If you know anything about yoga, you know it’s not like other workouts. It’s a mental, emotional, and spiritual journey that strips away ego and unites the yogi with their true Self. However… that doesn’t mean the physical benefits of yoga aren’t still important! Yoga can be an effective way to lose and manage weight. Unlike other exercise regimens, yoga takes a holistic outlook on weight loss. There are many mechanisms at work ranging from the aerobic movement to lowering stress, when it comes to yoga’s impact on weight. However one of the most important things that yoga teaches us is to disconnect with identifying our self worth with our physical bodies. There is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, as long as this comes from a healthy place.
The Science Behind Yoga And Weight Loss
There is emerging science in support of yoga’s effect on weight loss. What has been discovered is that yoga has unique potential to promote weight loss, thanks in part to its emphasis on mindfulness. The power of yoga for weight loss is four-fold: it helps reduce binge eating, improve sleep, lower cortisol, and burn calories. Each of these factors are essential for weight loss.
Reduce Binge Eating
Yoga can reduce binge eating because it helps the yogi become more connected with their body, their wants and needs, feelings of satiety, and more. Many people binge eat not because they are constantly hungry, but because of boredom or emotional disconnect. Through the mindfulness methods of yoga, the yogi becomes in tune with their emotional state. They are able to differentiate emotional eating and learn to treat food as fuel. Over time, more balanced eating patterns can lead to weight loss.
Research has shown that consistent yoga practice can improve sleep quality. This is likely due to a variety of mechanisms, such as stress reduction, regulated circadian rhythm, balanced hormones, and a better ability to control ‘mind chatter.’ Why is sleep quality relevant to weight loss, though? Studies show that sleep quality and duration is actually linked to weight loss – among individuals following the same caloric diet, those with sleep restriction failed to lose as much fat, even if they caught up on sleep throughout the day. By promoting quality sleep, yoga could therefore lead to ideal fat loss.
Reduce Stress And Lower Cortisol
A central and often touted benefit of yoga is stress reduction. Physiologically, a marker for reduced stress is the lowering of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that, when elevated, can diminish the body’s ability to control blood sugar, and disrupt the metabolism. By calming the parasympathetic nervous system through its emphasis on breathing and mindfulness, yoga is effective at reducing cortisol. This then leads to a stronger metabolism and increased weight loss.
Burn Calories And Improve Metabolism
The most obvious way to lose weight is by burning calories. Really, the only way to lose weight is to have a calorie deficit (burn more calories than calories taken in). The previous points are all examples of how yoga can create an ideal environment for the body to burn calories. But one of the main powers of yoga for weight loss is that it is itself a form of burning calories! Of course, some forms of yoga burn more calories than others. For example, if you want to burn calories and lose weight, you may find fast paced and aerobic classes such as vinyasa, power, and ashtanga are more effective. On the other hand, if you are already burning calories through other forms of exercise and need to focus more on lowering stress, then restorative styles such as yin yoga could still be helpful. Any form of yoga is likely to build muscle mass within the body. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so a “yoga body” of lean muscle mass means more effective weight loss in the long run.
15 Best Yoga Poses For Weight Loss
If you are looking to build your own yoga practice for weight loss, you should focus on specific poses. Some yoga poses facilitate weight loss better than others. The following 15 yoga poses are wonderful for revving the metabolism, burning calories, reducing stress, improving mindfulness, and more.
Paripurna Navasana — Boat Pose
To perform boat pose, sit your mat in dandasana with the legs outstretched. On an inhale, lift the legs together, so the body forms a “V” shape. Arms can be up and overhead, or straight out in front, with the palms facing each other. The bottom should be balancing between the sits bones and sacrum. If this is too difficult to maintain, keep the legs lifted but bend at the knees.
Boat pose is a challenging pose and ignites tapas or ‘burning enthusiasm’ in the core. As heat builds in the body the muscles become engaged. This is a perfect pose for energizing and burning calories.
Phalakasana — Plank Pose
Kneel on all fours, planting the hands firmly on the mat, shoulder width apart. On an inhale lift the knees so the body is in plank pose. Keep the kneecaps lifted and thighs engaged. Try not to dump into the tailbone, low back, or between the shoulders. Instead thinking of keeping your torso strong, straight, and lifted ‘above’ the pose.
Plank pose, like boat pose, is going to ignite your core muscles, as well as your back muscles, shoulder muscles, and leg muscles. It is ideal for dislodging stagnant energy, building a sweat, and burning calories.
Matsyasana — Fish Pose
Lying on your back, press your elbows into the mat on either side of your body. On an inhale, lift your head off the mat. Exhale, and plant the crown of your head backwards on the mat. Your chest and throat are in a deep backbend here as you breathe into Fish pose, or matsyasana.
Matsyasana may not seem like a typical weight loss pose because it is more of a passive back bend. However, as a deep backbend this pose activates the thyroid, which will help with metabolism efficiency.
Sarvangasana — Shoulder Stand Pose
To practice shoulder stand, lie flat on your back on the mat. Bend the knees, roll the shoulder blades underneath yourself, and inhale and lift the feet toward the ceiling. Let your hands come to the small of your back to support your posture. Breathe here and avoid turning your head side to side, so as to prevent neck injury.
Shoulder stand is an essential pose. It reverses the flow of the lymphatic system, assisting with draining and detoxifying. It helps with digestion and fatigue, and improves thyroid function.
Utkatasana — Chair Pose
Chair pose is an important pose in the sun salutation B sequence. To perform chair pose, stand on your mat. Inhale, and exhale to the knees deeply. Bring the hands either to heart center or lift them up and overhead, keeping them engaged with the palms facing each other. Let the tailbone relax into neutral, pointing toward the mat. Breathe deeply here and engage the core bandhas.
