, it might take some trial and error to find a source you like.
7 yoga poses to try at home
Yoga is a series of poses strung together to help create an experience, but some are better than others for building muscle and losing weight. Bradley recommends adding the following to the mix to help.
- Down dog. Downward dog has you bending your body in a V-shape with your feet on the floor, your toes pointing forward, and your hands on the floor in front of you. Holding this position can help work your arms, legs, and abs.
- Plank. This position consists of holding your body in a straight and horizontal line, with your hands and toes on the ground. Holding this pose will activate your core, says Bradley.
- side plank. The side plank is similar to a “normal” plank, just with one arm and one leg on the floor, while the other is balanced overhead. It also activates your core, says Bradley, as well as some of your side oblique muscles.
- chair pose. Start standing, then bend your knees while pushing your butt back, as if you were sitting on an invisible chair. “You get good glute and quadriceps activation,” says Bradley.
- Warrior 1. It involves standing with both feet rooted to the ground. Your back leg is behind your front, with the back foot angled outward as your front foot points forward. Your front knee should be bent, while your back leg is straight. Your upper body should be straight with your head and torso pointed in front of you. Your arms and hands are held above you. “All warrior poses are great for activating your legs and core,” says Bradley.
- Warrior 2. Warrior 2’s pose is similar to Warrior 1’s pose. However, your arms should be in a straight, horizontal line and your torso should open to one side.
- Warrior 3. Warrior 3 involves shifting your weight forward from Warrior 1 so that you balance on one straight leg. Your arms are usually stretched out in front of you, horizontal to the floor.
Again, if you want to try yoga for weight loss, it’s usually best paired with another form of exercise, like HIIT. But adding yoga to the mix could help you lose weight and achieve a healthier mindset.
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