Yoga For Weight Loss: Does It Really Work?

When you want to lose weight, it makes sense to approach it with a combo of eating well and exercising regularly. But, of course, in order to make healthier habits stick, they have to feel right for you. If you’re not into sweating buckets on a stationary bike or treadmill, it’s understandable that you’d want to try something like yoga for weight loss. Sure, yoga is all about finding your spiritual center and mind-body connection, but it’s also a type of workout and can help you burn calories.

“Yoga may provide some benefits with regard to weight loss,” says Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, an obesity medicine physician and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. And research backs this up. Yoga appears to be most beneficial for weight when paired with a behavioral intervention for weight management, she says, citing a 2021 study showing that this practice combined with a calorie- and fat-reduced diet could help with weight loss.

Also, yoga can also improve cardiorespiratory fitness in addition to promoting weight loss, notes Dr. Stanford. Research has also linked yoga to keeping the weight off after you lose it.

But how effective it is for weight loss really depends on the type of yoga, says yoga instructor Alli Bradley of Private Yoga Soho, adding that there are a lot of different types. “If people are looking for yoga as a weight loss tool, I suggest Vinyasa and less of a restorative type of yoga, just because it’s more active,” she explains. “It builds more heat and muscle.”

Meet the experts: Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in obesity medicine. She has received many awards for her work, including from the American Medical Association and American College of Physicians. She holds a teaching position at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Alli Bradley provides private yoga lessons that combine several styles, including Vinyasa and restorative yoga. She completed 200 hours of yoga training at a studio in New York City, and is also trained in dance, somatics, and energy healing.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has a lot going for it, but there are a few particular aspects of the practice that make it good for weight loss.

It burns calories. It’s hard to put an exact number on how many calories yoga torches, given there are so many different practices are out there and how different each class can be. But Dr. Stanford says you can maybe expect about 120 calories for a 30-minute session. “Overall, yoga burns less calories than many forms of exercise,” she says. “However, higher intensity sessions with a longer duration may burn more calories.” Keep in mind, though, that if weight loss is your goal, you should do other workouts on top of yoga. “The type of exercise that has the highest likelihood to promote weight loss is high-intensity interval training,” she says.

It busts stress. Stress causes your body to store fat, particularly in the midsection, Dr. Stanford says. Exercises that promote mindfulness like yoga can help lower levels of stress and can help you maintain or lower your body fat, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Obesity. “Yoga is considered a mindful practice that reduces stress,” says Dr. Stanford.

It can help with your sleep. Being mindful and less stressed can improve your sleep, Dr. Stanford points out, and that leads to better regulation of the pathways of the brain that regulate weight. People who regularly slept less than the recommended seven hours a night were more likely to have higher average body mass indexes and develop obesity than those who slept more, per 2018 research published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.

How to Get Started with Yoga at Home

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You actually don’t need a lot. Bradley suggests getting a high-quality yoga mat, i.e., one that provides enough cushioning for your body so you can comfortably work through moves without sliding around. You may also benefit from having a block and strap to help you if you have tight hamstrings or hips.

Finding the right yoga class and instructor for you is individual. Many towns and cities have local studios, but you can also find yoga classes online that you can stream, like on the Peloton app. Ultimately, it may take a little trial and error for you to find a source that you love.

7 Yoga Poses to Try at Home

Yoga is a series of poses strung together to help create an experience, but some are better for building muscle and weight loss than others. Bradley recommends adding the following to the mix to help you out.

  • Downward dog. Downward dog has you bend your body into a V shape, with your feet on the ground with your toes facing forward and your hands on the ground in front of you. Holding this position can help work your arms, legs, and abs.
  • Plank. This position involves holding your body in a straight, horizontal line, with your hands and toes on the ground. Holding this pose will activate your core, Bradley says.
  • Side plank. Side plank is similar to a “regular” plank, just with one arm and leg on the ground, while the other is balanced above it. It also activates your core, Bradley says, along with some of your side oblique muscles.
  • Chair pose. Start from standing and then bend at your knees while pushing your butt back, like you’re sitting down in an invisible chair. “You get good glute and quad activation,” Bradley says.
  • Warrior 1. This involves standing with both feet rooted into the ground. Your back leg is behind your front, with the back foot angled outward as your front foot points forward. Your front knee should be bent, while your back leg is straight. Your upper body should be straight, with your head and torso pointed in front of you. Your arms and hands are held above you. “All of the warrior poses are great for activating your legs and core,” Bradley says.
  • Warrior 2. The warrior 2 pose is similar to warrior 1. However, your arms should be in a straight, horizontal line and your torso should open up to one side.
  • Warrior 3. Warrior 3 involves shifting your weight forward from warrior 1 so that you’re balanced on one straight leg. Your arms are typically held straight out in front of you, horizontal to the ground.

    Again, if you’re interested in trying yoga for weight loss, it’s usually best to pair it with another form of exercise, like HIIT. But adding yoga to the mix could help you lose weight—and get a healthier mindset in the process.

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