Most people begin a yoga practice to capitalize on the stress-reducing benefits of this ancient mind-body discipline. But one of the little known gems about yoga is its ability to support weight loss.
While it may be hard to believe that a few stretches and downward dogs can actually torch calories, yoga’s weight loss effects have much more to do with the mindfulness that yoga engenders and less to do with the actual asanas, or postures. That is not to say that yoga asanas don’t produce a calorie burn or stimulate muscle growth, which they do. Both of these factors significantly contribute to weight loss by helping your body expend more calories than you consume and developing muscle tissue burns, which burns more calories than fat tissue.
Here is what you need to know about yoga and weight loss.
In a landmark study undertaken by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, overweight individuals, ages 45 to 55 years old who regularly practiced yoga lost five pounds on average over the course of a decade. Similarly, normal-weight yoga practitioners gained three fewer pounds than those who didn’t practice yoga during this same 10-year period. Considering that most adults gain on average one pound a year during their 40s and 50s, these results are truly promising.
While researchers are still determining the exact reason for the weight loss effects, countless yoga practitioners and instructors can attest to yoga’s ability to enhance body awareness and its encouragement of physical discipline. These factors have the potential to lead to healthier eating habits and healthier lifestyle behaviors.
The case can easily be made that all of the thousands of yoga postures contribute to weight loss insofar as all of them cultivate a powerful sense of mindfulness that allows us to discern between physical and emotional hunger, satiety and over-indulging and choosing foods that our bodies need and crave. But here are a few notable weight-reducing asanas that are worth mentioning:
Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskar A): This sequence of movements is literally a “salute to the sun.” Different forms of yoga have their own version of Sun Salutation A. This set of movements help to focus the mind, increase heart rate, enhance flexibility and muscle strength. Here is a step-by-step guide to performing Sun Salutation A.
Sun Salutation B (Surya Namaskar B): This dynamic flow of postures in which breath is linked to movement, is similar to Sun Salutation A, but with more movements. You begin this posture by bending your knees, arms reaching up towards the sky. Then, you fold forward, step back into chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose) and lift into upward dog. Extend back into downward dog and reach your right foot forward between your hands as you bend your right knee and reach your arms up towards the sky with your palms together. On your next exhale, step your right foot back as your arms are placed on either side of your right and left food. Lower down into chaturanga dandasana, inhale into upward-dog and reach back into downward dog. You repeat the same steps with your left leg.
Lotus (Padmasana): This trademark yoga posture may be difficult for most to twist into, so a basic variation is fine. Simply sit with your legs crossed, folding your right leg in first and allow your breath to deepen as you center your attention to your inner stillness. Breathe fully and deeply with even inhales and exhales.
If you are very overweight or obese, talk to your doctor first about beginning a yoga practice. Certain forms of yoga like Ashtanga or Bikram are much more dynamic, and while they may lead to quicker weight loss results, you should always start out slow and work with an experienced yoga instructor.