If you’re looking to lose weight in 2021, creating an actually sustainable health and wellness routine for yourself is crucial. While options like the keto diet, intermittent fasting or any other popular diet can be helpful, movement is crucial to the weight loss equation, too.
And if you’re looking for a lower impact workout that can help you shed pounds and focus on your mental health, yoga is a great choice.
Can yoga help you lose weight?
The short answer to this question? Yes. “Yoga can help you lose weight, as any exercise can, as it helps you burn calories. There are different forms of yoga and some are more strenuous than others, which helps burn more calories,” says Amy Kimberlain, RDN, LDN, CDCES, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Of course, different types of yoga burn different amounts of calories. “Losing weight with yoga is a possibility when you are practicing vinyasa and yoga fusion classes like yoga sculpt,” says Mara Olney, yoga teacher and studio owner of LÜM Health Studio and virtual studio LÜMLIVE. “Yoga sculpt is a vinyasa class with light weights. Vinyasa classes are fast paced and combine muscle strengthening poses and vigorous flows that will get your heart rate up and have you breaking a sweat.”
To achieve significant weight loss, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends over 250 minutes of exercise per week, or just over 35 minutes per day.
“Yoga is a great complement to those who already do a lot of strenuous or even moderate cardio exercise or those who do heavy strength training,” says Audra Wilson, RD, a registered bariatric dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital. “Yoga challenges different muscles in different ways and allows you time to reflect on your body and all of the things it can do—maybe even giving you a chance to thank those muscles for getting you to the great shape you’re in!”
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How yoga helps with weight loss
Incorporating yoga into your exercise regimen will help you achieve your weight loss goals, but it can also help you reduce stress and benefit other areas of your life.
Yoga can help with being mindful
“In many studies it has been shown that by practicing mindfulness it can help people with their stress levels, as well as leading to being more mindful when it comes to food selections,” says Kimberlain. “In yoga, you’re listening to your breath, your body and this in turn allows for you to be more aware and conscious of what is happening. You’re able to be more present (and less reactive).”
Adds Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian and certified yoga teacher in New York City, “Yoga may aid in weight loss because overall it is a practice of mindfulness, and therefore can help someone become more in-tune to their own body and what they put in it. Yoga is a lifestyle, something you don’t only practice on a mat, but also off of one. It should teach you compassion for others and most of all, yourself.”
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Yoga may help improve your sleep
Lack of sleep has been shown to be associated with weight gain, so anything that helps you sleep will likely aid in your weight loss journey, too.
“it’s all interconnected—you’re too tired to work out, your hunger hormones haven’t had a chance to rest and aren’t communicating well (ghrelin and leptin), and lack of sleep has even been shown to affect our metabolism, hence the weight gain,” says Kimberlain. “So, where exercise has been shown to help improve our sleep—yoga can definitely help on that front—try a few poses before bed that will help aid to disconnect and ultimately fall asleep faster.”
Yoga may help with digestion
“With a combination of deep breathing, stretches that target the abdominal organs, and twists that massage our intestines, yoga is a great way to wake up and support organs for better digestion,” says Kimberlain.
Yoga can help improve your flexibility and mobility
And in addition to the mental health benefits with yoga, you can also increase your flexibility, strengthen your muscles, and enhance your mobility.
“Many regular exercisers also don’t take adequate time to stretch so adding yoga can be a great way to increase flexibility while improving balance and strengthening those smaller muscles that you are likely not focusing on in typical workouts,” says Wilson.
How to start yoga at home for weight loss
If you’re a beginner, there are some steps you should take to help get you acclimated.
Learn the basics and start slow
“Before a person specifically focuses on weight loss and yoga, it’s important to learn the basics postures and the proper alignment to avoid any injury,” says Gans. “If you have never done yoga before, ideally one would take a beginner class or two in person to learn the basic poses.”
However, since in-person is not so much an option these days, looking for a beginner online class is recommended.
“Once you become more familiar with the postures you can seek out more active type classes, such as vinyasa, power or ashtanga, which may burn more calories than more gentler practices,” says Gans. “I always recommended building slowly, so start with one class per week and add more as you feel comfortable, possibly up to four times per week.”
Find a good time of day to practice that will work for your schedule
“Try exercising in the morning when you have the most control over your day,” says Wilson. “You can get up just 30 minutes earlier and get in a good session before anyone else in the house is even awake—and you’ll also have a calming and energizing start to your day this way.”
Try something more intense
“In particular hot yoga can be a great weight loss tool, other than providing great cardiovascular and endurance benefits. According to research, 90 minutes of hot yoga burns up to >700 calories for a 90 minutes session,” says Silvia Carli, MS, RD, CSCS, sports nutritionist at 1and1Life.
She suggests aiming to try a hot yoga class two to three times per week, and building up sessions.
Try joining a virtual studio
“I suggest signing up for an online membership from a virtual studio that you resonate with to make sure you are being consistent,” says Olney. “Look for local studios with virtual yoga memberships. Not only will this help you stay on track, but it is a great way to support yoga teachers who have taken a major hit this year with all the studio closings and restrictions during the pandemic. Local studios need your support as much as you need theirs.”
Or, consider yoga for weight loss on YouTube.
Yoga for weight loss on YouTube
With many yoga studios and gyms currently closed, virtual yoga classes can be a great alternative.
“These are some of the more recognized yoga platforms out there: Yoga Journal, Manduka Yoga, Gaiam Yoga, and Yoga with Adriene. On their pages, you’re able to look for ‘power yoga’ or even ‘restorative yoga’, and these are all beneficial when it comes to either starting to implement a consistent yoga practice and/or get a more strength or endurance type workout,” says Wilson. “Each can benefit with weight loss.”
Here are two workouts that Olney recommends:
Weight Loss Yoga by Yoga with Adriene
“This is a 60-minute class and really hits every muscle group. This class is well-rounded and, because it is full body, you could theoretically practice only this class 3 days a week and be on a solid path to reaching your weight loss goals,” says Olney.
Best Full Body Yoga 30-Minute Feel Good Flow by KinoYoga
“Another full-body class, but this one is half the time. Kino MacGregor is truly one of the most knowledgeable modern-day yogis. When you take a class from Kino, you are learning from the best. I’ve been to her workshops in real life, and she makes it easy to fall in love with yoga,” says Olney.
Next up, here’s what to do if you’re dealing with unexplained weight gain.
- Amy Kimberlain, RDN, LDN, CDCES, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Mara Olney, yoga teacher and studio owner of LÜM Health Studio and virtual studio LÜMLIVE
- Audra Wilson, RD, a registered bariatric dietitian at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital
- Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian and certified yoga teacher in New York City
- Silvia Carli, MS, RD, CSCS, sports nutritionist at 1and1Life