Yoga won’t help you lose weight. At least not in the traditional, calorie-burning, aerobic exercise sense. A typical yoga class burns fewer than 200 calories, far less than an intense aerobic or weight training workout. Surprisingly, however, yogis still find that they lose weight from a regular yoga practice.
The benefits of yoga for weight loss are indirect and due to subtleties that are a bit more difficult to quantify. And how much weight you lose will depend greatly on what kind of shape you’re in when you start.
Formula for Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight, the plan is simple: Eat less and move more. No hack, no magic formula, no special foods or the latest trendy diet will make you lose weight. If you’ve been sedentary, moving more will be challenging in the beginning. But once you start moving more, you’ll want to move. And your attitude toward food will change significantly.
Your goal should be to lose fat, not muscle. This means you need to eat enough to sustain your muscle mass and still lose body fat. Eat real, natural healthy foods and participate in strength-training and cardiovascular exercise.
Weight Loss with Yoga
So why would you bother with yoga for weight loss when there are far more direct ways to go after those stubborn pounds? Because yoga transforms you in ways you can’t imagine. And that transformation will subtly move you toward a more healthy, balanced version of yourself.
Yoga Builds Muscle
One of the ways yoga will help you lose weight is by building muscle in your body. The more out of shape you are when you begin yoga, the more dramatic the change will be.
Although yoga postures don’t burn lots of calories, they do build muscle. And muscle burns calories 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Those extra calories come from your stored body fat. Increasing your muscle mass will turn you into a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine.
Yoga Increases Mindfulness
Yoga was never meant to be an exercise class. The purpose of yoga is to prepare your body and mind for meditation. As you practice, the postures become a form of moving meditation. You’ll learn to quiet your mind and be fully present in the moment.
When you learn to be more mindful, you’ll be more aware of what and how you are feeding your body. You’ll find that some of the unhealthy foods you used to eat are no longer acceptable to you. You’ll also be more aware of the quantity of food you’re eating and find that you’re satisfied with less.
When your mindful awareness increases, your mind-body connection will improve. This will help you to be more aware of how your body is feeling. For example, if you’ve been on the computer all day, you’ll notice that your body needs to get up and move.
Yoga Reduces Stress
When you’re stressed, your levels of cortisol rise. Increased levels of cortisol cause insulin levels to rise. This, in turn, causes your blood sugar to tank. And when that happens, you get very, very hungry. You’ll crave sugary, fatty and high-calorie foods. If you live in a state of chronic stress, then you’ll experience this on an ongoing basis. And you’ll pack on the pounds.
Yoga reduces stress. It balances your hormones and insulin levels and regulates your blood sugar. With regular practice, your cortisol levels will normalize, and your food cravings will disappear. And so will those extra pounds of body fat. Much of that fat will come from your waistline.
Yoga Improves Performance
Flexibility is key for any type of activity. Yoga will increase flexibility in all your muscles and joints. When your body is more flexible, any other movement you engage in will be easier and more effective.
Therefore, yoga can help you lose weight if you’ve been avoiding exercise because of pain and tightness. Exercise will be more enjoyable, so you’ll be more likely to participate.
The bottom line is, yoga helps you lose weight in ways that are mostly indirect. But its effects can facilitate a profound change in your weight and your lifestyle choices. If you decide to make yoga practice a regular thing, try to incorporate some cardiovascular and strength training exercise into your exercise regime as well. That way you’ll cover all your fitness needs.
Janet Ashforth is a certified Personal Trainer, licensed Massage Therapist, and meditation instructor. She has been helping people regain their health and wellness for more than 14 years. Janet also writes about health, fitness, nutrition, cooking, and baking. She is a real food advocate and currently creating a wellness retreat.