Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight? Understanding 6 Physical & Mental Factors

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reviewed by Liz Burns 500H RYT
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Does yoga help you lose weight? It does, but we want to educate you on how exactly it does that.

Often, you will hear yogis say Westerners have a wrong approach to yoga, focusing on the physical alone. However, in my experience, I don’t think that’s bad, or entirely true.

Although yoga is a holistic system that goes beyond exercise, the physical aspect is still an important part of it.

Specifically, we’re going to cover these answers:

  • Yoga As Exercise
  • Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight? An Overview
  • Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight – The Physical Aspect
  • Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight – A Deeper Look 
  • Consistency Matters
woman stretching in butterfly pose

Yoga as exercise

The fact is, yoga IS one of the best forms of exercise you can do. It has been developed over thousands of years, and nowadays, many teachers are implementing some Western practices as well.

Although some stress the importance of tradition, which is of course incredibly important, the truth is that our way of life has changed.

In the modern day, we are living a more sedentary lifestyle, our food is unhealthy and so is our air quality, and we are constantly under some kind of stress. It is completely normal we need to adapt our practice to these changes.

One of the results of this lifestyle is weight gain, and if you are currently in the phase where you want to improve your physique, yoga can help. 

Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight? An Overview

Truth is, any type of consistent physical activity can help you manage weight. 

And to make something consistent, you need to enjoy it. This is where yoga can come in.

Although weight loss is not the main benefit of yoga, if you like it more than other forms of exercise, you’re more likely to stick to it, and lose weight as a result.

woman in seated twist doing yoga

Although not to the extent of weightlifting, yoga still tones the muscles. In this process, it temporarily elevates the resting metabolic rate, which means you will burn more calories.

Furthermore, by practicing yoga you are improving your mindfulness and mind-body connection. In turn, you will decrease your stress levels, sleep better, and be more conscious of what you eat – all of this contributes to weight loss. 

Therefore, there are two aspects we need to look at when we wonder does yoga helps you use weight. On one side, the physical aspect, and on the other side, the influence of mental benefits of yoga for weight loss.

Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight – The Physical Aspect

If weight loss or management is your goal, there are three ways in which yoga can help physically. 

1. Yoga inspires you to become mindful of what you eat

If you’ve done yoga before, you know it can get challenging. When we hold a pose for a long time or try to achieve a challenging posture, we need to connect to our breath and have the will power to practice. 

We learn to listen to our body, becoming mindful of what it needs. 

Connecting to the body and building our willpower work hand in hand to improve our diet. And as we know, diet is the biggest part of the equation when we want to lose weight. 

woman meditating with hands in mudra

Of course, the changes won’t come overnight. That isn’t healthy or sustainable. Rather, we can use that increased mindfulness to observe our body and how we feel after eating certain kinds of food or having certain habits.

For example, you might need to take a nap as soon as you have a big meal, and you may feel more positive or energetic when you fast for a certain amount of time.

By observing your body and making the changes that feel good, you will skip the toxic diet culture which asks you to make unconscious changes that are often temporary.

Rather, you will be able to make permanent changes in your eating behavior which not only leads to weight loss but better health and self-image as well.

In fact, studies show that yoga practitioners are less likely to have eating disorders when compared to those who do cardio-based exercise. 

2. You build muscle with yoga

It is true nothing builds muscle like weightlifting, however, not everyone wants to build huge muscles. If you want your muscles to be more toned but without the bulk, yoga is a great workout for you.

In yoga, your body forms a resistance rather than using added weight. Some poses are more challenging, and therefore strengthen your muscles more, such as the Plank Pose, Chair Pose, and arm balances

man in lotus headstand doing yoga

Muscle building boosts our metabolic rate temporarily which leads to more calories burned. Doing advanced poses for strength building also increases calories burned due to the increased effort.

Note that slower classes like Restorative Yoga can help too – one study shows even this style can improve fasting glucose levels for obese or overweight people. This is a sign of better metabolic health.  

