Most people know that yoga is an amazing tool for improving health and flexibility, but what they do not know is that yoga is one of the most effective methods to lose weight.
At a superficial level, yoga is too “gentle and slow”, the polar opposite of exercises such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or aerobic workouts, which are generally recommended for weight loss. Yet yoga has proven time and again to be great for losing weight and KEEPING the weight off – mainly because it deals first with the mind, before it does the physical body.
If you are ready to learn more about yoga for weight loss, read on. In this guide, we will look at why and how exactly yoga works for weight loss, types of yogic practices to adopt, how to start your yoga practice, and how to keep the weight off for life.
Get the FREE “15 Best Yoga Poses for Fast Weight Loss” guide here
How yoga works for weight loss
Yoga may not be associated with calorie-burning, sweaty workouts, as in bootcamps or gym exercises. But don’t let this fool you – yoga works deep within the mind to help you trim fat, tone your body, build strength, and heal your mind and spirit.
Yoga improves physical bodily functions directly
Yoga is a systematic approach to conditioning and bodyweight training. There is plenty of research to show that yoga involves a lot of sculpting and toning, while helping you to lose fat. Researchers have found that overweight people who practice yoga regularly tend to lose weight more than those who don’t.
Beyond the physical sculping benefits of yoga, yoga also helps with insulin sensitivity. When insulin is high, the body naturally stores more fat. And when insulin regulates and drops due to yoga, your body releases its stored fat more easily.
Finally, yoga (except fast, dynamic yoga) and yogic practices such as pranayama and meditation, help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our abilities to relax and chill. When we are stressed, our bodies secrete a stress hormone, cortisol, which forces our bodies to store more fat and lose more muscles. Yoga works to reduce cortisol and allow our bodies to lose fat and tone up more easily.
Yoga deals directly with mental causes of weight gain
On the surface level, weight gain seems to be a function of eating more, moving less, and being lazy about taking care of one’s body. Yet these behaviours are merely symptoms of deeper underlying issues within the mind. Some examples include:
- Emotional eating: Filling up on food for non-nutritional purposes. This can be triggered by stress, anxiety, frustration, loneliness or anger.
- Binge eating: Taking excessive amounts of food in a short time without a hunger trigger.
- Food addiction: Foods such as sugar, salt, and fat are highly addictive. When the mind is unable to overcome the physiological desire to consume highly salty, sweet and fatty food, one may eat more than one intends to.
- Bad relationship with food: The adult’s relationship with food is formed during our childhood period. For some, food is associated with love and family, for others, food is used as a reward, or as a distraction from their real feelings. Childhood events may influence how we think about food and how we use food to create, hide or distract from our real emotions.
- Weight-gain mindset: What you think more of, you attract more of – this is the fundamental law of attraction. When people think that they will never lose weight, whatever they do in the physical will not result in weight loss, because their minds have already told them otherwise and they are unconsciously sabotaging themselves.
For most people, the mind is the root cause of weight gain. Thus, if we want to lose weight and tone up, we first need to address the root of the problem:
We need to create a healthy mindset and the right beliefs that will help us manifest the weight loss and health.
This is where yoga comes in. The practice of yoga necessary means we become more in tune with ourselves. We learn to love and accept ourselves as we truly are, and no longer rely on food to shield or distract us from emotional trauma.
Yoga improves mind-body awareness to build healthy weight-loss habits
Yoga is not only a form of movement that helps you burn calories (a major part of losing weight), but it is also really effective in fostering a healthy mind-body connection that is essential for long term weight loss.
An effective yoga practice comprises of deep breathing (pranayama), movement (yoga poses or asanas) and mindfulness (meditation).
Deep breathing helps to calm the mind and body down, boosting blood circulation, oxygen and helps to bring clarity and awareness. Certain breath practices balance the subtle body’s energies and help to improve digestion and metabolism.
Moving through yoga poses and holding them help to increase the awareness of our bodies. After a yoga class, yogis tend to WANT to adopt healthier habits such as eating better, treating their bodies with love, and practising self-care.
Improved body awareness through the practice of yoga asanas helps to shift the mindset from “I need to diet” to “I want to treat my body well”.
Beyond breathwork and yoga poses, the practice of meditation helps one to reduce stress and increase mindfulness, both on and off the mat. This helps to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, an appetite stimulant that causes us to overeat unhealthy food when we are stressed out.
Meditation will not make you lose weight overnight, but it can help to change negative thought patterns such as guilt, shame and anxiety, into positive ones around love, self-love, and happiness. These result in lasting effects on the habits that govern your weight.
Best Yoga Practices for Weight Loss
There are many different styles of yoga (we’re talking asanas / poses here), and every type works on weight loss differently. Let’s break it down below.
Fast paced, dynamic yoga
Description: Certain types of dynamic, flow-based yoga help to raise the heart-rate and accelerate fat burn through cardiovascular movements. These aerobic exercises can be compared to running, swimming or dancing. You will work up a sweat in any of these sessions.
Styles of Yoga: Ashtanga, vinyasa, power and other fusion styles of yoga are generally dynamic and fast paced.
