Yoga can actually be a very effective way to lose weight, as long as certain things are kept in mind. Like any form of exercise or movement, yoga helps the body burn calories. However, yoga is differentiated from typical exercises because of its holistic focus on mindfulness. Yoga is actually a 5,000 year old philosophical practice – not just an exercise routine. But when it comes to losing weight, keeping in mind the philosophy and mindfulness of yoga can actually be beneficial.
Losing Weight With Yoga
Yoga’s power to help with weight loss is multifaceted. Many yogis bring their practice off their mat and into their daily life. Yoga is therefore not just an exercise regimen, but also a powerful tool that influence lifestyle decisions, such as when, what, and how much to eat. This is what makes yoga unique among weight loss techniques. Ultimately, weight loss is only possible when the body is in calorie deficit – understood as the point when more calories are burned than are taken in. For instance, around 3,500 calories must be burned (in deficit) to lose one pound of fat. The physical act of yoga helps burn calories.
True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied. Aadil Palkhivala
However, other aspects such as the mindfulness and philosophy help the yogi make more healthy decisions when it comes to food intake. The philosophy of yoga includes ethical and moral codes such as the yamas and niyamas. Practicing this philosophy can lead to aparigraha, or greedlessness, which may translate to diet choices. Additionally, yoga can have physiological effects on the body, such as reducing stress, balancing the nervous system, and improving thyroid function. All of these can lead to more efficient weight loss.
10 Tips for Losing Weight With Yoga
The following ten tips are important reminders to keep in mind if you are trying to lose weight through yoga. Some of these tips may even be surprising, especially to anyone accustomed to the classic weight loss paradigm.
Yoga Can Be A Big Calorie Burner
For this first tip, we’ll start with the most obvious point when it comes to weight loss: burning calories. The only way to actually lose weight is to be in calorie deficit. There are many important lifestyle factors that can help make the body more efficient at losing weight, but ultimately to lose weight the body needs to be burning calories. By practicing yoga, many calories can be burned. For example, one hour of practicing yoga could burn a total of 200-600 calories. The total calories burned will depend on a variety of factors such as age, weight, metabolism, and type of yoga practiced. Certain types of yoga will help burn more calories. These include the faster-paced, more dynamic and aerobic styles of yoga, such as power yoga, vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga yoga, and more.
Don’t Discount Gentle Yoga Practices
Just because gentle yoga classes don’t burn as many calories doesn’t mean they aren’t still important when it comes to weight loss. In fact, gentle yoga styles should be a staple in the routines of anyone trying to lose weight. This can be counterintuitive – how can a simple yin yoga class where you don’t even break a sweat help with weight loss? Gentle yoga focuses on reducing stress in the body. It can be very effective at calming the body’s stress response and reducing the hormone cortisol in the body. People under chronic stress experience elevated levels of cortisol, which causes weight gain, particularly around the abdomen. Vigorous exercise can actually put the body under more stress, make it produce more cortisol, and make weight loss feel impossible. Gentle yoga styles help a person get over their initial hurdle of lowering cortisol in order to enable their body to lose weight.
Fast Before You Practice Yoga
It is traditional in yoga to refrain from eating for a few hours prior to practice. This is so the stomach and intestines are clear and ready to be twisted in the various asanas. Fasting therefore helps with detoxification, and also helps reduce nausea – practicing inversions on a full stomach is not very comfortable! However, the practice of fasting prior to yoga practice can also have weight loss benefits. By practicing yoga on an empty stomach, the body burns the energy in fat stores rather than the calories in recent food intake. This is more commonly known as the ketosis fat burning process.
Stress Relief Is Essential To Weight Loss
As discussed earlier, stress and weight are closely linked. People who are chronically stressed tend to carry more weight, and also be less efficient at losing weight. Why is this? Their bodies are sent into a “fight or flight” state because their sympathetic nervous systems are in overdrive. As such, the body sends energy toward its essential functions, and tends to hold onto fat because it’s in “survival mode.” Historically, our ancestors would be best served by holding onto fat for warmth and energy during times of high stress. This may have made sense in the ice age, but isn’t as desirable in modern times. Physiologically, this is due to elevated cortisol and other stress hormones. Yoga can help with this issue by reducing stress – something it has been shown to be effective at in a variety of studies. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system through diaphragmatic breathing. This section of the nervous system is known as “rest and digest.” It helps balance the stress hormones, and allows the body to start burning fat stores.
