Yoga for Weight Loss

Although practicing yoga is typically considered a great form of exercise when seeking to achieve flexibility and reduce stress, yoga can also be used as a way to lose weight. Keep on reading for more information about beginning a yoga practice as a means to lose weight.

Is there any evidence to suggest that yoga helps people lose weight?

Yoga is an ancient practice originating anywhere from 1000 BC to 500 AC and is a mind-body exercise that causes no strain and allows those who practice to work at their own levels. No, yoga will not offer the same fat burning results as a power-aerobic exercise routine. However, it is still possible to lose weight using yoga.

A study performed at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle followed 15,500 healthy adults made up of middle-aged women and men who were practicing yoga as their exercise of choice. (1) The end result of the study showed that yoga could be used by people as a way to shed unwanted pounds, or at the very least, keep them from gaining more weight.

Another study where participants completed a 1-week intensive Kripalu yoga program revealed that as a result of improved psychological well-being, students were able to improve their lifestyles and eat healthier, which did result in weight loss.(2)

While there are studies suggesting that practicing yoga can foster weight loss, more research would certainly be helpful with respect to analyzing which forms of yoga are best for losing weight, practice frequency, practice duration and other variables such as diet changes and lifestyle modifications.

Ways Yoga Helps with Weight Loss:

To lose weight, an individual’s heart rate needs to increase and remain at an increased level for at least 20 to 30 minutes three times a week. Therefore, if using yoga as a means to reduce weight, one must move from pose to pose fluidly without stopping for breaks (see the basic Ashtanga/Power yoga routine below) as this will ensure a heart rate that remains elevated. Moreover, using certain poses over others will ensure a greater challenge for the body, leading to an increase in weight loss.

However, it’s not all physical and doesn’t strictly boil down to burning calories.  Research suggests that doing yoga improves self-awareness and can help people establish a healthier attitude toward food. (2)

Yoga Poses that May Help with Losing Weight:

The following fat-reducing poses can be used in sequence as a yoga routine. Flow from one pose to the next in order to derive the most benefit: (3)

1.  Willow Pose:

This move firms the sides of the abs.

To perform this move, stand with feet together and arms at sides. Place the left foot’s sole inside the right thigh bending the left knee to the side. Bring palms together in front at hearts center for two breaths. After the third inhalation, lift arms up in the air guiding the fingertips to the ceiling. Exhale again, and after another inhalation, bend the torso to the left. Inhale again, and then straighten your body. Repeat three to five times, and remember to switch sides.

To make the move less intense: 
Make sure the left foot remains on the floor for balance touching the calf instead of thigh with the right foot’s sole.

To increase the challenge:
Do the pose with eyes closed.

2.  Crescent Pose:

This yoga pose firms the thighs, hips and the abs.

To perform this yoga pose, stand with feet together, arms at the side and toes pointed forward. On an inhalation, raise the arms overhead as if attempting to reach the ceiling. Exhale, and then bend forward at the hips placing both hands on the floor. Inhale again, and then exhale. After exhaling, place the right leg back into a lunge position. Inhale, and raise the arms upward, while keeping the gaze forward. Hold the pose then return to starting position, and repeat on the other side.

To make this pose more challenging:
When at the end position, inhale and arch the arms and torso backwards, and gaze at the fingertips.

To make this pose less intense:
Lower the right knee so it touches the floor while stepping back into lunge while resting the hands upon the left thigh.

3.  Chair Pose:

This yoga pose is great for firming your thighs and buttocks.

To perform this pose, begin with feet together and arms at the side. On an inhalation, lift the arms overhead. Take care that the palms remain facing each other. Exhale, and sit back around 45 degrees making sure to keep the knees behind the toes.  Engage the abs so that they may support the back. Gaze forward.  Freeze and hold the position for a few moments, and then stand back up.

To make the pose easier:
Bend only about 30 degrees, and keep hands on the thighs.

To make the pose more challenging:
Once sitting back, lift the heels off the floor balancing on the balls of the feet while gazing up at extended fingertips.

5.  Hovering Chaturanga Pose:

This yoga pose firms the back, abs, arms and shoulders.

To perform this pose, begin in a classic push-up position making sure to balance on the toes, while keeping the arms straight. After exhaling, lower the chest towards the floor, and bend elbows back. Make sure to keep the arms close to the ribcage and keep the abs engaged. Hold a few inches above the floor.

To make this pose easier:
Start on hands and knees then walk hands forward until the body is in line from head to knees.

To make this pose more challenging:
While holding the hover pose, lift one left leg 6 to 12 inches off the floor. Hold for a moment then lower. Repeat this process three to five times then switch to the opposite leg.

6.  Cobra Pose:

This yoga pose is great for beginners as it is a simple yoga pose, which firms the buttocks and helps tone the abs.

To perform this pose, lie face down on the floor keeping the tops of the feet flat against the ground. Press the hips and legs down, and move hands under the shoulders making sure to keep palms down and fingers spread apart. Next, press into the hands to effectively lift the upper back and chest off the floor. Gaze forward and keep shoulder blades back and down. Push back into the shoulders. Notice the stretch  as it spreads evenly through the spine. Hold the pose through a few deep breaths then relax.

To make this pose more challenging or easier:
There is no extra directions needed to simplify or increase the difficulty of this pose as it can easily be adjusted by either pushing harder against the floor or not pushing as hard.

Types of yoga that are good for losing weight:

Any type of yoga can help someone lose weight if a yoga practice is complemented with a healthier diet.  Adding some cardio exercises into the mix, such as walking, running or any physical activity,  will also help.

However, if one is looking to focus on doing yoga, while still burning fat, the best style of yoga is Ashtanga or Power Yoga.

Ashtanga/Power yoga are forms of yoga that flow steadily building up heat in the body.  They can be incredibly intense and physically demanding workouts.  Moreover, strength and core poses are often incorporated in the routine.

Another Reason Yoga Helps You Lose Weight:

Yoga is more than physical exercise. It’s a mind-body regimen that helps reduce stress and become less restless.  Lower stress and decreased restlessness can help curb unhealthy lifestyle practices such as unhealthy eating, addiction and being too sedentary.

To successfully lose weight while practicing yoga, eat a healthy diet in conjunction with a yoga practice, and flow through yoga routines without taking breaks. Doing so will force the heart rate up and eventually lead to weight loss.  

In addition to weight loss, one can also expect an increase in flexibility, a reduction in stress, less joint pain and an increase in lung capacity as a result of a new yoga practice. Overall, yoga cannot be beat for weight loss in regards to creating a healthy lifestyle.

At the end of the day, losing weight with yoga is as much about mindfulness and becoming more aware as it is about burning calories and getting more active.  In fact, for long term weight loss success, a healthier mind  that drives a healthier lifestyle offers far more benefit than a 30-minute cardiovascular workout.

Sources:

(1) Kristal AR, Littman AJ, Benitez D, White E.  Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women.  Altern Ther Health Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;11(4):28-33.

(2)  Braun TD, Park CL, Conboy LA.  Psychological well-being, health behaviors, and weight loss among participants in a residential, Kripalu yoga-based weight loss program.  Int J Yoga Therap. 2012;(22):9-22.

(3) http://www.prevention.com/fitness/yoga/top-yoga-poses-weight-loss and http://life.gaiam.com/article/top-5-fat-burning-yoga-poses