Can Yoga Help You Lose Weight?
tl;dr Yes it can, and very well!
A quick history of Yoga
Traditionally speaking, the term yoga actually comes from the Sanskrit root word ‘yuj’—which means “to yoke or harness.” How does this relate to yoga and weight loss?
Well, in our beloved India, in order to control an ox you would have to harness it to a wagon. This is basically a metaphor for yoga—you use it as a way to train and unite your body, mind and spirit.
A lot of people think yoga is some kind of a religion, but it is actually a philosophy that came into practice in our country over 5,000 years ago!
Although it is sometimes part of practicing Buddhism and Hinduism, yoga in and of itself is not a religion.
Oh and just a fun fact for you: did you know that there have been images discovered from ancient Egypt over 5,000+ years ago that depict Egyptians in Tree poses and other asanas? Pretty cool!
The founding father of ashtanga yoga (or the Eight Limbs of Yoga) and author of the Yoga Sutras was the great Patanjali.
Unfortunately, very little is known about who he was or where he came from—or even when exactly he lived. One thing is certain, though—if Patanjali had not completed his Yoga Sutras we probably wouldn’t know much, if anything, about the yoga we practice today.
Patanjali’s Sutras were a collection of 195 different philosophies about the practice of yoga. His book also outlined the eight individual “limbs” or types of yoga—asana (postures) being the most popular in Western culture.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many of the yoga gurus from India introduced yoga as a practice to Western civilization. However, it wasn’t until around the 1980’s that yoga became a more popular form of physical exercise in the Western world.
It’s true that over the course of its lifetime yoga has taken on many different forms—when it started out it was much more about inward reflection and learning to just sit and be still. Now, however, our society’s needs have changed and grown.
Yoga has become much more of an exercise and a way to showcase our physical abilities.
Many “serious” yoga practitioners and gurus frown upon the commercialized version of yoga in the Western world. The reason for this is because they believe that yoga is meant to be much more than just exercise.
Its traditional roots are founded in meditative and spiritual upbringing—becoming in tune to oneself in the process.
We agree with them and believe that yoga is for spiritual and meditative purposes as well.
However, yoga is something different for everyone and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If you want to use yoga as a tool to lose weight then I think that it would be incredibly beneficial— it’s all about what you make it and it’s okay for that to look different for different people.
How Yoga Can Help You Lose Weight
Sometimes we get so busy doing all this that it distracts us from the most important thing: doing!
You have to take action to get anywhere, so find the type of yoga that speaks to you and your body and makes you want to come back and practice day after day.
With all that said, however, there are certain poses and types of yoga that are better for weight loss than others.
Best Types of Yoga to Lose Weight
Vinyasa Flow—If you try Vinyasa Flow as your weight loss yoga practice of choice, then expect to feel some burning muscles. Vinyasa yoga focuses on changing things up and keeping your body moving at a quick pace to give you an intense burn.
These types of classes are often one of the liveliest types of yoga and if you hate the mundane and repetitive nature of other forms of yoga then you might prefer Vinyasa since no two classes are going to be the same. You can expect to burn around 600 calories per hour.
PowerYoga—This is actually a type of Vinyasa yoga, but it goes at a much faster pace.
The intent of this type of yoga is to maximize calorie burn while strengthening muscles to get an overall challenging workout in.
This is also a more interpretive style of yoga so each teacher will probably have his or her own variation on the practice and as such, the style can change quite a bit from class to class. You can expect to burn around 500 calories per hour doing PowerYoga.
Bikram Yoga—As I mentioned previously, Bikram yoga makes you sweat! This means good news for weight loss and it also provides a cleansing effect on the body.
The 26 more traditional hatha poses are designed to address each function of all your bodily systems to help re-oxygenate and invigorate all the different parts of your body. You can expect to burn around 500 calories per hour doing Bikram yoga.
10 Best Yoga Poses for Weight Loss
1. Tree Pose
Step 1: First, stand in Mountain pose and begin to shift your weight a little bit onto your left foot. Keep the inside of the foot firm on the floor and bend the right knee. Slowly reach down and grab your right ankle with your right hand.
Step 2: Pull your right foot up and place it against your inner left thigh as high as you can to where it feels comfortable. Your goal should eventually be to press your right heel into your left groin completely flat with your toes pressing down toward the floor. Keep your pelvic bone directly over your left foot.
Step 3: Visualize lengthening your tailbone, getting it as long as you can. Press your right foot into your inner thigh and then place your hands in the prayer position in front of you, looking straight ahead.
If you don’t want to put your hands in prayer position you can place them on your hips or at your sides.
Stay in this position for 1 minute, breathing evenly.
Targets: core and sides of abs, as well as stabilizing leg muscles
2. Chair Pose
Step 1: Begin in Mountain pose. As you inhale, bring your arms perpendicular to the ground. You can clasp your hands together or you can keep your arms parallel, palms inward—whatever is most comfortable.
Step 2: As you exhale, bend the knees and bring your thighs as parallel to the ground as possible. Your
knees will be over your feet and torso will be slightly forward above the thighs until you’re at a right angle with the tops of your thighs. Press your thighbones down into your heels.
Step 3: Keep your shoulder blades firm and push your tailbone down toward the ground and inward to your pubic bone. Try to keep your lower back elongated.
Stay in this position for 1 minute. Inhale and lift your arms, as you exhale release and bring your body back into Mountain pose.
Targets: butt and thighs
3. High Lunge Pose
Step 1: Position yourself in the Standing Forward Bend pose and bend your knees slightly. As you inhale, step back with your left foot to the edge of your mat, making sure that the ball of the foot is what’s on the floor. You want to be back far enough that your right knee forms a right angle.
Step 2: Now, position your torso over your front right thigh and stretch, making yourself as tall as you
can. Loosen your groin region by imagining that your right thigh is melting towards the floor while looking forward. At the same time, keep your left thigh firm and pull it up toward the ceiling while you keep your left knee straight and stretch the left heel down toward the floor.
Step 3: As you exhale, step the right foot back and go into Downward Facing Dog. When you inhale again, step your left foot forward between your hands and repeat the lunge on the opposite leg.
Stay in this position for 1 minute, breathing evenly. Then repeat on the opposite side. Targets: abs, arms and glutes
4. Cobra Pose
Step 1: Lie on your stomach in the floor with your legs out behind you and the tops of your feet touching the floor. Next, place your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders as you press your elbows back and into your sides.
Step 2: Place pressure on the tops of your feet and thighs and pubic bone as you press yourself firmly into the floor. As you inhale, straighten your arms and lift your chest off the floor. Make sure that you don’t go so far that you’re pubic bone is off the floor.
Step 3: Keep your shoulder blades firm as you “puff” your chest forward, lifting through the top of your sternum. Be mindful not to tighten your lower back. If you notice quite a bit of lower back pain or pressure, feel free to widen the distance between your legs as this should help.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds as you continue to breathe slowly and evenly. Release on the exhale.
5. Warrior I Pose
Step 1: Start off in Mountain pose and then exhale as you bring your left foot back behind you 3-4 feet. Now, turn your left foot outward to 45 degrees as you keep your right foot forward.
Step 2: Make sure to keep both of your hips facing forward and parallel to the floor as you bring your shoulders forward as well. Inhale and then raise both arms perpendicular to the floor. Be sure to keep them open and shoulder width apart.
Step 3: Reach up towards your fingertips and face your palms inwards while pulling your shoulders back away from your neck. As you exhale engage your ab muscles and bring your pelvic bone down.
Step 4: Carefully move your right knee forward and align the knee over the heel. Keep breathing and make sure the pressure is located in your right heel and not your toes.
Step 5: Be sure to keep your head neutral by either looking forward or by tilting your head back to look up toward your thumbs.
Stay in this pose for up to 1 minute and then repeat on the opposite side. Targets: hips, abs and thighs
6. Fish Pose
Step 1: Start out lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. As you inhale, lift the pelvis off the floor slightly as you slide your hands (palms down) to the base of your butt. Rest your butt on the backs of your hands and keep yourself planted for the duration of the pose, never lifting up off your hands. Keep in mind to tuck the forearms and elbows into the side of your torso.
Step 2: As you inhale, press the forearms and elbows firm against the floor and your shoulder blades into your back. On another inhale, list the upper part of your torso and your head off the floor and then slowly release your head back onto the floor.
You should either be resting your head on the back or the crown—it just depends on how high the arch is in your back and how high your chest is lifted. Just be sure to avoid placing a significant amount of weight on your head so you don’t hurt your neck.
Step 3: You can either straighten your legs or keep them bent. However, if you choose to straighten them you’ll want to be conscious to press out through your heels so that your thighs stay engaged.
Stay in this position for 30 seconds as you inhale and exhale deeply. Targets: arms, abs, legs and back
7. Upward Facing Dog
Step 1: Lie in the floor on your stomach and extend your legs out behind you with the tops of your feet pressed against the floor. Move your forearms perpendicular to the floor and place your palms on the floor on either side of you.
Step 2: As you inhale, press your hands into the floor like you’re going to do a push up, straighten the arms as your lift your torso and legs off the floor.
Step 3: Push your tailbone down toward your pubic bone and lift your pubic bone to your belly button. Push your shoulder blade back and lift your chest, but don’t puff it out. Be careful not to create tension in your lower back. If this happens you can spread your legs wider to relieve the pressure.
Stay in this pose for up to 1 minute. If you feel like you need to counteract the backbend you can do a Child’s pose afterward.
8. Boat Pose
Step 1: In a sitting position put your knees and feet together with your knees bent. Hold the backs of your knees and focus on lengthening the spine as you lean back slightly making sure not to fold over as you find the edge of your butt bones.
Step 2: Stare straight ahead and as you inhale bring your feet a couple inches off the ground, balancing on your butt, breathing in and out as you find your balance.
Step 3: Stay tall as you gently raise your heels to knee level, keeping your knees bent. If you can complete this easily and you’re comfortable then let go of your legs and bring your arms forward as you keep chest broad. If you still feel good and steady you can raise your legs at a diagonal in the air in front of you taking care not to round your back.
Stay in this position for as long as you can, but at least 30 seconds. Targets: abs and back
9. Chaturanga Pose (Four Limbed Staff)
Step 1: Get into Downward Facing Dog and then go into Plank Pose. Keep your shoulder blades firm and your tailbone pulled toward your pubic bone.
Step 2: As you exhale, gently lower the torso and legs just a couple inches parallel to your mat. Be mindful to keep your back properly aligned and straight and keep your pubic bone tucked inward toward the belly button.
Step 3: Make sure to broaden your shoulder blades and keep your elbows close to your sides as you press your fingers into the mat. Left your sternum and head so that you’re looking forward.
Stay in this position for up to 30 seconds if you can. Targets: arms, shoulders, abs and back
10. Side Plank Pose
Step 1: Start off in Downward Facing Dog and then shift to the outside of your left foot. Stack the right foot on top of the your left and then place your right hand on your right hip. As you do so, turn your torso to the right and place the majority of your body weight on your left side.
Step 2: You don’t want your left hand below your shoulder—keep it slightly in front so that it’s at an angle in relation the floor. Straighten your arm by engaging your triceps and then press your index finger into the floor.
Step 3: Keep your shoulder blades firm and pressed into your back as you tighten your thighs and press your heels into the floor. Your entire body should be aligned in a diagonal—from crown to heels.
Step 4: For more of a challenge you can raise your right arm up to the ceiling, parallel to your shoulders as you keep your head in a neutral position or turn to look at the top of your extended hand.
Stay in this position for 30 seconds, breathing evenly and keeping your core muscles engaged. Go into Downward Dog for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side. Targets: wrists, arms, abs and glutes
By practicing these poses you will gain strength in areas that may feel quite weak to you right now. Over time, though, you will begin to feel strong and what was once hard for you will soon become your warm- up.
After you master these poses you might even feel comfortable enough to take a Vinyasa Flow or a local Yoga class!
Tips for Yoga Fat Loss Enthusiasts:
Practice somewhere without mirrors—this lets you focus on how you feel and not on how you look. Also read more of our weight loss tips.)
Rest when you’re tired—don’t push your body to do more than it feels capable of
On the same note: be mindful of your “comfort zone” and push slightly past that point
Set a schedule and stick to it—commit to a certain time each day to work on your yoga practice Learn to focus on each movement and how every part of your body is feeling and responding to it Be patient with your body and talk to yourself lovingly
Realize that your yoga practice brings you closer to who you really are—inside and out—and by becoming the best version of you, you are inspiring others to do the same
Just because it’s possible to lose weight through the practice of yoga, it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. However, as long as you commit to the exercise regimen and take an honest look at your diet in the bonus download below, then there won’t be anything stopping you from achieving your weight loss goals through yoga. All our best!
You can now download our (once paid) guide – YOGA, FOOD, WEIGHT LOSS AND YOU.