When you're beginning a weight-loss journey, there are seemingly endless approaches to consider. Of course, good nutrition is key. But then there's the whole exercise part of it — and there are so, so many types of exercise to choose from.
Maybe high-intensity interval training, CrossFit, weight lifting and running just aren't for you — maybe you want or need something gentler, or something that won't add more stress to your life.
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Enter yoga, with which you can blend exercise, stress-relief and mindfulness all into one soothing, health-promoting practice.
If you're thinking yoga isn't intense enough to lose weight, think again: Any type of exercise, yoga included, can burn calories and help with weight loss.
There are a few things to keep in mind when doing yoga for weight loss, though. Get started with this guide.
What's the Best Yoga for Weight Loss?
Vinyasa yoga — a type of yoga that pairs flowing posture with breath work — is typically considered the best type of yoga for weight loss, Lipsa Shah, a registered yoga teacher and certified personal trainer, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Vinyasa typically moves at a faster pace, which means your heart rate will stay high throughout the class," Shah says.
For beginners, Shah recommends trying a slower vinyasa class, which is often referred to as "warm" or "slow burn" yoga. Check your local yoga studio for class listings or browse YouTube and Instagram for free classes.
Bikram yoga, more commonly known as hot yoga, may also be helpful for weight loss, Shah says, because the room is heated. The idea is that in a heated room, your heart has to work harder to supply oxygen to all of your working muscles, which helps you burn more calories.
Hot yoga has also been said to create an "afterburn," or a period of time following a workout during which your heart rate remains higher and you consume more oxygen than you normally would at rest.
While the scientific evidence behind these concepts as they apply to hot yoga is limited, many people feel hot yoga makes their bodies work harder than yoga in a non-heated room — in any case, you'll get a good sweat in.
And really, any kind of yoga can contribute to weight loss, Shah says, especially if you're a beginner to fitness or yoga. All movement adds to your total daily calorie expenditure, which can help you create a calorie deficit (burn more than you eat), and that's what ultimately counts when weight loss is the goal.
Wondering how to calculate your calories for weight loss? Download the MyPlate app to do the job and help you track the calories you burn during your workouts.
Case in point: Harvard Health Publishing estimates that a 185-pound person would burn just over 350 calories during an hour of relatively gentle Hatha yoga, so you can feel confident that more intense styles of yoga, like vinyasa and Bikram, will burn even more.
How Often to Do Yoga for Weight Loss
If you're doing yoga for weight loss, Shah recommends a minimum of three to four one-hour sessions per week.
Because yoga is typically considered low-to-moderate intensity exercise, this falls in line with — and even surpasses — the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommend a minimum of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of low-to-moderate intensity exercise each week.
Here's a sample yoga schedule you could use to lose weight:
A 7-Day Yoga Workout Plan
- Monday: Vinyasa yoga, 60 minutes
- Tuesday: Hot yoga, 60 minutes
- Wednesday: Vinyasa yoga, 60 minutes
- Thursday: Restorative yoga, 30 to 60 minutes
- Friday: Hot yoga, 60 minutes
- Saturday: Rest or restorative yoga
- Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga
As long as you don't begin to feel the effects of overtraining, you can do yoga six or seven days a week as part of a weight-loss program, especially when you incorporate gentle restorative yoga to reset your body for another vinyasa or Bikram class.
Other Health Benefits of Yoga
Aside from weight loss, yoga is known for its many health benefits, particularly emotional health benefits that carry over into all aspects of your life.
"Yoga is in absolutely everything you do," Shah says. "The calm mind that you cultivate on the mat can be taken everywhere else."
And hey — when you feel your best, you're more likely to exercise and eat well, helping you stick with your weight-loss plan.
Here are a few advantages you can expect when you adopt a yoga practice.
Balance, Flexibility and Stability
Studies show that a regular yoga practice can have profound effects on your balance, flexibility and stability. For example, a study in the January-June 2016 issue of the International Journal of Yoga found that 10 weeks of yoga improved flexibility and balance in college athletes, and a January 2016 review in Age and Ageing concluded that yoga can help reduce the risk of falling in seniors by improving balance and mobility.
Because yoga can increase your flexibility, joint mobility and strength, it can improve your posture, too. One common reason for poor posture is weakness and/or tightness in the core, shoulders and back, all of which you can combat with a consistent yoga practice.
Indeed, a study in the May-August 2017 issue of the International Journal of Yoga shows that certain yoga poses can increase core strength and muscle activation. Additionally, a June 2012 study in the Journal of Yoga for Physical Therapy found that yoga can improve upper body stabilization and strength in women with postural complications.
One of the most well-known benefits of yoga is relief from stress and anxiety. A February 2018 report in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine concludes that yoga can even be used as complementary medicine in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
And yoga proved an effective tool for managing the stresses of modern work life in a March 2018 study in Anxiety, Stress and Coping.
If you have trouble sleeping at night, that's one more reason to start practicing yoga. Yoga can both improve your sleep quality and your overall quality of life, per a study in the January-March 2013 issue of the Journal of Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine. In fact, a report in the April-June 2017 issue of Sleep Science shows yoga to be more effective at improving sleep than aerobic exercise, such as running.
(Psst: There are four big reasons sleep is so important for weight loss.)
Don’t Rely on Yoga Alone
While yoga can certainly help you lose weight, don't rely on yoga alone to help you reach your goals. Physical activity is only one part of a healthy lifestyle that contributes to weight loss and weight maintenance.
The truth is, you can't out-exercise an unhealthy diet, and if you don't adopt healthy eating habits, you may wind up frustrated that your yoga practice isn't helping you lose weight.
Some simple things you can start with, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, include:
- Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high-quality sources of lean protein
- Limit your intake of sodium, added sugar and unhealthy saturated and trans fats
- Avoid highly processed foods, which tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients
If you find yourself struggling with healthy eating, don't let that stop you from picking up a yoga practice. In fact, yoga may actually help you make better decisions every day, Shah says.
"Practicing yoga will bring calm to the mind, which will in turn help you sleep better and stay more focused in your day-to-day life," she explains. "Being more focused and present in your typical day will help you make better lifestyle choices, such as who you surround yourself with, the things you watch and read and most importantly, the foods you eat."
Research actually shows this is true: A January 2019 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that people who exercised every day for 15 weeks made healthier food choices throughout that time without ever being prompted to change their eating habits.
So, can yoga help you lose weight? According to the pros — and science — the answer is a resounding yes.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for Exercisers of Three Different Weights"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- International Journal of Yoga: "Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes"
- Age and Aging: "Yoga-based Exercise Improves Balance and Mobility in People Aged 60 and Over: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- International Journal of Yoga: "Anatomical Correlation of Core Muscle Activation in Different Yogic Postures"
- Journal of Yoga for Physical Therapy: "Yoga Improves Upper-Extremity Function and Scapular Posturing in Persons with Hyperkyphosis"
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine: "The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women"
- Anxiety, Stress and Coping: "The Effects of Yoga on Stress and Psychological Health Among Employees: An 8- And 16-week Intervention Study"
- Journal of Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine: "Impact of long term Yoga practice on sleep quality and quality of life in the elderly"
- Sleep Science: "Effect of yoga and aerobics exercise on sleep quality in women with Type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial"
- National Institutes of Health: "Factors Affecting Weight & Health"
- International Journal of Obesity: "The influence of 15-week exercise training on dietary patterns among young adults"