Does Yoga Work for Weight Loss?

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Slay your daily INSANITY or P90X workout and the pounds will melt off. But that doesn’t mean gentler workouts won’t help you lose pounds, too. Yoga has a reputation for improving stress levels, and its calming properties may help you work off the weight — not to mention that some forms of yoga are seriously sweaty.

Overall, research shows practicing yoga may work for weight loss when combined with a healthy diet and that the more often you practice yoga, the greater results you’ll see on the scale. In a massive study of more than 15,000 adults, those who had been practicing yoga for at least four years clocked in at a lower weight than those who went without a regular session.

But you don’t have to have do yoga for years to see results. A small study from South Korean researchers found obese women who practiced yoga for 16 weeks saw significant improvements in body weight, body fat percentage, BMI, waist circumference, and visceral fat compared to those who didn’t exercise.

How Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight?

“If you’re looking to burn the most calories, you want to find a class that incorporates a lot of strength positions and sun salutations, particularly chaturanga dandasanas (essentially, yoga push-ups),” says yoga instructor Seth Kaufmann. “In order to burn calories efficiently, you need to be moving and using the most amount of mass and muscles.”

You’ve probably heard about people sweating like crazy in heated yoga classes like Bikram, which has to translate to a ton of weight lost — right? Kaufmann says, “In theory a hot yoga class would burn more calories than a non-heated room because anytime the external temperature is extreme (hot or cold) your body has to work harder to maintain your core temperature homeostasis, thus burning calories.”

However, a small study from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found that yogastudents in a non-heated yoga class showed the same increase in core temperature and heart rate than in a hot yoga class. Another study from the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found 30 minutes of just sun salutations is invigorating enough to qualify as cardiorespiratory training, and helps a 130-pound person burn an average of 230 kcal. These studies point to the idea that your final caloric burn is tied closer to how hard you’re working rather than how hot the room is.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Doing Yoga?

The amount of calories you burn depends on the style of yoga, as well as your weight, gender, body composition, level of effort, and other factors. What follows are averages based on the Health Status calculator.

A 150-pound woman will burn the resulting number of calories for an hour of yoga:

Hatha Yoga: 189 calories

Ashtanga/Power Yoga: 351 calories

Bikram Yoga: 477 calories

Vinyasa: 594 calories

A 190-pound man will burn the resulting number of calories for an hour of yoga:

Hatha Yoga: 239 calories

Ashtanga/Power Yoga: 445 calories

Bikram Yoga: 604 calories

Vinyasa: 752 calories

How Slow Yoga Helps Burn Fat

OK, so should you do the most intense yoga possible if you want to lose weight? Not so fast. Even super mellow methods have their weight-loss perks. A small study out of the University of California, San Diego found that overweight women who practiced restorative yoga—which focuses less on increased heart rate and more on relaxation and stress reduction — still lost around 3 pounds and 31 square centimeters of subcutaneous fat after six months of practicing.

This may surprise you, but it makes sense to the experts. “If you’re super stressed, your body may actually respond better to yoga than cardio,” says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., personal trainer and adjunct faculty of exercise science at San Diego Mesa College.

When you’re stressed, your sympathetic nervous system — that “fight or flight” response — is activated. Doing high intensity exercise revs the same system, but since the dial is already turned up, it can push your system into overdrive.

To counteract this, you need to activate your parasympathetic—or “rest and digest”—nervous system. McCall says, “By going to a gentle yoga class during a stressful time, you’ll be surprised that you’ll come out of it calmer and actually lose weight.” Kaufmann agrees, “There are many physiological benefits to yoga including stabilizing our nervous systems, improving respiratory efficiency, stomach function, hormone production, and, of course, increase strength and energy levels. These benefits in turn lower stress, improve sleep, and help the body recover and run more efficiently.”

Plus, over half of people who do yoga report that it helps them sleep better, according to a survey from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Since scoring less than five hours is directly related to more abdominal fat, says a study inSLEEP and additional research from the University of Chicago dieters who log a solid eight hours lose more fat than those who skimp on shuteye, it’s hard to deny the importance of sleep—not just for your quality of life but also for weight loss.

Yoga Has Psychological Benefits Too

“The greatest benefit of yoga for weight loss is learning how to love and care for yourself more, which helps you make better lifestyle decisions when it comes to caring for your body,” says Kaufmann. And the research agrees: a study in Qualitative Health Researchfound practicing yoga helped people develop physical self-empowerment, healthier habits, and better awareness of the self and the present moment.

“The core essence of yoga is to teach us to live fully present in the moment, accepting what is, and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve us,” says Kaufmann. “When we can live our life with more mindfulness we will make better decisions when it comes to what we do for our health.”

If you’re new to yoga, check out Beachbody’s new video series, 3 Week Yoga Retreat, to learn the fundamentals of yoga.

**Article courtesy of Beachbody.com/beachbodyblog

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