Pros for weight loss:
- Accelerates calorie burning
- Is a great physical workout
- Builds strength, flexibility and cardio all in one session
- Builds internal heat to flush out toxins and water weight
Cons for weight loss:
- Activates the sympathetic nervous system (our stress response)
- Not suitable for beginners
- Focuses more on the physical body, less on the mental and energetic bodies
Slow paced yoga with longer holds
Description: Slow-paced styles of yoga require practitioners to hold each pose for a longer time, possibly 5-10 or even longer breaths. Slow yoga is similar to strength and conditioning workouts in that they do not burn as much calories per session, but are better for building physical and mental strength.
Styles of yoga: Hatha, Gentle and Yin yoga are slower paced (though not necessarily easier)
Pros for weight loss:
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also called the rest-and-digest system responsible for regulating hormones, relaxation and stress relief.
- Helps you to tune in to your body. You may realise that you are more aware of when you are full, or when some foods do not suit you when something you do causes your body to feel bad or amazing
- Helps you to improve mental strength and stability
- Helps you build the right physical foundations of yoga so that you can practice the dynamic styles of yoga safely
Cons for weight loss:
- May not burn as much calories as dynamic styles of yoga
Depending on your preference, you may lean towards the hardcore cardio yoga class to work a sweat up. For others, the slower Yin and Hatha yoga may be more helpful for relieving stress. Try out both styles of yoga and see what you lean towards. All styles of yoga are beneficial for weight loss in that you learn to be more aware of your body and mind – essential for building the right habits for life-long health.
How to start using yoga for weight loss
Some yoga poses, also called asanas, are great for weight loss. Beyond burning calories and strengthening the muscles, they stimulate the metabolism by working on the endocrine glands that regulate the metabolic rate.
There are many classes online to help you get started. However, it is important to learn from a teacher who provides clear cues for good alignment. This is because when people are too focused on burning calories, they sometimes compromise alignment and risk injuring themselves.
This is also why I recommend people to start with yoga programs that focus on alignment and foundation. I’ve tried many programs over the last decade, and here are some of my recommendations.
Yoga Fat Loss Bible – Best for Beginners
My favourite yoga program for weight loss is the Yoga Fat Loss Bible.
Unlike many beginner yoga programs, the Yoga Fat Loss Bible was created with a specific goal: Lose weight and inches, FAST. The yoga poses are geared towards fat burning, many of which also help to tone, stretch and strengthen the body.
This program is designed for beginners, but also includes advanced poses that you can work towards. In addition to a full “bible” of yoga poses for fat loss, students get lifetime access to yoga workout videos, and many other free guides to help with the weight loss journey.
1000s of copies of the program has been sold, with many vouching for results.
You can read more about Yoga Fat Loss Bible here.
Yoga with Adriene – YouTube Channel
Adriene has a large library of free yoga videos, covering many different varieties of needs. Her weight loss series is fully accessible and free to beginners as well – watch them here.
What I like about Adriene is that she makes yoga look and feel so easy. I always feel that time flies whenever I’m practising with her on the mat!
Head over to her channel and find videos for every need. There are also specific weight loss videos to help with full body toning, target areas such as the core and arms, strengthening, and more.
Yoga Download’s Yoga for Weight Loss Program– Best for Intermediate / Advanced Yogis
While the first two programs were more suited for beginners, this yoga for weight loss program by Yoga Download is geared towards seasoned practitioners.
The program spans 3-weeks, during which you will be doing vigorous classes 5 days per week. Each of the 15 yoga classes follow a dynamic style to help burn the most calories while working to tone your entire body.
Weight loss begins in the kitchen. And the program helps you eat better with a recipe guide comprising 21 easy and healthy recipes for the 3-week program.
If you are already an unlimited subscriber of Yoga Download, this program is free for you.
Use yoga for long term weight loss results
When using yoga for weight loss, try to think from a bigger perspective. Consider activities that are beneficial not only for the physical body, but also for the mind and spirit.
As you progress in your weight loss journey, you will want to focus on maintaining this weight loss. A lot of it boils down to habits and understanding your deep internal triggers as well as relationship with food.
With that in mind, it is ideal if your yoga practice includes an element of breathwork (pranayama) and meditation / mindfulness. These mental practices will help you to
- know yourself better,
- love yourself more,
- de-stress and reduce anxiety,
- live a more aware life so that you don’t fall prey to automatic triggers that can jeopardise your weight loss efforts.
Finally, remember that even if your progress is slow, always give yourself credit for trying. Don’t condemn yourself for any setback, and allow yourself to take the weight loss journey slowly (and surely). Yoga teaches us to be more aware of the self, which is crucial for long-term change. Stick with yoga and your weight loss will surely come – and it will last!
Download our FREE Yoga for Weight Loss guide
If you are not ready to start yoga with video classes, you can download our free guide: 15 Yoga Poses for Fast Weight Loss. Each of the poses includes step-by-step instructions to help you get your alignment right and build a strong foundation.
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The YogaMad is founded by Mila, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.