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The practice of yoga being an effective use for weight loss has been questioned for years. Can you really lose weight with yoga? The answer is YES, and with a lot less effort than you think. In this article we will discuss the science backed effects yoga has on the body that will help you meet your weight loss goals.
What is Yoga?
I’m sure by now you are aware what yoga is, but may not exactly know what type of exercise it provides.
Yoga is a body-weight based workout that involves different postures that engage different areas of the body in combination with breathing techniques.
What this means is, you are using your own body weight to provide resistance against your muscles. This is what gives people who practice yoga regularly that slim, toned look.
But that doesn’t mean you will become immediately chiseled after doing three classes. How often, and what type of yoga you practice greatly impact how fast you lose weight and get to where you want to be.
Yoga is an umbrella term- there are over 20 different kinds of yoga you can choose to practice from, and then there are even hybrids of yoga people have created themselves!
Yoga itself will get you on the right path to weight loss, but in order to really see results, you need to choose the right practice to meet your needs and goals.
How Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight?
Fat loss occurs in direct response to hormones, easting habits, activity level, and metabolism. You might be thinking, “how does yoga help with any of those?” Below we go over 5 ways yoga helps you lose weight and the science behind them.
1. It Lowers Cortisol Levels.
Cortisol is the infamous stress hormone known for causing that unwanted belly fat around your midsection.
Increased cortisol levels lead to increased insulin levels, which leads to weight gain.
When you are stressed, it often promotes overeating and eating of comfort foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar, also leading to unwanted weight gain.
Elevated cortisol levels also causes less testosterone to be released, which lead to a decrease in muscle mass, which slows down your metabolism. No one wants that!
A study was done on 54 patients to test the effects of yoga on cortisol levels and depression compared to medication use. The patients that only used yoga as treatment saw significant drops in their blood cortisol levels compared to the patients using medication.
Yoga compared to other aerobic activities can also count as less stressful on the body. People that overdo it with high intensity exercise are actually shown to have higher cortisol levels do to the stress they are putting on their body.
So if you are going to the gym five days a week and not seeing the results you want, it may be because you’re just working too hard. Try replacing a few of those days with yoga and reap the mind and body benefits it provides.
2. It Changes Your Eating Habits.
Yoga promotes mindfulness, which when practiced regularly, can lead to better eating practices and stronger impulse control.
Studies show that meditation practices, including yoga asanas, work the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is responsible for your impulse control. So this means implementing a consistent yoga practice can help you stop “bored eating”, decrease cravings, and help you choose healthier food options.
3. It Builds Muscle.
Yoga is a body weight workout, which I explained before means you are using the weight of your own body to create resistance. This is one of the best types of workouts you can do to build strength and muscle.
Body weight workouts build lean muscle without the stress on the joints. In fact, yoga is extremely beneficial for the joints and is often advised to people that have joint related ailments such as arthritis.
The best part is, the more muscle you gain, the more calories you burn at rest. This is because muscles use more energy than fat does. 10 pounds of fat is said to burn 20 calories at rest, while 10 pounds of muscle burns 50! That is more than half!
4. It Boosts Your Metabolism.
This is tied in with all of the points above. Stress, fat percentage, and level of activity all directly impact your metabolism.
Yoga has a great impact on the adrenals, which are responsible for producing cortisol. When your cortisol levels are low and you aren’t in “fight or flight” mode your body isn’t constantly in survival mode and doesn’t think it has to conserve fat for later.
The more muscle you gain, the faster your metabolism becomes, meaning the more calories you burn, which is needed to obtain a calorie deficit to burn those stubborn pounds.
Jumping on an elliptical for an hour everyday has been shown that although it may help with weight loss initially due to calorie deficit, it is not beneficial to your metabolic rate long term. That is because of the point I explained earlier that your body adapts to the stressful motion that you are doing and it becomes less effective.
5. The Right Kind of Yoga Gives You a Great Cardio Workout.
Put simply, in order to burn fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit, and adding cardio into your routine can help you achieve this. But, the key here is the right kind of yoga. There are multiple types of yoga, but not all are the most beneficial for weight loss or building lean muscle.
In order to achieve a great cardio workout from yoga, you need to practice fast flowing types of yoga such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga that involve strength building poses. Below I will break down which types of yoga are best for weight loss.
What Types of Yoga Are Best For Weight Loss?
There are so many different types of yoga, when getting into it, it may be very overwhelming which one is the best for you. Here are the best types of yoga to implement if your main goal is to burn fat.
