Losing weight through yoga sounds almost too good to be true. On the surface, yoga seems like the polar opposite of a fast-paced high-intensity interval training (HIIT) circuit or a weightlifting workout, the two kinds of exercise usually recommended for weight loss. A yoga class leaves your body feeling totally different: refreshed instead of wiped out, loose instead of tight, flexible instead of sore. It’s even good for your mental health, helping you deal with stress and anxiety.
HIIT, weightlifting, and cardio are fun and effective for weight loss, but they’re also not for everyone. If yoga sounds more appealing and weight loss is your goal, it’s natural to wonder if your daily practice can help you shed pounds.
Yes, You Can Lose Weight With Yoga
“Yoga can be a good source of exercise,” said Jorianne Numbers, MS, an exercise physiologist with Northwestern Medicine. At the most basic level, she said, yoga is a form of movement that helps you burn calories, which is a major part of losing weight (though your exact amount burned will depend on your height, weight, and gender).
But there’s more behind yoga’s relationship with weight loss than first meets the eye. An effective practice also fosters a mind-body connection that makes you more mindful in every facet of your life. “Yoga brings you into a heightened state of awareness,” explained Lara Heimann, physical therapist, yoga instructor, and founder of LYT Method, a yoga certification program. Moving through different poses and holds increases your awareness of your body, and that can translate to other effective weight-loss habits, like eating healthy, which is key for losing weight no matter what exercise you’re doing. (Try this two-week clean eating plan to get started.) “The congruency between mindfulness on and off of the mat is what can make yoga more effective for weight loss than other forms of exercise,” Lara told POPSUGAR.
Yoga has long been regarded as an effective way to relieve stress, and that on its own can be a weight-loss tool. “Having a less stressful life, and fewer stress hormones such as cortisol, can help anyone lead a healthier lifestyle,” explained Liza Janda, a certified yoga instructor at Yoga Janda. Cortisol is an appetite stimulant, hence why we tend to eat (and overeat) when we’re stressed out and to crave unhealthy foods in particular. A relaxing yoga practice can help you deal with stress in a healthier way and even avoid it, and the related weight gain, altogether. (Try this relaxing yoga sequence or one of these stress-busting yoga videos to see for yourself.)
Which Practices Are Best For Weight Loss? Yoga Burn Challenge
If you’re looking for pure calorie burn, our experts agreed that fast-paced yoga burn is the practice to choose. “A good yoga burn class will take you through a variety of movements, with a focus on integrating your core and weight-bearing on your hands and feet,” Lara explained. Imagine a classic flow from plank to tricep push-up to upward facing dog — you’re getting a core burn, working your triceps, then using your arms to hold up your bodyweight as you stretch. This kind of weight-bearing move “increases heart rate and builds muscle,” Liza told POPSUGAR. The more muscle you build, the more calories you’ll burn even after you’re done exercising.
Power yoga is another good choice, Jorianne told POPSUGAR, though it’s more intense and better suited for people who are already in good shape. “In power yoga, there is less meditation and more of a focus on standing poses and faster-paced movement,” she explained. Your heart will pump even harder than in a yoga burn class, which is good news for losing weight; Liza recommended aiming for a heart rate that’s 55 to 85 percent of your maximum to get the most calories burned out of a class.