I’ve noticed that many people who do yoga stay in great shape. I’ve even recommended many beginner clients to do yoga as a great way to start their fitness journey.
Yet, I’m always met with the same question: how does something as low-intensity as yoga allow you to burn calories, build muscle, and get in shape?
So, I spent a month studying yoga’s physical benefits to better understand its overall effectiveness. I teamed up with a yoga instructor and discussed the scientific literature.
Here’s what we found.
- Yoga contributes to fat burning and weight loss, though less intensely compared to cardio and weight training, by improving muscle strength, sleep quality, and stress management.
- Regular yoga practice enhances mindfulness in eating habits, reducing the likelihood of obesity.
- A 2015 study published in PubMed Central highlighted that daily yoga for 20-30 minutes significantly improves muscle strength and endurance.
- Personally, I find yoga an effective and holistic approach to maintaining fitness and well-being, suitable for various fitness levels.
Can Doing Yoga Help You Burn Fat?
Yoga can aid in fat burning, though it's less intense than cardio or weight training. It's ideal for low-impact exercise, offering joint-friendly workouts.
While it doesn't burn calories as rapidly as running or weightlifting, consistent yoga practice can still contribute to weight loss.
Here are some of the potential weight loss benefits of doing yoga:
- Builds muscle and core strength
- Improves sleep quality
- Burns calories steadily
- Decreases stress levels
- Helps with mindful eating
Builds Lean Muscle and Core Strength
In my experience, yoga has been effective in building and toning muscles, especially in the upper and lower body, using just body weight for resistance.
A 2015 study published in PubMed Central found that 20–30 minutes of daily yoga can significantly improve muscle strength and endurance .
And since muscle is more metabolically active than fat, the more of it you build, the more efficiently you’ll be burning calories .
Improves Sleep Quality
You won't burn fat as efficiently if you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Practicing yoga has personally helped me achieve deeper and more restful sleep, which is crucial for effective fat burning.
A 2012 study found that quality sleep improves fat loss and metabolism, helping you shed pounds faster .
Another research published in National Institutes of Health shows that sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain .
And since yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality, practicing it daily might benefit fat burning in the long run .
The quality of sleep is intricately linked to weight management, and yoga's ability to improve sleep patterns is a key factor in aiding weight loss. Regular yoga practice can lead to better sleep quality, which in turn helps in maintaining a healthy weight.
"I noticed a lot of differences in myself in terms of sleep quality, appetite and mood. I learned that yoga is so much more than the exercise component that it is commercially seen as in the U.S."
- Dr. Ann Caldwell, PhD
Burns Calories Steadily
While less intense than running, HIIT, or weight training, yoga still burns calories.
Intense forms like Ashtanga or Vinyasa can burn 400–600 calories per hour, increasing heart rate and flexibility. Through my own practice of Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga, I've experienced significant calorie burn, comparable to more intense workouts.
For a gentler option, hatha yoga focuses on large muscle groups with less exertion, still aiding in calorie burn.
Decreases Stress Levels
Many people practice yoga for its therapeutic effects. Yoga has been a personal stress-buster for me, aiding in both mental and physical well-being, which is essential for weight loss.
Stress management is tied to weight loss; the better you manage your levels of stress, the easier it is for you to lose weight .
Studies published in International Journal of Yoga show that yoga not only builds muscle and improves flexibility but improves your mental health by managing stress, anxiety, depression, and overall quality of life .
Yoga plays a crucial role in balancing hormones, particularly cortisol, the stress hormone, which when elevated, can lead to increased abdominal fat. Incorporating yoga into your routine can help regulate these hormones, aiding in more effective weight management.
Helps With Mindful Eating
What you put on your plate might be more important than what you do on a yoga mat.
Regular yoga practice has been linked to mindful eating, and people who eat mindfully are less likely to end up obese .
My regular yoga practice has significantly improved my mindfulness in eating habits, contributing to a healthier lifestyle.
"From curbing emotional eating to getting the most out of a workout, the ability to be fully present and enjoy the full strength and capacity of your mind and body working together is the key reason yoga supports weight loss."
- Rebecca Pacheco, Author, Yoga & Meditation Teacher
5 Yoga Moves For Burning Extra Calories
Not all yoga moves will help you burn body fat. Some moves are more intense and will require you to push yourself.
So, here’s a list of effective yoga moves that helped our clients on their weight loss journey:
- Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose): This pose tones your inner thighs and shoulders. The longer you hold it, the more you'll feel the burn on your quads. The warrior pose also improves your balance while toning your back, legs, and arms.
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose): Like a normal plank, this pose strengthens your core. The longer you hold it, the tighter your core gets.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog): This pose works your entire body and specifically tones your arms, back, hamstrings, and thighs.
- Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand): This pose strengthens your legs and upper body and improves your balance and core strength.
- Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation): This is one of the most elaborate poses that require your full body strength. It stretches and tones most of your major muscles.
In addition to helping you lose weight, practicing yoga every day has many health benefits.
Improves Flexibility and Balance
Most yoga poses demand a good range of motion and stability. With regular practice, they can improve your muscle mobility and stability.
A 2016 study published in International Journal of Yoga found that yoga may improve overall balance and flexibility, enhancing athletic performance .
Manges Heart Health
Yoga is one of the best exercise options if you struggle with heart problems.
One of the key benefits of yoga is stress management. One of the ways it does this is by lowering your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and heart rate .
Eases Arthritis Symptoms
Arthritis makes certain physically-demanding exercises a challenge. Not yoga, however.
A 2015 clinical trial published in PubMed found that yoga poses had no adverse effects on sedentary adults with arthritis .
Easier On the Joints
While cardio and weight training offer quicker weight loss, they're not suitable for everyone, especially older adults or those with joint issues.
Yoga, requiring less joint strain yet promoting range of motion, is an excellent alternative.
It gradually builds bone and muscle strength, preparing the body for more intense exercises over time.
"Doing yoga can help to burn fat, even with minimal movements. More rigorous exercise will certainly help more with fat loss, but so will a good diet, quality sleep, and relaxation — all of which yoga can help to achieve."
- Brandt Passalacqua, Founder, Director & Lead Teacher at Breathing Deeply Yoga
Related Article: Thread The Needle Exercise
Can Yoga Help You Gain Muscle?
Yes, yoga may help you gain muscle. But it won’t be a significant amount where you’ll see noticeable changes in your physique.
How Often Should I Do Yoga To Lose Weight?
You should do yoga every day to lose weight. Since it doesn’t burn calories as intensely as cardio, you should do yoga on a daily basis to burn more calories during the week.
What’s the Best Time To Practice Yoga For Weight Loss?
The best time to practice yoga for weight loss might be in the mornings. Although many people have reported losing more weight on fasted yoga, there’s no scientific data to back up such claims.
Should You Do Yoga Before or After a Workout?
You should do yoga after a workout, especially if your exercise sessions are more about strength rather than flexibility. Performing yoga before exercising is more of a warm-up routine.
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