3. Yoga burns calories

We’ve saved this physical fact for last because you will generally lose much fewer calories in yoga than in other forms of exercise. Of course, you will burn calories, but if that’s your main goal, yoga isn’t the best choice – weightlifting and aerobic classes will be much better for that.

If you still want to practice yoga while also maximizing calories burned, pick your style strategically.

You will naturally burn more calories in dynamic classes which include more challenging poses, such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hot and Power yoga.

But in general, calorie burn isn’t the main reason why yoga helps with weight loss.

Other physical benefits are much more pronounced, as well as the mental benefits we’re going to cover in the second part of the article. 

woman in downward facing dog

Does Yoga Help You Lose Weight – A Deeper Look 

Any type of physical activity burns calories, works your muscles, and inspires diet changes. But the mental aspect is just as important – and is really where yoga shines in terms of helping you with weight loss. 

1. Stress contributes to weight gain and yoga helps you manage it 

By now you’ve probably heard of the meaning of the word yoga, which also summarizes the goal of the practice. It translates to unification, which refers to the unification of the body, mind, and spirit.

Stress is a mental issue, but it impacts our bodies as well. Often, when we are stressed we are also sleep-deprived too. Good sleep is connected with better physical health and weight management.

Stress also increases cortisol. This hormone increases fat and decreases muscle mass. It also causes cravings for sugar and fats, which can lead to weight gain. 

Yoga decreases stress and helps in stress management. In this manner, it targets the cause of weight gain for many people, thus helping them make better choices for their bodies.

woman looking stressed with head in hands

2. Increased mindfulness

Often, we gain weight because we use food as a distraction, overeat, or prefer unhealthy and high-calorie food. 

Although exercise can aid with weight loss, the permanent change happens when we change our eating habits. 

Yoga increases mindfulness, we become more accustomed to living in the present moment. As a result, you might catch yourself grabbing snacks unconsciously and decide against it. You may also decide to make healthy choices, like eating more veggies.

Yoga can help decrease emotional, binge, and stress eating. The best thing is, it does so gradually and naturally – you won’t feel like you are making a difficult decision. It is something that simply happens if you stick to your practice. 

That’s something most of us know from our own experience, but research has also confirmed it. For example, a study from 2015 found yoga leads to healthier eating, including both a reduction in fat intake and an increase in whole grains and veggies. 

person making a smoothie with apple and spinach

3. Supportive Community

Recently, I started thinking about going to the gym again. However, I felt insecure coming back after a long break. The thoughts arose: I’ve forgotten everything, I will look stupid, what will people think of me?

This is a common issue.

Many people don’t exercise because they are not confident to do so in front of other people. Gyms can be intimidating – seeing all those advanced bodybuilders can be scary. 

Yoga studios are usually more supportive. Of course, it will depend on your group, but you can always switch places until you find your tribe.

Yoga focuses on self-acceptance and self-care and instructs you to listen to your body. Rather than forcing yourself to go through vigorous routines to lose weight, you will learn to accept and love your body as it is. 

woman with hands on her heart smiling

Working with other people and meeting yoga buddies is motivating and encourages you to keep going. Alternatively, you can also join an online community.

You can share your struggles and progress, which will likely keep you going in the long run. 

Consistency Matters

Regardless of the style you choose, consistency is key if you want to enjoy permanent results. This is why sticking with yoga if you enjoy doing it is great, even if other forms of exercise burn more calories. 

You don’t have to do it every day, even one class a week is better than none at all. Ideally, try to find a way to add between 3 to 5 sessions per week to your schedule for serious results. 

Yoga is awesome because there are so many styles, and if you get bored with a class, you can always find another one. 

There are tons of yoga types you can try, here are a couple of our favorites for inspiration: 

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Sara lives in Croatia, near the sea, with her dog. She enjoys exploring nature, and making art. She is currently developing a series of children’s/YA stories and comics in her native language, which she feels complements her work and allows her to live her dream life – having yoga, writing, art, and nature in her every day.

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