Can Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on August 28, 2019

Derived from the Sanskrit word, “Yuji,” which means union or to join, and to direct and concentrate one’s attention, yoga is an ancient practice that promotes a sense of balance and connection between the body and mind (1). It includes meditation, breathing exercises, and poses designed to reduce stress and encourage relaxation.

The practice of yoga comes with many benefits, both for physical, mental, and spiritual health, which allow you to create a better version of yourself. Many use yoga as a tool for weight loss. In this article, we’ll discuss how yoga works to help you shed pounds, its several other health benefits, and some tips for beginners. Let’s get started!

Ways Yoga Works To Bring About A Healthy Weight

1. It Helps Burn Calories

While yoga is far different from other aerobic exercises, a review of studies found that yoga can help with weight loss by burning calories (2). There are several active, intense forms of yoga that can help prevent weight gain. Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and power yoga are excellent examples. Power yoga and Vinyasa are offered at hot yoga studios and keep you moving constantly.

Restorative yoga is not that physical, but it can still help in weight loss. In fact, it has helped overweight women to lose weight, including belly fat (3). These results are promising especially for those whose weight may make extremely physical exercises difficult.

2. It Decreases Stress

Yoga is very popular for its ability to reduce stress and encourage relaxation. In fact, several studies have proved that it can decrease the secretion of cortisol, which is also known as the primary stress hormone (4, 5). Yoga was also found to be effective in lowering levels of stress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression among emotionally distressed women (6). The same results were noted on a 10-weeks study involving more than 130 people. Yoga helped improve their mental health and quality of life (7). When used along with meditation, yoga can be a powerful tool to keep stress in check.

3. It Promotes Sleep Quality

Poor sleep quality can cause obesity, high blood pressure, and depression (8, 9, 10). Studies have shown that yoga can help promote better sleep, regardless of age and health condition. A group of elderly patients fell asleep faster, slept longer, and felt more-rested in the morning after practicing yoga (11). Lymphoma patients also benefited from yoga. They had fewer sleep disturbances and better sleep duration and quality. Yoga has helped reduce the need for sleep medications (12). Though the mechanism of action is not yet clear, yoga has been shown to improve melatonin secretion, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness (13).

4. It Develops Mindfulness and Promotes Healthy Eating Habits

Yoga’s mental and spiritual aspects can help one develop his or her mindfulness. This can increase your awareness. It can help you make better choices about food and daily lifestyle. People who practiced yoga developed mindful eating and were able to avoid unhealthy foods (14). Another study also found that mindfulness training has short-term benefits regarding binge eating and exercise participation (15).

Mindful eating has helped people develop healthy eating habits. It helped increase weight loss, control blood sugar, and treat disordered eating behaviors (16, 17, 18). One study included yoga in an outpatient eating disorder treatment program. As observed in more than 50 patients, yoga reduced both the symptoms and preoccupation with food (19).

Since you will be advised not to do yoga when you are feeling full, you may notice that you make healthy food choices before your session. After yoga, you’ll be more likely to ask for fresh, unprocessed foods. Chewing each bite slowly and thoroughly can also lead to less consumption.

Aside from weight loss, yoga comes with several other health benefits:

Relieves Anxiety

Studies show that yoga can help people cope with feelings of anxiety. Women who practiced yoga twice weekly for 2 months had significantly lower levels of anxiety (20). Another study revealed that after 10 weeks of practicing yoga once a week, women with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) had fewer symptoms. In fact, more than 50% of the patients no longer met the criteria for PTSD (21).

Fights Depression

Evidence shows that yoga may have an anti-depressant effect. Yoga can decrease cortisol levels, a stress hormone that influences serotonin, the neurotransmitter often lined with depression (22). Other studies show an association between practicing yoga and decreased symptoms of depression (23, 24).

Reduces Migraines

While migraines are often treated with medications, increasing evidence show that yoga can be a useful adjunct therapy. Practicing yoga led to fewer episodes of migraines and decreased headache intensity (25, 26). Experts say that yoga may help stimulate the vagus nerve, thus effective in reducing migraines (27).

Improves Breathing

Yoga incorporates breathing exercises, which can help improve respiratory function. Students who were enrolled in a 15-week class of yoga poses and breathing exercises were found to have a significant increase in vital capacity, a measure of the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lings. This is very important for patients with asthma, lung disease, and heart problems (28).

Boosts Heart Health

Studies show that yoga can help improve heart health and decrease risk factors for heart disease. People over 40 years old who practiced yoga for 5 years had lower blood pressure and pulse rate (29). One year of yoga training along with dietary modification and stress management has helped patients with heart disease decrease their total cholesterol and bad cholesterol level by 23% and 26%, respectively. In nearly 50% of patients, the progression of heart disease stopped (30).

Controls Inflammation

Chronic inflammation may cause pro-inflammatory diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (31). Evidence shows that practicing yoga can help reduce the levels of inflammatory markers (32, 33).

Treats Chronic Pain

There is a growing body of research saying that yoga can help reduce different types of chronic pain. Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome said that yoga was more effective in reducing their pain and improving grip strength than splinting (34). The same results were noted in patients with osteoarthritis of the knees (35).

How Much Weight Can You Lose With Yoga?

The amount of weight you’ll lose from yoga would also depend on several other factors like sleep, lifestyle, and eating habits. You still have to be mindful about the importance of taking a diet rich in whole, fresh foods. But according to CDC, regardless of the type of exercise you are doing, people who lose weight gradually, approximately 1-2 pounds weekly, are more likely to be successful at keeping it off (36). So, take it slowly but surely!

How Often Should You Practice Yoga to Lose Weight?

Do yoga as often as you can, but doing active and intense poses 3-5 times weekly for at least an hour is highly recommended. On the other days, do restorative yoga to feel relaxed. If you are a beginner, start slowly and be patient in building up your practice. This increases your strength and flexibility to prevent injuries. If you cannot attend a full class, do it at home 5-6 times weekly for at least 20 minutes.

You can do yoga with other activities like walking, swimming, or cycling for added cardiovascular benefits. Weigh yourself at the same time daily and not right after every session, especially if you are doing hot yoga. This is to avoid false reading caused by water weight loss.

What Are The Best Yoga Poses Perfect for Beginners?

Tadasana

Also known as the mountain pose, this looks very easy because it is basically just standing. But this serves as a basis for all the other standing poses and inversions. Do this action to work on your torso and legs. This is great for confidence and easing anxiety.

  • Stand with your big toes almost not touching and your heels somewhat apart.
  • Put your weight into all sides of your feet – big toe, little toe, and both sides of your heel. Push into your feet and keep your leg muscles active.
  • Take a deep breath and roll your shoulders up and back and releasing them down. Your shoulder blades should rest toward each other and your neck should be long.
  • Take a few deep breaths. You may close your eyes if you want to.

Uttanasana or Forward Fold

  • Take a deep breath. On your inhale, lift your arms to the sides and up, over your head.
  • When you exhale, release your arms out to your side or in front of your body as you fold your torso over your legs. You may slightly bend your knees at the begging to avoid hurting your hamstrings.
  • As you get used to the pose, start straightening your legs as far as you can. If you feel pain, stop immediately. Never pull yourself down and try forcing the fold.
  • You may place your hands on your shins, your feet, or the floor. This will help lengthen your spine and hamstrings. It also improves your balance.

Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana

More popularly called as the plank pose, this is a very active one that works all the muscles of your front body.

  • From forward fold, place your hands flat on the floor, bending your knees as much as needed. Step back one leg at a time, until you reach a high plank pose.
  • Press into your hands while keeping your legs parallel and engaged. Pull your belly button toward your spine.
  • Take a few deep breaths, while working on your core and your arms.

It is better to have someone check at the shape you are making from the side. As a beginner, you may drop a little too much to get a “banana” back or to hunch your shoulders.

Adho Mukha Svanasana

This downward-facing dog pose helps elongate your spine, stretch your back leg muscles, and boost digestion. And because this is a mild inversion, it can help release stress and headaches.

  • While in a plank pose, push into your hands and raise your hips up and back during inhalation. Keep your shoulders engage but not working too hard. Keep a neutral spine.
  • Keep your legs straight and your heels working toward the floor. There can be a space between your heels and the floor, especially if you are a beginner. Just do your best to keep your heals reaching toward the ground.
  • You can warm up your leg muscles, if necessary.

Balasana

This child’s pose is a good one if you want to rest and reset your nervous system.

  • Take a downward-facing dog position and take a deep breath. During exhalation, release your knees to the floor, pull your hips back to your heels, and rest your forehead on the floor.
  • You can extend your arms in front of you or pull them next to your body, hands resting near your feet with your palms facing upward.
  • This restorative pose that should help relax your neck, shoulders, spine, and massages your internal organs.

Key Takeaway

Commitment is very important if you want to use yoga for weight loss. Make small, gradual changes and set realistic goals so you can stick to them long-term. As you progress with your practice and improve your mindfulness, you’ll naturally be attracted to healthy foods and lifestyle. There’s a big possibility that your results may extend far beyond shedding excess pounds.

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/
(2) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827613492097
(3) https://www.ajmc.com/press-release/health-benefits-of-restorative-yoga-include-trimming-fat-nih-funded-study-finds
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784068/
(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16740317
(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16319785/
(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17544857
(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26333359
(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/
(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26429750
(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15937373/
(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15139072/
(13) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15165407/
(14) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2016/2914745/
(15) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871403X16300837?via%3Dihub
(16) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485681/
(17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3259454/
(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25417199
(19) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844876/
(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19341989/
(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25004196
(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12467090
(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16185770/
(24) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15055096/
(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17501846
(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25035622
(27) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14636821
(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11076447/
(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15255625/
(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15636328/
(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19149749
(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24703167
(33) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525504/
(34) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9820263
(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16131293/
(36) https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

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