Focus On Your Breathing
Breathing is essential to yoga – after all pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga. But did you know breathing is also very important when it comes to losing weight with yoga? This links back to the previous point of stress reduction. Breathing and the body’s nervous system, or stress response, are closely linked. Yogic breathing techniques such as the ujjayi breath require diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body down. It also helps with oxidation in the body, which leads to more efficient weight loss. Apart from helping restore balance to the nervous system, there is another reason yogic breathing is important to weight loss. It has been found that, somewhat surprisingly, the majority of fat cells leave the body through the breath! This is done as carbon atoms. Yoga promotes deeper, more regular breathing and as such may help regulate fat loss.
Yoga Improves Your Metabolism
When trying to improve weight loss, it is important to consider your body’s personal metabolism. The metabolism is essentially the body’s ability to perform chemical processes. Someone with a faster metabolism is more efficient at using energy stores and will lose weight quickly, or not gain excess weight in the first place. Someone with a slower metabolism may eat the same amount, but their body is less efficient at using energy, and so may store this extra energy as fat deposits. Clearly, maximizing and improving your body’s metabolism can help with weight loss. Yoga is an effective means to improve the body’s metabolism, through specific poses that target the thyroid, as well as for its general stress reducing capabilities.
Hotter Yoga Won’t Necessarily Help You Lose More Weight
There are many ways that yoga can help you lose weight, but there are also ways that it can’t help you lose weight. There are a variety of myths surrounding this practice so it is important to understand the facts. Many teachers and studios tout the benefits of ‘hot yoga’ to increase detoxification and help with weight loss. At first, this seems to make sense. After sweating out what may feel like ‘buckets,’ it only feels natural that hot yoga helps you lose weight. Unfortunately, studies have been done and found that this is just not true. Hot yoga definitively does not help with weight loss, any more than non-heated yoga. This is not to say that there are not benefits to hot yoga when it comes to weight loss. However, these benefits are due to the general weight loss benefits of the yoga practice, not to the temperature. Nevertheless, hot yoga may still be useful, particularly to help promote flexibility in the body, so it is still worth trying.
Even Yoga Philosophy Can Help With Weight Loss
Clearly, the physical practice of yoga can help with weight loss, whether it’s through burning calories or balancing the nervous system with deep breathing. However, the philosophy of yoga can also help you lose weight. The first two limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, codify ethical and moral guidelines for the yogi. In other words, they explain how the yogi should live their life, how to treat themselves, and how to treat the people and universe around them. The philosophies of the yamas and niyamas can extend to weight loss principles. For example, practicing aparigraha, or non-greed, can encourage healthy eating patterns and not eating to excess. Practicing saucha, or purity, can lead the yogi to taking in ‘cleaner’ ingredients, foods, and beverages that may help manage weight. Ahimsa, or nonviolence, can also be thought of in terms of the body. Binge eating is a form of violence against the body, and aparigraha can help the yogi understand what constitutes healthy amounts of food.
Some Yoga Poses Help Burn Fat More Efficiently
There are thousands of yoga poses, and whilst they are all valuable, they are not created equally. Each yoga pose has its own set of benefits and is more suited toward different goals. Some yoga poses are much more efficient at burning fat than others. These are typically the poses that build heat or energy in the body. Examples of effective fat burning yoga poses include plank, side plank, the warrior poses, chatturanga, boat pose, triangle pose, downward facing dog, chair pose, and more. Generally, poses that require muscle contraction and are held for longer periods of time are better at promoting weight loss. Additionally, fast transitions between poses promotes aerobic activity and will also help with weight loss. A simple example of a fat burning series is the sun salutation sequence.
Don’t Forget Savasana
Traditionally, all yoga classes end with corpse pose, or savasana. This pose is deceptively simple. Corpse pose involves lying flat on your back with the palms turned up. The yogi closes their eyes and attempts to completely relax their muscles. The breath is relaxed and natural, and they enter a meditative state. It is the final pose of the practice because it not only helps the yogi soak up and reflect on their practice, but also because it represents the ‘death’ of the practice, and the rebirth of yoga off the mat. So how can corpse pose help with weight loss? Corpse pose brings a deep sense of relaxation to the body. This is an essential step in yoga’s process of reducing stress, reducing cortisol, and balancing the nervous system.
Keep these ten tips in mind if you are trying to lose weight with yoga. There are numerous ways yoga can help you lose weight, and they are not all obvious. From the fast-paced styles of yoga to the gentler styles, to even stepping off the mat to delve into yoga philosophy, weight loss is very possible with yoga. In the end, though, yoga is about so much more than weight: It’s about releasing the ego, and connecting with the true self within.
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Rose graduated with a degree in Anthropology, which takes her understanding of basic human needs to a whole new level. Her intelligence and passion for healthy living is reflected in her written work.