Can yoga help me lose weight? How often should I do yoga to lose weight? What types of yoga are good for weight loss?
These questions make sense as yoga becomes a mainstream tool for wellness and health. For health professionals to prescribe yoga and even for insurance purposes, we need scientific evidence. Hence, we read more research drilling in on the effects of yoga such as calories burned. We also see research pinpointed to specific body ailments and health issues.
From a strictly caloric standpoint, a study conducted by Harvard shows that 30 minutes of hatha (physical) yoga can burn:
|Calories Burned||Body Weight (lbs.)|
But there are many types of yoga with varying levels of intensity. Just search for yoga on Instagram and you’ll find yogis balancing on their hands and gliding around their mats looking ripped. Check out @larugayoga and @patrickbeach for reference. Can you possibly just burn 120 calories at 125 lbs. doing THAT hatha yoga? Then you might come across yoga where they hold poses and keep still. Wow, 120 calories doing that?
For this reason, although studies help us figure out the link between yoga and weight loss, it’s hard to narrow yoga down to specific calorie count. Moreover, it reduces yoga as simply a practice on movement, without taking into account the mental, philosophical, and breathing aspects of the practice. A gentle reminder to not get frustrated if you see 100 calories burned on your smart watch after practicing yoga for 45 minutes.
When You Stop Thinking About Weight and Focus on the Practice
In my experience, yoga helps with weight loss this way. When I started practicing yoga, I stopped thinking about my weight. In other words, I stopped trying to lose weight, and for that reason, I’m 99.99% sure I did. I’m not 100% sure because I stopped weighing myself. It happens when you stop worrying about weight.
But I have a skirt from 20 years ago and it fits and I still wear it. I see pictures of myself, life before yoga and with it. I reflect on how I used to feel about my body and my relationship with it now. I don’t let clothing size bother me. I buy the size that feels right and that depends on brand or type of clothing. I don’t go on diets. I eat when I’m hungry. For me, that’s validation enough.
I understand the importance of weight when it comes to our health. But obsessing on the weight itself makes us forget the underlying reasons of weight gain, overeating, or unhealthy lifestyle. For me, developing self-love, improving body strength, practicing gratitude, and being mindful, solved weight issues. When I speak of issues, I refer to not just weight as a number, but as a metric to monitor regularly.
How Does It Work?
The beauty of yoga is that the practice lets you stop thinking about weight. Instead, yoga develops strength, love, gratitude, and mindfulness. In turn, this helps you find a more personal metric for body satisfaction. And the irony, the less you overthink your weight, the healthier you become. I believe this happens because your criteria for health doesn’t focus too much on a number. As a result, you achieve a body (weight and all), that works for you.
5 Principles: How Yoga Indirectly Leads to Weight Loss
Yoga showed me how to appreciate my body for its strength and resilience. I remember my first wheel pose, I could barely get my head an inch off the ground. It was humbling and a struggle. I kept on practicing and eventually, I got my head off the ground, then inching higher. Because of yoga, my relationship with my body focused less on weight and optics and more on its abilities. This gave me control. I wanted to be stronger, feel lighter. This became my reason to practice, not calories, not a summer body. I let myself explore poses that challenge me. I aim to feel my strength and experience poses, not reach a weight goal.
Love & Respect
First, when you work on physical strength, respect for the body follows, then love. When you love your body and mind, you tend to take better care of yourself.
Second, aside from strength, yoga develops self-love by letting you spend time with your inner thoughts. Each practice is a journey that the body and mind take. Body and mind converse and work together.
Fourth, another way yoga helps us connect to our bodies is through the drishti, or gaze. For most poses, the gaze usually involves a body part, such as looking at the toes during forward fold, or the tips of the fingers in Warrior Two. Yoga encourages us to look at ourselves, without judgement and not through a mirror. This connection we develop with our bodies can’t be captured by calories.
Yoga teachers always say that the mat allows us to practice for life. It shows us how we respond to discomfort. We get a sense of what we can improve on. It teaches us to listen and respect what we need. By getting to know ourselves and observing our improvements, we learn self-love. When we love and respect who we are, we naturally will make better choices, and that includes food and nutrition.
Yoga makes us take stock of things we normally take for granted. Whether it’s our breath, pinkies, heart, femur, the third eye, yoga reminds us that the body is more than its shell.
Next, yoga calls on our body, mind, and breath to work in unison. Feeling this connection for me was life changing. Gratitude for this trinity stopped me from thinking about my health in parts. But I gained the understanding that every part of my body needs to be taken care of. A holistic approach to health naturally follows, achieving the weight that your body needs.
Aside from the poses, I believe that yoga teachers and their words and cues help us develop gratitude. Words matter.
Last, yoga as a constant practice fosters gratitude. It means that when you make yoga a part of your life (constant practice) or have specific goals (pose, attitude, approach), you learn that each day is different. Some days the breath feels deeper. The body feels more spacious. Or you surrender to poses more deeply. You develop gratitude for the “good” days and also the days when it feels like you carry around bricks throughout the practice.
The ability of a yoga practice to slow things down leads to mindfulness. In terms of weight loss, this helps detect and get rid of unhealthy habits. First, we develop skills that lets us “stop, pause, breathe, and think” before we act. Therefore, we get swayed less by advertisements enticing us with products we need to lose weight or fad diets. Second, we gain resilience towards social ideals about how we should look. This level of authenticity makes us less vulnerable to social expectations.
These lessons did not happen overnight. Nor am I able to measure these 5 principles with a scale. I just know that I maintain my weight without focusing on it, when I started focusing on improvements beyond it. This method takes patience, continued learning, and trust in the process.
The Simple Answers
With all of that in mind, let’s answer the three questions we started with:
Can yoga help me lose weight? Yes.
How often should I do yoga to lose weight? As often as you can. Make it a constant in your life.
What types of yoga are good for weight loss? The types of yoga that challenges and lets you build strength, love and respect, gratitude, and mindfulness.