More gentle on your joints than sports or running, yoga is an effective tool for physical fitness, mental clarity, and spiritual development. Yoga for weight loss is also a wonderful facet of this modality, as holding yoga poses helps you build and maintain strength throughout your entire body.
Yoga began in India around 3000 BC. Stone-carved figures of yoga masters holding yoga poses can still be found decorating the Indus Valley. It was developed as a spiritual tool to bring harmony to the soul and the heart and light a path towards divine enlightenment.
More recently the physical benefits of yoga have been given the limelight. Research indicates that yoga may help cure and/or alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, and physical injuries. Yoga is popular worldwide, and is incorporated into many teaching and healing arenas.
There are myriad different types of yoga that incorporate various mental, physical, and spiritual practices, from Western-evolved yoga schools to variations found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism practices. The two most well-known types are Rāja yoga (a form of Hindu yoga that aims to achieve control over the mind and the emotions) and Hatha yoga (which includes the practices of asanas, or yoga postures, and pranayama, or breathing exercises, to achieve peace of mind).
Yoga came West with the success of Swami Vivekananda at the turn of the 20th century, and by the 1980s it was a popular exercise practice throughout the Western world.
Yoga was designed for increased mindfulness, and in this respect can be a wonderful addition to a weight-loss regimen because it can help you become more attuned to how different foods influence your body, mind, and spirit. A 2016 study suggests that those who develop increased mindfulness through practicing yoga may be better at resisting unhealthy foods and comfort eating.
Exercise such as yoga also helps people become more aware of how their bodies feel and more cued into feelings of satiety. Recognizing when you’ve had enough to eat is a great way to reduce calorie intake throughout the day.
Finally, a 2017 study showed that mindfulness training through modalities such as yoga helps curb impulsive binge eating, in addition to promoting participation in physical activities. As with many forms of exercise, yoga is not meant to be practiced on a full stomach, and in this respect can encourage healthy eating choices and help dieters maintain a regular eating schedule.
Research shows that yoga can help improve sleep quality. A consistent yoga practice helps people fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply, allowing for the 6-9 hours of sleep recommended for adults each night.
Not only is regular, quality sleep imperative to your overall health, but it’s also associated with weight-loss success, as evidenced by a 2018 study that found that those who restricted sleep 5 times per week lost less fat than those who followed their natural sleep patterns. With calorie consumption controlled for, the conclusion suggests that a lack of adequate sleep can have an adverse effect on body composition and fat loss.
Yoga Nidra is a guided relaxation technique that is performed lying down and that may well help to aid deep sleep while increasing mindfulness. Another 2018 study revealed that health care workers who practiced Yoga Nidra for 8 weeks increased their mindfulness levels and improved their daily decision-making abilities. The longer they practiced Yoga Nidra, the more their mindfulness reports improved.
Though yoga is not usually thought of as an aerobic exercise, there are certain yoga variations that are more physical than others and can lead to increased calorie burning. Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Power Yoga are active styles of yoga that help you prevent weight gain and burn the maximum amount of calories. You can find Vinyasa and Power Yoga at what are known as “hot yoga studios,” among others. Both types of yoga keep you moving, which helps you burn calories, increases your heart rate, and strengthens your lung capacity.
Even outside of these highly physical yogas, practicing yoga helps you develop muscle tone, build strength, and improve your balance and your metabolism. For example, Restorative Yoga isn’t one of the more physical yogas, but one study reported that it aided weight loss in overweight women, including the famously stingy belly fat. These findings are particularly promising for those whose body fat makes certain yoga poses difficult to execute.
A 2013 review of studies showed that yoga is helpful for reducing stress, implementing behavioral changes, and achieving and maintaining weight loss. All of these facets of yoga can help you lower your calorie intake and increase your fitness level.
It’s recommended to practice yoga as often as possible if you’re trying to lose weight. You could pair one of the active yoga styles with a more meditative one. That combo would account for a low-level cardiovascular workout 3-5 times per week for at least 1 hour per day and incorporate a mindfulness practice to help you develop a calming emotional center…all while strengthening your body!
If you’re just beginning, start gradually, because slow and steady wins this race. Focus on building strength and flexibility to avoid injuries. Allow yourself a full day of rest per week for self-care and relaxation, so you don’t overtax your body as it changes and improves.
If you can, combine your yoga practices with other workouts like cycling, swimming, and walking for additional cardiovascular benefits. When tracking your progress, don’t go overboard. Weigh yourself only once a day, at the same time of day. First thing in the morning is a great idea, as weighing yourself after a hot yoga class may be misleading, since people often lose water weight during workouts. And remember to stay hydrated!
Here are some yoga poses you can do at home if you can’t get to a class or don’t have time for a full yoga session. There are also many online yoga classes streaming for your convenience.
Plank pose is a foundational yoga pose and terrific starting point for yoga newbies.
Boat pose strengthens your core, engages your whole body, and helps reduce stress.
Practicing 10 sun salutations a day can help you increase your fitness and alertness. If you wish to increase the intensities of these movements, you can either hold the poses for longer, or speed up the pace of this exercise.
Now you know how yoga can help you lose weight, build strength, improve sleep, and achieve mindfulness. The best thing about yoga? You can travel with yoga and take your healthy new practices anywhere you go. If you’re coming to yoga for weight loss, you may find so many more positive results you never expected—embrace them and live well!