Yoga for Weight Loss: Does it Work?

Alle Connell


yoga for weight loss

Photo: BLOOM Creative

We already know that yoga is amazing for both your body and your brain. Few other workouts help improve strength and flexibility while also relaxing our overactive minds; yoga truly does it all.

But can it help you lose weight? Lately we’ve seen a distinct uptick in the number of yoga classes that promise to help you lose massive amounts of weight while you warrior pose. Is this just another marketing trend, or is yoga for weight loss the next big thing? We consulted some experts to find out.

Dr. Emma Adamson, a primary care physician with Northwestern Medical Group, often advises patients looking to lose weight to begin with yoga. “Sustained weight loss requires a lifestyle change,” she said. “There are no magic bullets. Regardless of a person’s weight, a healthy lifestyle involves physical activity, and yoga is a great jumping-off point.”

So what is it about yoga that is so appealing to Dr. Adamson? The ease. “I practice yoga myself, and there is a class out there for everyone, regardless of health or existing fitness level,” she said. “There are modifications to every pose and you don’t have to rush or compete.”

And even though yoga isn’t easy, it’s a great way to start working out regularly without killing yourself. “A person living a more sedentary lifestyle, or someone whose weight has caused joint problems, may find high intensity exercise uncomfortable and give up. That’s not good!” says Dr. Adamson. “Yoga, especially at the beginner level, is a great way to ease into physical activity. It’s great for helping build strength without the discomfort of jumping straight into marathon training. Yoga is also what I call a gateway workout—people fall in love with it and seek out more challenging forms of physical activity.”

Though we do recommend beginners take classes to really get familiar with the poses and correct alignment, there are some fantastic YouTube videos for yoga babes looking to get started. We especially love Esther Eckhart’s beginner-focused series, as it’s paced perfectly for novices. She also does an awesome job at explaining what each pose should feel like, so that it’s easy to make corrections as you go.

So how much weight, in theory, can yoga help you lose? Turns out that it depends on the type of class that you go to. We collected calorie-burning estimates from MyFitnessPal, HealthStatus and ProHealth, then averaged them out to estimate how many calories you’ll work off, depending on your preferred type of yoga.

Hatha yoga, which is what most people picture when they think of a yoga class, burns around 180 calories in an hour. Ashtanga, or power yoga, burns around 250 calories per hour. Hot yoga, which is generally a 90 minute class performed in a classroom heated to 105 degrees, can burn around 550 calories per class. Comparatively, an hour of walking at a moderate pace will burn 300 calories.

So yoga isn’t a hardcore calorie-burner; it’s more of a strengthening and toning activity.

Yet some people do lose weight with yoga. Beth Osborn started doing yoga while living in Chicago as a way to improve her balance and upper body strength. “Yoga DID help me to lose weight, which always surprises people when I tell them!” she said. “I went down about two sizes. It really worked for me, and is continuing to work, even though I now mix it in with other things like kickboxing. I call it Yoga Fight Club.”

Maral Adams, a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, has been a daily yoga devotee for almost two years. “I don’t think it’s really helped me lose weight,” she said. “But it has helped me tone up, feel strong and stay fit. My clothes fit better and my body feels firm and strong. I also find it wonderful for my mind; I focus on my breath and it has a calming, soothing effect.”

Lela Moore began practicing yoga to help prepare for marathons without getting hurt. “I didn’t lose weight, but I did lose inches around my stomach,” she said. “So I built a lot of muscle. My core is so much stronger now, and I can train without injury. That’s something previously unheard of!”

So what’s our verdict? When it comes to yoga for weight loss, like many other things, everyone’s results are different. You may lose some weight and you may not; as Dr. Adamson says, it’s not a magic bullet.

But even if you don’t lose a pound, yoga will definitely help improve your strength, your flexibility—and your peace of mind. And we think that’s definitely more important than numbers on a scale.

More from Daily Makeover: Restorative Yoga Will Help You Master Meditation.

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