Can Yoga Help Me Lose Weight
Most of us have heard by now that yoga is “good for you” but can yoga help you lose weight?
The short answer is yes.
But it’s important to understand why & how this is possible so that you can incorporate yoga into your life in an even more powerful and sustainable way.
So many people are drawn to yoga because of the physical benefits of it and that is wonderful. However, yoga has not survived for 1000’s of years based on this one aspect alone. It has survived because it goes beyond the physical realm. This may not be important to you now, but it is why yoga works.
The physicality of yoga is the first thing that comes to mind for most people and it’s true, doing postures (asana) alone can help you lose weight. However, there are many components of a yoga practice that contribute to this process. The reason why this is important is that the more you incorporate these other aspects, the more quickly you will experience the results you are looking for, as well as enjoy the adventure so much more.
There are four aspects of yoga that I strongly feel are helpful on this journey:
These four practices together provide a powerful combination to not only help you lose weight but strengthen your relationship with yourself.
Practice #1. Ahimsa <uh-him-s-aa>
This is one of 5 yamas or (or self-restraints) and it essentially means non-violence. Yamas are observances and typically relate to how we treat others and the world around us, but it can also mean how we view ourselves.
How will practicing ahimsa help me lose weight?
Ahimsa starts with our thoughts and attitudes. It is the complete removal of violence and harm from one’s body, mind, and spirit. This sounds like a pretty tall order, but remember that yoga is a practice. These concepts are here to anchor you and give you something to keep coming back to. This means showing up for yourself and others without judgment and with a compassionate and kind heart. When we start with this mindset, our brain naturally begins to lower cortisol levels, release happy hormones, and we make better choices. If we can love ourselves for who we truly are, then we will be less inclined to want to “improve” ourselves (i.e beat ourselves up) and more inclined to enjoy ourselves. When this happens we move from discipline to devotion and a whole world opens up.
What we eat
Consider a plant-based diet. This has been practiced by yogis for thousands of years with the intention of not harming other sentient beings as well as caring for the natural world. If this is something you have never considered, that’s okay, you can still do this practice. Yoga is about awareness, not compliance. There are many health benefits from eating a plant-based diet including, a healthy heart, sustained energy, and weight loss to name a few. The important aspect of this is awareness. How does your current diet make you feel? Does it give you sustained energy or do you feel sluggish? Does it spike your blood sugar or keep it stable? Keep an open mind and listen to your body.
Practice #2 Asana (Ah seh Nah)
Asana means seat or posture. The first “asana” pose was Sukhasana (Soo Kah seh Nah) a posture for seated meditation. Sukha = “easy” asana = “seat”. (Sometimes referred to as Easy Seat or Easy Pose). Now there are hundreds of poses we see today that make us think of yoga. But asana is only a small fraction of a yoga practice. It has become very popular in the west because our culture relates to the external world more easily. However, many yoga practices do not include postures at all.
How will asana help me lose weight?
Practicing a series of postures for an extended period builds and maintains muscle which helps to burn fat. Most people think that you need to be doing cardio all the time to lose weight, but moving in a slow deliberate way, and creating resistance in the muscles burns a ton of calories.
Strengthening your muscles will make you into a more efficient calorie-burning machine, even when you’re at rest. However, some things can affect your metabolisms like age, hormone imbalance, or genes. Low thyroid can also slow it down. If your thyroid is normal and your hormones are balanced, then increasing your metabolism is pretty much up to you. If you are over 50 you will likely have to put in a bit more effort than you did in your 20’s. But a consistent yoga practice can really help to stop the slowing of your metabolism by increasing the amount of oxygen that gets into the bloodstream & the brain and keeping your muscles strong.
Improves Mental Strength (i.e. willpower)
Yoga is a practice of awareness. So if you are in a posture you are also concentrating on breathing deliberately as well as noticing sensations in the body, mind, and heart. This enhances your ability to concentrate and stay focused leading to making better decisions in your daily life. Like choosing hummus over chocolate chip cookies for your snack. :)
Vinyasa yoga and more intense asana practices help to get you out of your head and into your body. Restorative & yin yoga gives your body a real chance to let go of tension and soften the edges of your busy mind that might keep you up at night. Both invigorating and cooling styles of yoga stimulate the parasympathetic nerve which helps you to feel more relaxed and sleep through the night. And guess what? Good sleep is directly related to weight loss.
Becoming more aware of our bodies helps us to think about what we are putting into our bodies. This is a natural effect of consistent yoga practice over time whether it’s vinyasa, restorative, yin, or kundalini yoga. It can also create more awareness of who you spend your time with and how you spend your time. Are you surrounded by supportive people who have your back? Are you spending more free time in nature or watching more Netflix? :)
Practice #3 Pranayama <Pra na YaMa> Directing the Breath
This is one of my favorite yoga practices. Prana means “Life Force”. Yama means “restraint”. This might sound kind of weird “Life Force Restraint”, but what it means is to direct your energy instead of letting it be scattered. Our mind is thinking on average around 50,000 thoughts per day! In yoga, we call this the monkey mind. Pranayama teaches you to control or “harness” the breath by breathing in a specific way. This translates to being more effective in our own life.
How will practicing pranayama help me lose weight?
Calms the Monkey Mind
By intentionally focusing on your breath you begin to positively affect the autonomic nervous system which controls and governs essential functions of the body like the heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. This naturally begins to slow down those racing thoughts which leads to a sense of calm and well-being.
Breathing deliberately brings more oxygen to the body, blood, and brain. This will lower your stress hormone cortisol and make you feel calmer and at ease. The repetition of a specific breath pattern puts the brain into a meditative state. You will instantly feel more calm, alert, and focused. The benefits of stress reduction or managing our stress well are endless and crucial to good health.
This practice will improve blood circulation and digestion. It is important to keep things moving and flowing rather than stuck. Certain pranayamas like Kapalabhati or “Skull Shining” breath can increase your metabolic rate and help speed up the process of losing weight. This has been my own personal experience at least.
You will most likely notice improved cognitive function, better emotional balance, and an overall feeling of energy and well-being. This helps you to stay calm and focused leading to better choices and feeling less like “stress eating”.
There are many different types of pranayamas. Three of my favorites are:
- Sama Vritti – Same or equal fluctuations (Calming/Balance)
- Nadi Shodana – Alternate Nostril Breathing (Calming/Balance)
- Kapalbhati – or Skull Shining Breath (Active/Balance)
Please note: You can practice pranayama any time of the day, however, not on a full stomach. It is best to do it before meals or at least 2 hours after eating.
Practice #4 – Meditation (Dhyana) <Dee yAH nah>
Now what is interesting about meditation is that during meditation your metabolism slows down. (This is another reason to do any of these practices on an empty stomach or at least 2 hours after eating). However, what is also happening is you are affecting specific regions of the brain that can help with addiction, depression, and anxiety.
How will practicing meditation help me lose weight?
Throughout our day we accumulate stress. I like to think of it as “trash”. Meditation helps us to “take out the trash” and can help manage the demands of life. Meditation may or may not be directly related to weight loss, but I would say that unhealthy eating is directly related to stress. So if we can reduce the amount of stress or manage it better, we will more easefully make healthier choices.
There are specific areas of the brain that involve the control of worrying. Studies have shown that meditation directly activates this region of the brain and can increase anxiety relief. This is also connected to mental skills that help you plan, maintain, and succeed at your goals.
Managing stress and anxiety can help decrease depression. Even if you do not suffer from clinical depression, we all have times that we feel “low”. Meditation teaches the brain how to focus on something other than our everyday thoughts and also helps us to understand that during meditation our thoughts are not “bad”, but are releasing stress. We use a mantra, breath, or sensations to guide us to the wisdom that resides within us – giving our random thoughts less influence over how we feel.
Y O G A is not about losing weight. Yoga is about realizing the truth of who we are. Divine infinite beings having a human experience. And an attitude practice, an asana practice, a pranayama practice, and a meditation practice can help make our human experience a healthy, happier, and more fulfilling one.
What type of yoga should I take to lose weight?
These practices can stand alone or work together. I encourage you to explore many styles of yoga to find what resonates with you the most. A more rigorous type of yoga, like vinyasa, ashtanga, or power flow will help you to lose weight more quickly, and the cool part is these types of yoga styles incorporate everything we’ve been talking about here all at once.
- Start your practice with the intention of compassion for yourself. Notice when judgment comes up and come back to your intention. (Ahimsa)
- Make shapes with the body. (Asana)
- When you are in a posture or moving through a series of postures, breath in a conscious deliberate way (Pranayama).
- During your practice, if you are concentrating on your body, sensations, and your breath, you are creating a moving meditation. (Dhyana)
Restorative, Yin, and Kundalini Yoga can also play a key role in your weight loss goal. These practices will powerfully help to alleviate stress, lower cortisol levels and add richness to your vinyasa, ashtanga, or power flow practice.
All forms of yoga activate your parasympathetic nerve, which relaxes your body and puts it into its natural healing state. If you do this consistently over time your body will come into balance effortlessly.
How many times/week to lose weight?
This depends on a few things:
- Are you brand new, experienced, or somewhere in between?
- Are you doing any other type of exercise?
- Do you have any injuries you are working with?
Brandnewbies (no major injuries) suggestions:
- Month #1: 2 beginner vinyasa classes/week. 1 yin or restorative class/week
- Month #2: Add another beginner vinyasa and/or kundalini yoga class/week
- Month #3: Slowly build to 5-6 classes/week with variety
Experienced or somewhere in between (no major injuries) suggestions:
- If you are doing another exercise: 2 vinyasa classes/week minimum and at least 1 yin or restorative each week.
- If you are not doing another exercise: 5-6 classes/week (4-5 vinyasa and/or 1-3 restorative, yin, kundalini yoga). Making sure you are letting your body recover.
*A note about injuries: You can still practice yoga with injuries. Yoga can be medicine if you use it mindfully. Injuries are typically teaching us a lesson about awareness, ego, and self-care. The wonderful thing about yoga is that you can work with and around your injuries by modifying postures or omitting certain ones that aggravate it. If you are unsure about practicing yoga with an injury, ask your Doctor. Additionally, if you have a yoga teacher that you trust, I would suggest asking them for direction and modifications.
You can always email me if you have questions. I would be happy to speak with you about how to modify your practice in a way that heals your body.
Whatever you chose to do, may you do it wholeheartedly and with joy. Be kind to yourself and your body.
“Relax and your body and the rest of you will lighten up”. ~Haruki Murakami