Yoga for weight loss: Poses, benefits, and types
AUTHOR: Erin Heger, Joey Thurman
Yoga can help you lose weight when paired with a healthy diet and regular exercise routine.
Benefits of yoga include building strength, improving endurance, and cultivating mindfulness.
If you are a beginner, try going to an in-person yoga class so the instructor can modify poses.
Yoga is a practice that can help build a stronger connection between your mind and body. While there are many types of yoga, some focus more on meditation and mindfulness, and others focus on strength and endurance.
As part of a regular exercise regimen, yoga can help you lose weight because it burns calories. But perhaps the larger benefit of yoga is the potential to increase mindfulness, which can reduce stress and help you live a healthier overall lifestyle.
What is yoga?
Yoga is a set of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that help participants focus on their breath and feel more connected to their bodies.
"Yoga includes a heavy emphasis on bringing attention inward," says David Chesworth, ACSM-Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Director at Hilton Head Health. "Breathing is always a part of fitness, but in yoga you're really emphasizing a certain type of breath that you connect with body positions and postures."
There are many different types of yoga, and while they all work on connecting breath with movement, some types of yoga are better suited for certain goals.
Yoga Nidra. This practice is similar to restorative yoga in that it focuses on relaxation, but also incorporates the use of props like bolsters or blankets to increase comfort and deepen relaxation. Yoga Nidra mainly focuses on meditation and relaxation, and has been proven to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, and improve sleep. This type of yoga won't burn many calories but can enhance self-awareness and mindfulness, which can positively impact your health and aid in your weight loss goals, Chesworth says.
Vinyasa or "power" yoga. This type of yoga flows from posture to posture, linking the movement of the body to the breath, says Tom Johnson, a certified yoga instructor in Connecticut. "Vinyasa may be interesting to those who like a faster moving practice and more variety in the postures performed," Johnson says. This type of yoga is more of an aerobic workout than Nidra, and is likely to burn more calories and help more directly with weight loss.
Bikram or "hot" yoga. This style is characterized by the same 26 postures and related breathing exercises performed in exactly the same sequence in each class. The rooms in which Bikram are practiced are set to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity. "This style may be interesting to those who like to sweat and desire more predictability in their practice allowing them to perfect their performance of the postures," Johnson says. These classes are 90 minutes long and can burn 300 to 500 calories, so this style is a good choice for those looking to use yoga for weight loss.
Does yoga help you lose weight?
As part of a regular exercise routine, yoga can help you lose weight, but it isn't necessarily the best method for everyone.
"When it comes to weight loss, you're gonna burn calories doing yoga, and so, it will help," Chesworth says. "But I wouldn't necessarily say if you're trying to lose weight that yoga is the golden bullet."
In addition to the mental health benefits of yoga, the practice can increase flexibility, strengthen and tone muscles, and enhance mobility.
Note: If you're already physically active, adding yoga to your exercise routine two or three times a week could help with your weight loss goals, Chesworth says. And if you're just starting out, you can aim for once a week and build up from there.
The type of yoga you do also plays a role in weight loss, Johnson says. Some of the more physically demanding styles of yoga, like Vinyasa or Bikram incorporate postures that are more aerobic and weight-bearing, meaning they burn more calories and build more muscle than other types of yoga, and may lead to faster weight loss.
Even just a few weeks of regular yoga practice can lead to health benefits and weight loss. For example, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed a 10-day yoga program resulted in weight loss and a reduced risk of heart disease in overweight men. The men in the study had a body mass index (BMI) of 26 or greater and lost an average of 1.9 kg of weight.
Another 2013 study examined the effects of restorative yoga on overweight women and found those who participated in a 48-week yoga program lost more weight over a six-month period than those who participated in a stretching program but not yoga. The yoga group lost 34 square centimeters of fat directly under the skin compared to 6 square centimeters for the group that participated in the stretching program.
While yoga may not burn as many calories as other aerobic exercises like jogging or walking, it can increase endurance and strength, which helps with weight loss, Johnson says.
A regular yoga practice can also increase mindfulness and reduce stress, which can help improve nutrition choices and contribute to a healthier lifestyle. For example, yoga may allow you to feel more in touch with your own body and respond better to hunger cues, or have a higher awareness of your eating habits and how to effectively change them.
Best yoga poses for weight loss
If you're new to yoga, a good way to start is to reach out to a local studio or hire a yoga instructor.
"With a few lessons from a private instructor, one can learn to perform common breathing exercises and postures, and learn a little more about the history and philosophy of yoga," Johnson says. "An experienced instructor can guide an individual on the proper alignment of the body in the postures based on the individual's unique ability and experience."
If you're already active, but want to incorporate yoga as part of a weight loss plan, try working it in a couple of days per week as a supplement to your other workouts, Cheswoeth says.
Quick tip: If you feel intimidated by the idea of yoga or you don't have a local studio available to you, you can check out online resources, many of which are free and offer yoga for all types of levels.
Some poses you can start with at home include:
Start in a wide straddle. Point your right foot 90 degrees to the right and your left foot 10 to 15 degrees to the right as well. Look over your right, middle finger, so both your right foot and eyes are pointing to the right. Lengthen through the arms and bend your front knee so that it's directly over your front heel. This pose can strengthen and build endurance in the legs and outer hips.
Sit on your mat and extend your legs in front of you. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor so that your shins are parallel to the floor. Extend your arms so they are parallel as well and hold for 30 seconds. This pose will strengthen your hip flexors and abdominal muscles.
Start on all fours, then step your feet back with your heels lifted. Strengthen through your arms as if you're about to do a pushup. Engage the core and hold for 30 seconds. This pose helps strengthen the core and burn belly fat.
Yoga may help you lose weight when paired with a healthy diet and other forms of exercise. However, the biggest benefit of yoga may be its emphasis on mindfulness and improving your mental health.
If you're interested in learning yoga, try a few in-studio classes where a teacher can help you modify poses. Or, try online classes through Youtube or another video-streaming service.