How to Use Yoga For Weight Loss

Aly Walansky
Yoga pose


We look at gorgeous celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, who swear by the yoga lifestyle and can’t help but feel inspired. Yoga has always felt like a more relaxing, form of fitness, especially helpful when it comes to stress relief – but can it really help us to lose weight?

When it comes to yoga and weight loss, the style of yoga becomes an important factor, if the focus of the yoga practice is too restorative or meditative the muscular and cardiovascular requirements for weight loss and toning simply aren’t there, says Nick Bez, certified yoga instructor with LifePower Yoga at Life Time Fitness. That’s not to say you should seek the nearest yoga class and expect to walk out five pounds lighter though!

Bez says the ideal mix of exertion and rest for those looking at potential weight loss benefits is typically found in a Vinyasa or flow based yoga class, preferably a heated one. “The sequences of flowing movements in a Vinyasa yoga class combined with proper breathing techniques provide challenges for muscular strength and flexibility as well as cardiovascular and respiratory performance and stamina that almost inevitably lead towards leaner and more balanced physical, intellectual and emotional bodies – the inclusion of heat intensifies these benefits even more,” says Bez.

Be consistent, be consistent, be consistent!
Just like anything else in life, being consistent is the key to long-term and long-lasting change and results! Taking one yoga class won’t shed the pounds, but being consistent and taking three yoga classes or more per week will, says Annalisa Berns, a yoga teacher at Big Bear Yoga. As with any physical activity, it is better to be consistent and do a smaller amount regularly than to do a marathon of activity once! For yoga and shedding pounds, make it part of your daily routine. Try adding yoga to your morning, lunchtime or evening routines – 7 days a week!

Focus on strength-building poses.
In yoga there are many different types of poses. You can do restorative and relaxing poses all the way to acrobatic-like poses. If your goal is on letting go of some extra pounds, stay focused primarily on strength-building poses, says Berns. Try Plank and Side Plank Pose to get started. Berns says standing poses are the best for this focus, like Warrior 1, 2 and 3, Triangle Pose, Extended Side Angle Pose and Half Moon Pose.

Focus on an active, flowing style that gets your heart rate up.
There are many yoga styles, from Iyengar to Bikram, from Svaroopa to Vinyasa. Pick a style that gets your heart rate going. Try at least 3 different styles and teachers before selecting the one that is right for you, advises Berns. A Vinyasa Flow class is a good bet.

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Prevent injury.
The fastest way to stop your yoga for weight loss plan is to have an injury. A hurt knee slows you down, reverses your hard work and leaves you frustrated. In your yoga practice and in other activities make sure to pay attention to your body, says Berns. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it until you can get one-on-one advice and feedback from a professional. You can also use yoga to help with injury prevention. Find an expert yoga teacher and take well-balanced classes that focus on strength, but also balance and flexibility. These are key in injury prevention.

Slow down.
Being tired and not getting enough sleep and relaxation is the enemy of weight loss. When you are tired you might eat more than you need, make poor food choices and be more likely to do something careless and cause an injury. Try a Restorative yoga class, some meditation and make sure you are getting enough sleep and self care, Berns says.

Berns says one of the 8 Limbs of yoga is Pranayama, which is breathing and breath control. How can this help with letting go of excess weight? “Try this simple exercise,” Berns says, “take a deep, but comfortable breath in to the count of 6. Hold the breath in for 3 counts, then slowly let the breath out to the count of 6 and while the breath is out, count for 3. Try this 6-10 times the next time a food craving comes on and see if it helps!”

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Study the Yamas & Niyamas.
These are the 10 ethical principals that can guide you in your life. For example, one of the principals is non-harming, Ahimsa. In your practice that could mean selecting foods that do not harm your body, says Berns. For many yogis non-harming also relates to how the food is gathered, and that means selecting vegetarian food options. Another example is Santosha, contentment. Santosha is a critical principal in yoga. It teaches to be content with what we have – an amazing body and ambition to make it stronger and leaner – and not to judge it and be negative.

Try eating like a Yogi.
In the practice of Yogic eating, the same level of focus and intention that are cultivated in a physical yoga practice are applied to the intimate act of eating a meal, says Bez. “Through the elimination of outside distractions, a focus on eating while seated, taking smaller portions and mindfully eating one bite at a time while practicing basic table manners. Many people find that they have patterns of overeating or emotion based eating that can be curbed through awareness. This almost universally results in either weight loss or the achievement of a more natural and healthy weight for those who may be underweight,” Bez says.