“Does yoga help for weight loss?” That’s a great question I get asked every now and then. We’ll have a look at calories burned, but also at how yoga helps manage stress, change your relationship with your body and even sleep better. And how yoga – even the more gentle styles – can help shed the pounds AND keep them off.
Yoga as a low impact sport
From a purely physical perspective, yoga is considered a low to medium impact activity. Of course, some yoga styles burn more calories than others: 2 hours of vigorous Astanga Yoga will burn more calories than a short Yin Yoga practice.
But overall, if we are just counting calories, you’ll burn approximately the same amount of calories in a one-hour all-level yoga class as brisk walking for an hour (about 150-200 calories for an adult). So, I totally understand if most people do not naturally reach for the yoga mat to lose weight and slim down.
However, weight loss is not only about how many calories you burn while exercising. It is also about what we eat, calories-wise and quality-wise (we all know that eating a 100-calorie cookie is not the same 100 calories as a bowl of feta and olive salad –also about 100 calories).
Staying in shape is also about mental well-being and stress levels. The more stressed we are, the more we likely we are to make choices that do not really serve us: eat a tub of ice-cream, have the 4th coffee of the day, snack on a bag of chips… Similarly, if we are chronically sleep-deprived, we also tend to gain weight.
And this is precisely how yoga can help for weight loss. And for keeping the extra pounds off!
How yoga helps in weight loss -and keeping it off-
Yoga helps you eat better
Yoga increases your awareness: the more you practice, the more in-tune you are with your body and mind. It can change how you perceive yourself, your body, and your life!
This may not happen overnight, but in the long run, this is what will give you the power to change your eating habits. Being more mindful means we can tell more clearly when we are hungry, or if we are eating to fill an emotional need. Overall, yoga makes us more mindful. This in turn helps us listen and respond better to our body’s needs.
Need some chocolate? A glass of water? Or maybe just to talk to a friend?
Yoga helps you make lifestyle changes
Being in tune with your body and mind can not only help you change your eating habits, but also help you make lifestyle changes, for the better! Yoga teaches us to be more mindful and better listen to our body.
Over time, it becomes easier and easier to understand when the body tells us it needs more rest, or when it craves a peaceful or more energizing environment. Or more loving and supportive company.
Basically, the takeaway is this: yoga can help you make better choices for yourself, whether this concerns food, people, activities or habits. And often, the benefits of your choices and changes will ripple out and touch your loved ones, your community and even the planet.
Yoga helps relieve stress (and lose weight)
Is it the mindful breathing, meditative moments, final Savasana, the teacher’s or the group’s feel-good vibes, or the thousand-year old movements done by generations of yogis before us? Well, maybe all of the above!
Yoga helps the body lower its cortisol its levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It is totally natural and essential to the body. Cortisol regulates blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep cycles, the use and storage of fats, carbohydrates and proteins… A great synergy.
The problem is when we are permanently in a state of stress. The body produces more cortisol, and this disrupts the functions that depend on the hormone. As a result, blood pressure and blood sugar levels rise, sleep cycles get disrupted, and the… body stores more fat!
Yoga helps relieve stress, and thus, lowers the body’s cortisol levels. That’s why less stress has a direct impact on your health, on the quality of your sleep, and yep… that’s how yoga can help on weight loss (or rather, fat-loss)!
Yoga tones the body
Hold a yoga pose long enough and you’ll feel your muscles working. Yoga poses very often involve different muscle groups at the same time. For example the quadriceps, glutes, torso muscles (and even arm muscles) are all working in Warrior 2, Virabhadrasana 2.
In yoga, we’re not using weights to build muscle, just the weight of our own body. That may seem pretty accessible in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) or even in Plank pose. However, carrying your own weight gets harder in Crow Pose (Bakasana), or whole-body inversions such as the Handstand or Pincha Mayurasana, the Feather of the Peacock Pose (see below!).
As we journey through many of yoga’s weight-bearing poses, we’re toning the body, AND learning to love it more.
Side effect alert: Yoga’s weight loss side-effects!
Yoga does not necessarily make you lose weight if you only look at the number of calories burned.
But staying in shape is more than numbers!
What also helps shed pounds and keep them off? Becoming more aware of your relationship with your body, with food, your well-being. And also being less stressed-out and sleeping better.
All these are yoga’s side-effects and perhaps the secret to having –and keeping- the weight that’s the most adapted to you.