How Yoga Can Help You Reach Your Weight-Loss Goals
Can you do yoga for weight loss? Absolutely, and it's an especially good choice for beginners looking for a low-impact exercise option. Gentle beginner's flows can help you become familiar with the movements, increase strength through bodyweight moves, and get your body used to moving and breathing hard. And once you're ready to move on, you can choose more strength- or sculpting-based yoga flows to help you build muscle and burn calories.
Compared to high-intensity impact training (aka HIIT), cardio, or weightlifting workouts, yoga will leave you feeling refreshed instead of wiped out, loose and flexible instead of tight, and can even be beneficial for your mental health. So what kind of yoga should you do for weight loss? We talked to some experts to find out.
Yes, You Can Lose Weight With Yoga
"Yoga can be a good source of exercise," said Jorianne Numbers, MS, an exercise physiologist with Northwestern Medicine. At the most basic level, she said, yoga is a form of movement that helps you burn calories, which is a major part of losing weight (though your exact amount burned will depend on your height, weight, and gender).
But there's more behind yoga's relationship with 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," explained Lara Heimann, physical therapist, yoga instructor, and founder of LYT Method, a yoga certification program. 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 your exercise routine. "The congruency between mindfulness on and off of the mat is what can make yoga more effective for weight loss than other forms of exercise," Heimann told POPSUGAR.
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," explained Liza Janda, a certified yoga instructor at Yoga Janda. Cortisol is an appetite stimulant, hence why many of us eat when we're stressed out. A relaxing yoga practice can help you deal with stress in a healthier way and even avoid it, and the related weight gain, altogether.
Which Yoga Practices Are Best For Weight Loss?
If you're looking for pure calorie burn, our experts agreed that fast-paced Vinyasa yoga is the practice to choose. "A good Vinyasa class will take you through a variety of movements, with a focus on integrating your core and weight-bearing on your hands and feet," Heimann explained. Imagine a classic yoga sequence, in which you flow from high plank to Chaturanga Dandasana (lowering from high plank into a low hold, similar to a triceps push-up) to Upward-Facing Dog — you're getting a core burn, working your triceps, then using your arms to hold up your bodyweight as you stretch. This kind of weight-bearing move "increases heart rate and builds muscle," Janda told POPSUGAR. Building muscle boosts your metabolism, which helps you burn calories even after you're done exercising.
Power yoga is another good choice, Numbers told POPSUGAR, though it's more intense, so beginners might want to work up to it. "In power yoga, there is less meditation and more of a focus on standing poses and faster-paced movement," she explained. Your heart will pump even harder than in a Vinyasa class, which is good news for losing weight; Janda recommended aiming for a heart rate that's 55 to 85 percent of your maximum to get the most calories burned out of a class.
And what about hot yoga? "Vinyasa classes burn more calories than the hot yoga," Heimann told POPSUGAR. Many people think it's the other way around, she explained, because "hot yoga makes you feel like you're working harder than you actually are because your body is just trying to thermoregulate." In other words, sweating more doesn't mean you're burning more calories. "The sweat you produce should come simply from physical exertion," Janda said, not from temperature.
A more gentle yoga class, such as Hatha or Yin yoga, won't burn as many calories as Vinyasa or power yoga, but that doesn't meant those classes aren't worth doing. These types of yoga can reduce tension in your body, benefit your mental health, decrease stress levels, and help you be more mindful. They're especially great choices for rest days when you want to give your body a break, but still get some movement in.
How Often Should I Do Yoga to Lose Weight?
For the best weight-loss results, Janda recommended doing yoga three times a week. Continue to stay active and get your heart rate up on the other three to four days as well, whether through cardio workouts, weightlifting sessions, or HIIT workouts. And keep your diet in mind, too, by eating nutritional food and avoiding overprocessed products if you can. "Exercise alone without dieting makes losing weight hard," Numbers said. "Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume."
If you eat healthy and exercise, though, the results will come, and yoga can definitely have a place in the process, if you want it to. Roll out your mat and get started!