Chair pose is a heat building pose that will burn calories and start the metabolism. Like other previously mentioned poses, it ignites tapas energy within the body.
Uttanasana — Standing Forward Bend Pose
From standing, inhale and reach the arms toward the ceiling. Exhale, and fold forward. Let your arms hang heavy toward the mat, tailbone reaching toward the ceiling. Take a few breaths here, maybe shaking your head side to side to release any tension in the cervical spine.
Uttanasana is often seen as a passive pose, but it does have weight loss benefits. For one, it can help improve digestion. It is also an effective stress reliever and helps manage headaches. Stress reduction is central to weight loss.
Vasisthasana — Side Plank Pose
From plank, inhale and shift the weight into the right hand, lifting the left hand toward the ceiling. Stack the left foot on top of the right, pressing the side of the right foot into the mat for balance. Hips should be facing the left-hand side of the room. Hold, and repeat on both sides.
Side plank requires energy, strength, and stability. It is a great pose for calorie burning and muscle building, leading to a stronger metabolism in the long run.
Chatturanga — Four Limbed Staff Pose
A very common but very challenging pose to perform correctly is four limbed staff pose, or chatturanga. It is part of the vinyasa and sun salutation sequences, and is often performed repetitively. To practice four limbed staff pose, start from plank position. Inhale here, and exhale and lower to shoulder height. Keep the elbows pointing to the back of the room, and the upper arms pressed along the ribs. The torso should be in one straight line, with the tailbone neutral and pointed toward the feet. The whole body is elevated at shoulder height.
For limbed staff pose is a challenging pose for a lot of muscle groups. It builds heat in the body quickly and effectively. It is wonderful for burning calories and building muscle.
Virabhadrasana I — Warrior I Pose
Warrior I is performed with the legs in a wide stance, about a leg’s distance apart. The front foot points forward. The back foot is planted on the mat in a 45 degree angle. The front knee is bent deeply, so the knee is aligned over the ankle. The back leg is straight. Hips are squared to the front of the room. Arms can be lifted straight up and overhead, with palms facing each other and shoulders relaxed, or be pressed together at heart center.
Warrior I is an invigorating and assertive pose that exercises quite a few major muscle groups. It builds both heat and strength within the body.
Virabhadrasana II — Warrior II Pose
Warrior II is similar to Warrior I, but the back foot is planted parallel to the back of the room. Hips are open to the side wall, and the arms are outstretched to the front and back of the room. Gaze is soft over the front fingertips.
Warrior II is an open pose, compared to Warrior I which is a neutral stance. However, it still requires and builds strength in multiple muscle groups, primarily the legs and shoulders. Over time it can help build strength in these arears and lead to weight loss.
Virabhadrasana III — Warrior III Pose
Start in Warrior I with hips squared to the front of the room. Inhale and shift your weight into the front leg. Exhale and lift forward, so the body is balancing on the front leg. The torso and arms reach forward, and the back leg reaches to the back of the room. The body is one straight, strong line with the hips level.
This pose is incredibly heat building, particularly for the core and the standing leg thigh. It requires both physical and mental stamina.
Adho Mukha Svanasana — Downward Facing Dog Pose
Donward facing dog is a staple yoga pose and very useful for weight loss. To practice downward facing dog, start on all fours. Plant the hands firmly at the top of the mat, beneath the shoulders. Tuck the toes, and lift the hips toward the ceiling, pressing back into downward facing dog. Heels reach toward the mat, and the head hangs heavy between the shoulders.
This pose engages the arms, legs, and back. It helps the yogi build strength, and even promotes quality digestion and detoxification as a mild inversion pose.
Trikonasana — Triangle Pose
To practice Triangle pose, start in Warrior II. On an inhale, straighten the front leg and reach through the front arm. Exhale the front arm toward the mat, and the back arm toward the ceiling, opening up the torso to the side wall.
Triangle pose is an intense stretch, but it also builds strength in the legs and back. It is a good pose for weight loss as it promotes muscle tone in multiple major groups.
Sirsasana — Head Stand Pose
Headstand is performed by clasping the hands together and placing the forearms on the mat in the shape of a “V”. Plant the crown of the head in the crook of this “V” shape, so you can feel your wrists at the back of your head. Walk your feet toward your face here, like in a modified down dog. When you get to the point that your hips are aligned over your head, engage the bandhas and lift the knees into the chest. From here, inhale and slowly lift the feet toward the ceiling for headstand.
Headstand is a powerful inversion with many benefits, including supporting weight loss. This pose revitalizes the thyroid and supports healthy metabolism. It also reverses the flow of lymphatic fluid and promotes healthy digestion.
Savasana — Corpse Pose
Corpse pose, or savasana, may not seem like an effective yoga pose for weight loss on the surface. However, it is very important. To practice this pose, simply lie flat on your back with the palms facing up. Close the eyes and breathe here for a minimum of five minutes. This pose is typically performed as the final posture of a yoga practice.
Although corpse pose may not be burning calories the way weight loss is classically achieved, it is still a very useful tool. Through meditative and mindful experiences such as corpse pose, the parasympathetic nervous system is balanced. Cortisol is reduced and stress lowers. This will support the body’s ability to shed weight.
There are many lifestyle factors when it comes to losing weight, such as a healthy and balanced diet. It is important to lose weight safely, and not to place self worth on external values such as the number on a scale. Yoga teaches us to release the confines of the ego, which tells us our value is a tangible thing. However, yoga can still be a useful tool on a weight loss journey, in part because it is a holistic method. Through both physical exercise and mindful stress reduction, yoga combines two important aspects of weight loss.
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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.