Yoga relieves stress and anxiety, it improves mindfulness and overall health and well-being. But did you know yoga is one of the best practices to help you lose weight in a healthy and sustained manner? Yes, research backs it too.
In the US, the number of people practicing yoga increased from 9.5% to 14.3% in adults and from 3.1% to 8.4% in children. The most common reasons to practice yoga cited included motivation to exercise more, inspiration to eat mindfully and more healthy food, better sleep quality, lesser stress levels and a reduction in the need for alcohol and smoking. Interestingly, these are all reasons that affect one’s weight.
Role of yoga in sustained and healthy weight loss
A study, partially funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University Medical Center, and University of Zurich, saw individuals participating in a 6-month weight-loss program for adults with obesity or over overweight concerns. Obesity and excess body weight can result in chronic health problems. Being overweight is itself, also, a result of underlying conditions like stress, hormonal imbalances and sleeping disorders, among others.
Losing weight in a healthy manner reduces the risk of resulting conditions while also resolving the underlying issues. The study found that adding physical activity to dietary changes can increase initial weight loss by 20% and improve weight-loss maintenance. During the study, 50 adults with obesity or overweight were assigned to practice either restorative hatha yoga or more vigorous vinyasa yoga while following a 6-month behavioral weight-loss program that also included a calorie- and fat-reduced diet and a weekly group session on behavioral strategies to promote weight loss. The restorative hatha yoga group participants rated its intensity as being similar to a brisk walk, mostly due to holding poses. On the other hand, the vinyasa yoga group felt the intensity was higher than a brisk walk due to transitioning between poses and holding poses.
Participants were required to practice yoga 5 days a week, starting with 20 minutes per day in the first 8 weeks and progressing to 40 minutes and then 60 minutes per day. The results found that people in both groups lost a significant amount of weight, with an improvement in their cardiovascular health.
Another study that explored the role of yoga and weight loss concluded that yoga may offer diverse psychological, physical, and social effects that may make it a useful tool for healthy, sustained weight loss. During the study, it was found that yoga practitioners reported less stress eating, few craving and reduced appetite, and a shift towards healthier, mindful consumption. Yoga not only worked on various aspects, but provided a support system for the group, which acted as a motivation. So, in this case, yoga worked on underlying causes for weight gain, such as changes in the physical and psychological outlook that supported weight loss. It also increased muscle tone, improved metabolism, reduced stress, as well as increased awareness, improved mood, and greater self-acceptance and self-esteem. Subjects also felt more confident in their ability to maintain lasting weight loss.
Harvard Medical School also conducted studies on the role of yoga in weight loss. Studies showed yoga can indirectly promote weight loss by encouraging mindful eating, leading to a more positive relationship with food. Results show that those who practiced yoga once a week for 30-minutes (minimum) over a 4-year time frame gained less weight during middle adulthood. Those who were overweight were actually able to lose weight.
Another Harvard study explored how many calories yoga was able to burn in people with different body weights. It was found that 30-minutes of Hatha yoga burns 120 calories for a 125-pound person, 144 calories for a 155-pound person, and 168 calories for a 185-pound person.
In the Complementary Therapies in Medicine journal, a study published found that 60 patients with abdominal obesity who were practicing 90 minutes of yoga twice a week for 12 weeks showed a significant reduction in their abdominal circumference, as well as an improved waist to hip ratio. It was also found that there is a reduced body weight and body fat percentage as well as an increase in body muscle mass percentage, indicating that yoga builds muscle strength.
Beyond burning calories, yoga works on underlying causes of weight gain. A Harvard study explored how yoga helps you manage stress, improve mood, reduce emotional eating and provides a support system that keeps you motivated. It even reduces joint pain, which in turn allows you to exercise more and increase your daily activities, contributing towards weight loss.
The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine published a review that concluded that yoga can boost weight loss through several factors such as burning calories, reducing stress levels, enhancing other forms of exercise, and helping you feel more connected to your body – which enhances awareness of satiety, preventing overeating.
Stress, a big factor, leads to an increase in the cortisol hormone, which increases abdominal fat, decreases muscle mass and induces the craving for fat and sugar-rich food, which leads to obesity. This then leads to cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and other conditions. With yoga and meditation, you can keep stress at bay, maintaining balance and harmony in the body. Yoga will reduce cortisol levels, enhance mood, reduce and even eliminate anxiety and depression. Sleep quality improves and conditions like high BP are better managed.
With yoga, mindful eating is a positive benefit that effectively helps manage weight gain. Every time you crave chocolates or dessert late evening, or that extra glass of alcohol, you will be more aware and mindful of what you are consuming. This reduction in emotional eating, stress and binge eating is a major factor in controlling weight or reducing weight. By improving mindfulness, yoga helps you make healthier food choices.
The University of California conducted a study on how restorative yoga helped overweight women lose belly fat. Furthermore, by joining a yoga class, you will receive constant motivation and support from your teacher and fellow-practitioners. This feeling of acceptance and encouragement will promote more positivity and motivation to achieve your goals.
Research also shows that breathing techniques or Pranayama can improve metabolism. A 2014 study revealed that the majority of our weight loss occurs when we are breathing. When we break down triglycerides, or fat, we exhale it in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). In 2018 a group of scientists found that certain breathing techniques could potentially increase metabolism.
Types of Yoga for Weight Loss
Both, dynamic and restorative forms of yoga are impactful for weight loss. Yang Yoga styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power Yoga increase the heart rate, improve your strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and leave you sweating on your mat. While styles like Hatha, Yin and Restorative require longer holds which challenge the muscles and the breath has a deep impact on the systems.
Does yoga help you lose weight? Yes, when combined with other factors like reduced stress, mindful eating and physical activity, it is extremely impactful. It takes time, but progress is sustained, healthy and for the long-term. Practicing yoga regularly or at least 3-4 times a week can have a strong impact on various functions and systems in the body. When practiced in a live online yoga class, with a small group of 8-15 people with a teacher, it goes a long way in motivating you.