- Bikram Yoga: This type of yoga consists of 26 postures that are done in the same order every time, in the setting of a 105 degree fahrenheit room. The poses are done in combination with two different breathing exercises, and are meant to get you into the present moment by getting into the flow of this moving meditation. But it is definitely not only beneficial for your mind. You will SWEAT in a Bikram yoga class. Each class consists of 90 minutes, so make sure to drink a lot of water before and bring a towel!
- Ashtanga Yoga: This is very similar to Bikram yoga, but is not performed in a heated room, and the postures done are different. This is definitely a physically demanding practice, and you will see results fast because of that. I definitely recommend becoming accustomed to the basic yoga poses before getting into Ashtanga yoga, because it is a highly structured practice where proper alignment and knowledge of each pose is expected.
- Vinyasa Yoga: Vinyasa yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga in the west, and with good reason. It is a fun, dynamic practice that offers a great workout both mentally and physically. All movements are paired with the breath and are designed to get you into a “flow state”. You are constantly moving so your heart rate will definitely get up there if you put your all into it. When this type of yoga is practiced consistently, this is a great practice for all levels to build strength and lose weight.
- Hot Yoga: This is a broad term that includes different styles of yoga, but seems to be most popular with Vinyasa yoga in the western population, unless of course you go to a Bikram class. The only difference between a Bikram class and a “Hot Yoga” class is that Hot Yoga classes are shorter and offer more variety of poses. I have been doing this type of yoga for years now and have seen a substantial difference in my strength, weight, and overall body composition. Just like Bikram, you will completely sweat out everything inside of you, so definitely come prepared with a towel and water bottle.
Hot Yoga and Weight Loss
I see a lot of people wonder about the effects of Hot Yoga on weight loss, and if it is more beneficial than other types of yoga. So, is hot yoga more effective for weight loss than other types of yoga? The answer is no, but it depends.
If you are practicing hot yoga, but are doing a slow flowing restorative yoga practice, you can’t expect to burn a ton of calories or increase muscle mass. On the other hand, if you are doing a hot power yoga class, you will activate your muscles a ton and get a great workout. Don’t mistake you sweating in hot yoga for burning fat. Yes, you will most likely lose more water weight practicing hot yoga, but in order to lose fat with yoga, you need to practice the right kind, as explained above.
How Many Calories Does Each Type of Yoga Burn?
So of course there is no way to tell exactly, as it all depends on the amount of effort you are putting in. But as a reference, below are the general calories burned from Health Status per 60 minutes of practice based on a 150 pound person:
Vinyasa Yoga: 594 calories
Bikram/ Hot Yoga: 477 calories
Ashtanga/ Power Yoga: 351 calories
Hatha Yoga: 189 calories
Please keep in mind this if if you are using your MAX EFFORT. I know there are definitely times when I go to hot vinyasa yoga and not putting my all in that day, or the class is just slower, and I definitely do not burn anywhere near this amount of calories.
Also keep in mind your weight plays a huge role on how many calories you burn per hour. I suggest checking out healthstatus.com to use their calculator with your specific weight to check.
3 Key Factors That Play a Role in Weight Loss with Yoga
So regardless of all this information you have just learned, in order to lose weight, it really comes down to 5 things:
Consistency: In order to see any type of results practicing yoga, whether it be muscle gain or weight loss, you need to be consistent. You cannot decide to practice 5 days one week then skip two weeks and expect to see results. You need to consistently train your muscles and burn calories in order to create a deficit and lose fat.
A good starting point is practicing 3 times a week. Try to get in at least 30 minutes every time you practice and build up from there.
Effort: This in my opinion is one of the most important factors. Even if you are practicing consistently, if you are barely putting in any effort, it’s as if you aren’t practicing at all. When you practice yoga, need need to put your all into it. If you aren’t feeling your muscles activating, your heart rate increasing, or breaking a sweat, you either are
A) not practicing the right type of yoga
B) not trying hard enough
No matter what you may have heard, yoga is not easy, but it is effective if you push yourself to put the work in.
Eating Habits: That whole “80% of weight loss happens in the kitchen” is actually true. You cannot decide to eat 2,000 calories worth of junk food while practicing yoga consistently and still be surprised you are not seeing results.
You need to treat the food you put into your body as fuel. This means consuming whole foods, cutting out all the processed, high sugar treats, and being mindful of portions.
Implementing these 3 key factors along with the right type of yoga will help you see significant results in your overall body composition and weight loss goals. Now that we’ve broken it down, it may not seem like a “magic bullet” but I promise you if you dedicate yourself, you will completely change your life, and be thankful you did.
For some more needed motivation and information on losing weight with yoga, check out these articles: