Yoga has become a popular form of exercise in recent years. Many people turn to yoga as a way to improve their flexibility, reduce stress, and improve their overall health.
In fact, surveys show that 28 percent of Americans have tried yoga at some point in their lives. So what exactly makes yoga so beneficial for your health? And can it be useful for weight loss?
In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between yoga and weight loss, discover whether practicing different types of yoga can help you achieve your weight loss goals. Read on to learn more.
Does Yoga Help with Weight Loss?
Yoga can indeed be a valuable part of a weight loss journey. While yoga itself may not directly lead to weight loss for everyone, research has shown that yoga practice may lead to physical and psychological changes that promote weight loss.
These changes can include things like increased muscle tone, reduced cravings, reduced stress eating, and shifts toward healthier eating. Other research suggests that those who practice yoga tend to have healthier diets, and eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fiber than people who are sedentary.
This is important because combining exercise with a healthy diet are essential components of successful weight loss.
Yoga and Calorie Burning
Some types of yoga involve more physically demanding sequences, which can increase heart rate and burn more calories. Here are some examples:
- Vinyasa Yoga: Vinyasa yoga is a moderate-intensity form of yoga that involves continuous movement from one pose to another, with a focus on linking breath with movement. Research shows that this type of yoga may also improve mood and cholesterol levels and reduce cortisol levels.
- Power Yoga: Power yoga is a more intense form of vinyasa yoga that involves faster-paced sequences and more strength-based movements. Research shows power yoga may also reduce stress for certain people.
- Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding form of yoga that involves a set sequence of poses performed in a specific order. Studies show that this form of yoga may also benefit mood and depression.
- Bikram Yoga: Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, involves practicing a series of 26 poses in a room heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This style of yoga may help to improve strength, decrease body fat, and may benefit depression.
While burning calories can be beneficial to weight loss, it’s important to note that burning calories is not necessarily the full picture of healthy weight loss or weight management. Overall nutrition, genetics, and lifestyle factors like sleep and stress also play a very important role.
5 Benefits of Yoga
The many health benefits of yoga may have something to do with its increasing popularity. Let's take a closer look at some of the many benefits of yoga.
1) Better Flexibility
Yoga involves stretching and moving the body in ways that are often quite different from our everyday movements, and many yoga poses involve holding static stretches for several breaths or even minutes at a time.
Research shows that yoga can significantly increase flexibility. Better flexibility can improve your physical performance, decrease your risk of injury, improve joint health and ability, increase blood flow, and help your muscles work more effectively.
2) Increased Strength
Although yoga is often associated with flexibility and relaxation, yoga workouts can also be an effective way to build strength. Many yoga poses, such as the chair pose or the plank pose, involve holding your body weight in various positions, engaging specific muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Many yoga routines also require balance and stability, and others involve flowing movements that can help to build strength and endurance. One 2016 study even suggests that the best yoga poses can be just as effective as traditional stretching-strengthening exercises at improving strength.
3) Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Yoga often involves focusing on the present moment and being fully present in the body, which has been shown to increase mindfulness and benefit mental health. A 2017 study found that just one session of yoga was able to improve stress reactivity and recovery in young adults.
Several yoga poses are practiced in conjunction with deep and slow breathing exercises, which can increase heart rate variability and reduce stress and feelings of anxiety.
4) Improved Balance and Mobility
Yoga can be an effective way to improve balance and mobility, which can help to reduce the risk of falls and improve overall physical function. Lots of yoga poses involve holding the whole body in positions that require balance and stability.
By holding these poses, individuals can strengthen the muscles in the lower body, which can help to improve overall balance and stability. In addition to strengthening, yoga poses like downward facing dog involve stretching, which can help increase range of motion and improve overall mobility.
5) Pain Relief
Studies show that yoga may be a promising treatment for chronic pain. One study found that yoga may be helpful in improving cervical and low back pain, and other research suggests that yoga may be effective at reducing chronic neck pain.
While these results are promising, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between yoga and pain management.
How Often Should I Do Yoga?
Good news for yoga beginners: research shows that, when it comes to experiencing the health benefits of yoga, how often you practice may be more important than how long you have practiced.
So, how often should you be hitting a yoga session? This will likely depend on your individual health goals and your level of physical ability.
For beginners, try starting with shorter, more frequent practices to gradually build strength, flexibility, and stamina. As you become more comfortable with the practice, you can gradually increase the length and intensity of your practice.
However, it is important to listen to the body and avoid overdoing it, as this can lead to injury or burnout. Talking to your doctor or a certified yoga instructor or physical trainer can be useful when trying to determine how often you should practice yoga.
Tips for Using Yoga to Support a Healthy Weight
When combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, yoga can be one effective component of a weight management plan. Here are some tips for using yoga to support a healthy weight:
Start out Slow
When starting a yoga practice, starting out slow is important because it allows the body to gradually adapt to the new movements and safely build strength and flexibility. Many yoga poses require balance, coordination, and flexibility, which may be challenging for new yogis.
It is important to remember that yoga is a journey, and progress takes time. By focusing on building a strong foundation and gradually improving over time, you can experience the benefits of yoga without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed.
Find a Good Class and Instructor
Taking a local yoga class with a good instructor can help ensure a safe and effective yoga practice. A good yoga class should feel safe, supportive, and free from judgment or competition.
A good yoga instructor can guide you through proper alignment and form in each pose, which can help to prevent injury and help you get the most from your practice. Yoga instructors can also provide personalized instruction and modifications based on your individual needs and abilities.
Incorporate Other Forms of Exercise
While yoga can be a beneficial form of exercise, it is important to incorporate other forms of exercise into a well-rounded fitness routine. A mixture of full body strength training and moderate- to vigorous-intensity cardiovascular exercise is ideal for weight loss, and yoga alone may not always provide these benefits.
Try incorporating cardio-focused exercises, like swimming, running, brisk walking, or cycling, which can help to improve cardiovascular health and endurance. Incorporating strength training exercises, such as weight lifting or bodyweight exercises, can help to build muscle mass and improve overall strength.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet and making good food choices is crucial for those wanting to lose weight. While yoga can provide physical and mental benefits that can support weight loss, a healthy diet is necessary for achieving sustainable weight loss goals.
A healthy diet can help to regulate calorie intake, provide energy for physical activity, and provide the nutrients your body needs to function properly. Eating a nutrient-rich diet full of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help support your weight loss goals.
Get Sufficient Sleep
Adequate sleep is necessary for rest and recovery after physical activity, including yoga. During sleep, the body repairs and regenerates tissues, including muscle tissue that may have been damaged during a yoga practice.
This promotes muscle growth and recovery, which are important for weight loss. Good sleep is also important for maintaining energy and motivation for physical activity, including yoga.
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer at Nutrisense, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.