Yoga: Can it help you lose weight?

Author: Amber Houghton  

Yoga is a mind-body practice involving breathing patterns, physical poses, relaxation and meditation, ethics and self-awareness. 

Can this combination help you along your weight loss journey? What does the research say?

There is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that yoga might help you to lose weight. In 2005, Alan Kristal, a practicing yogi and medical researcher, investigated the relationship between yoga and weight loss

15,550 healthy males and females, aged 53-57 years, were involved. Over a 10-15year period, yoga practitioners in their 50s were more likely to lose weight and less likely to gain weight, than non-practitioners. Overweight yoga practitioners were generally found to lose weight from 45years of age to when they were recruited.

Later, Moliver et al (2011) investigated how the length and frequency of yoga practice influenced body mass index (BMI) and medication use in 211 female yoga practitioners aged 45-80years. Even after lifestyle factors and age were considered, BMI decreased as yoga experience increased. They linked practicing yoga in the long-term with slight or no obesity.

Whilst evidence is suggesting that yoga might help you to lose weight, exactly how it might do this isn’t completely clear. But it seems that both physical and psychological aspects may be at play.

The physical effects of yoga:

How does yoga increase your fitness and help you to lose weight?

  • Increase your muscle strength, mass and endurance

Whilst yoga will increase your flexibility, many of the poses can help you to increase your muscle strength, mass and endurance. This is particularly true for the inverted, balancing and standing poses, as numerous large and small muscles must all contract simultaneously to stabilise you. The longer you hold the pose, the more strength and endurance you will build.

  • Increase your rate of metabolism and fat burning

Muscle is very active tissue.  For every 1kg of muscle gained, an extra 70-120calories are burnt every day (Australian Institute of Fitness 2013)!  So by increasing your muscle mass with yoga, you will burn more fat and glucose whilst you are resting, exercising AND sleeping!

  • Boost your heart rate and energy expenditure with Vinyasa Yoga

Although most yoga styles take a more static approach, Vinyasa yoga (or flow yoga), takes a more vigorous, aerobic approach.  With each inhalation and exhalation, you flow through a series of poses that will help to boost your heart rate and energy expenditure.  However, it has been acknowledged that even this form of yoga won’t allow you to burn calories to any significant level (Bouchez 2006).  So yes, you will burn some calories whilst working out, but it is unlikely to be enough to help budge those extra, unwanted kilos.

  • Increase participation in exercise other than yoga

Some suggest that by increasing flexibility and decreasing back and joint pain, yoga might allow more exercise off the yoga mat.  This exercise will increase energy expenditure and hence, weight loss. Although the above physical effects of yoga may contribute to weight loss, yoga’s psychological effects are possibly more pertinent to weight loss.

Yoga and Mindfulness

In this hectic day and age, chronic stress is rampant. When upset, angry or anxious, we often search for food and comfort eat. And the food choices generally aren’t smart ones.  This really doesn’t agree with our waistline! All of these extra kilojoules are converted to fat and stored around the abdomen.  And so the weight gain and spiral towards increased risk of disease begins. But participating in yoga may help to change this. 

Yoga can help you to relax, improving your mood and possibly reducing that need to seek comfort from food. Further, yoga increases your state of mindfulness, meaning that you become more connected to your body and aware of your body’s internal workings. This can help you to separate your thoughts and feelings from your body’s signals, possibly becoming a more conscious eater; learning when you really need to eat, how much to eat and how it feels to be full (Bouchez 2006). 

With a greater mind-body connection, your attitude to food may change and you will come to appreciate and savour every bite.  It is this connection that is thought to be yoga’s main propellant for weight loss.

Written by Amber Houghton
Amber Houghton

Amber holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Naturopathy, and has a particular passion for nutritious, whole-food eating. She feels education surrounding the best dietary and lifestyle choices are fundamental in allowing people to take responsibility for their own health, and to help with the maintenance of their well-being.

Although passionate about wholesome food, Amber does confess to having a particular fondness for cake, and enjoys a slice every now and then.