When you think of doing yoga for weight loss (or more likely fat loss, if we're getting technical), do you wonder whether it'll actually work or not? Because, if you do, you're not alone. Most of the time when people want to change their body composition thoughts of resistance training, burpees and cardio workouts spring to mind, not... chair pose, right? (To be clear, those are good ways of losing body fat, just maybe not the right choice for you, if you're a Yogi.)
Well, don't dismiss doing yoga for weight loss just yet. If finding your flow is one of the ways you like to move, it could be a great way to lose weight well, too. There's more nuance to how best to go about it, as well as myriad other benefits well beyond body composition and body fat percentage.
So, we've called upon the experts to dish the details on how to hit your health goals in the most zen way possible and answer your most frequently asked questions. Winning.
Note: Many yogis would argue that if you're using yoga purely for weight loss you're not connecting with the true purpose of the movement - a spiritual practice founded on ancient Indian wisdom.
Is it possible to lose weight by practising yoga?
Short answer, yes. Regular movement and being in a nutrient-focused calorie deficit is the key to healthy weight loss and yoga can absolutely play a part in that. However, it's a much more holistic process than just calories in calories out: 'It creates a deeper awareness of your physical and mental state, linking the breath to the movement of the poses (asanas),' explains yoga teacher Alexandra Baldi, founder of Compass Chelsea.
'This deeper awareness creates mindfulness and a greater intuition with your body, two key factors essential for weight loss; whether it's making healthier eating choices or knowing when to pull back to prevent too much cortisol in the body, a serious detriment to weight loss,' she says.
And the science backs Baldi up: The stress hormone cortisol can be a major inhibitor to weight loss, as shown by a 2016 study of overweight women, published in the American Journal of Managed Care. The research showed that restorative sessions, or Yin yoga, can produce the same weight loss results over 12-weeks as other forms of yoga.
But how? Well, by lowering cortisol levels by regularly unwinding through a consistent yoga practice, the women were able to successfully lose body fat.
Keen to calm down? This 9-move relaxing yoga flow oughta do the trick.
How often should you practice yoga to lose weight?
When it comes to how frequently you need to be getting down to your yoga mat, we're taking our lead from Fi Clarke, head of yoga at FLY LDN, whose approach takes into account actual real life. Hallelujah.
'If you're on a mission to lose weight it's best to thinking holistically about your lifestyle – that includes stress levels, diet, alcohol consumption and work-life balance. Your yoga practice should be considered as a way to switch off, connect with yourself and give you time to gain headspace and perspective. Once your nervous system is soothed and cortisol levels are low, your body is in a much better position to organically lose weight.'
That cortisol word again, hey. Seems our nervous systems have a huge role to play in healthy and sustainable weight loss. But, if you're already in a place where you feel ready to incorporate regular movement into your life, what's a good benchmark to aim for?
'My suggestion would be to practice between 3-5 times a week and within that, incorporate at least one restorative yoga practice,' says Clarke. 'Try to ensure you're taking daily walks to help stay mobile and to give you time around nature, as this will also positively affect your mindset and nervous system, too.'
However, and this is good to remember – depending on what type of yoga you're practising, your body's ability to endure it regularly will be different.
For example, if power or rocket yoga is your jam, you might only be able to hack two or three classes a week due to the intense nature of the sessions. Yin yoga, on the other hand, depending on time restraints, you could probably do every single day without feeling strung out, sore or knackered.
'Stronger practices require a tremendous amount of body strength and enable you to stretch and move your body in ways that develop stronger and more defined muscles – as well as causing fatigue,' Baldi explains. 'So, for more intense styles, like Ashtanga or Power Yoga – which burn greater amounts of calories – I recommend three to four times a week.'
Which styles of yoga are best for fat loss?
According to Baldi, focusing on dynamic practices such as Ashtanga and Power Vinyasa will help you burn calories efficiently as you work towards your healthy body composition goals.
'Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic and physically demanding practice that follows a set sequence of 26 poses designed to purify the body by generating heat,' she explains. 'Power Vinyasa Flow on the other hand is a fast-moving practice that creates deep internal heat whilst paying close attention to proper alignment with thoughtful and creative sequencing. The continuous aerobic flow and pace of the practice are what creates more calorie burn.'
And if you're a complete beginner?
According to Nike Master Trainer and yoga-extraordinaire, Leah Kim, sun salutations are the best place to begin as they're novice-friendly and stimulate the entire cardiovascular system. Brilliant.
'Sun Salutations are cycles of flowing postures, and you can increase the intensity and number of cycles to increase the physical challenge. Just make sure you’re breathing as you’re moving,' she advises.
Is there anyone who shouldn't practice yoga
As there are so many different types of yoga, there isn't anyone specifically who shouldn't practice yoga. However, there might be some mitigating factors that help you decide what's best for you and your body.
'If you're pregnant or have recently given birth, it's important to practice specific pre/post-natal yoga that ensure your body isn't in any compromising positions,' advises Clark. 'If you're returning from an injury or operation or you suffer from a condition that affects your blood pressure, it's important to take it slowly with any exercise as your body needs time to adjust, so something like Yin would be advisable over a more powerful practice.'
4 benefits of practising yoga regularly
1. Increase in strength
From the outside, it may seem to be mindful breathing and pigeon pose but you can make some serious yogi-strength gains too. Chaturanga – a key sequence in Vinyasa builds upper body and core strength with frequent planks and press-up movements, while downward dog puts your shoulders to the test and chair pose sets your glutes on fire.
Maintain mind to muscle connection and move with intention to really ramp up the muscle strength.
2. Mental health support
Making some time for yourself amongst everything going on in your life could be just the break you and your mental health need. From being a space to release suppressed emotions, let go of the day or calm your nervous system and stress response down, the mental clarity found on your yoga mat could be the thing to keep you feeling stable amidst stormy seas.
'Practising breath and breath with movement will soothe your nervous system. We all seem to be in a state of hyperarousal, so, to function at our optimal, we need to balance the active state with rest – yoga will help you to do that, says yoga teacher and founder of The Human Method, Nahid de Belgeonne.
'Yoga cultivates your awareness and studies have shown again and again that when you are fully engaged in something you are more likely to enjoy higher levels of contentment; it also helps you to reduce stress and increase your feelings of wellbeing and that leads to better sleep.'
So, to feel calmer, more in control, sleep better and more deeply, think about incorporating some daily zen into your life.
3. Improved mobility
Yoga can help with mobility issues, lengthening and loosening fascia and allowing you to sink more deeply into movements than you've ever been able to before. Mobility improvements will depend on which style you choose to practice – but, as Clarke recommends, try and switch up your vigorous flows with more calming styles too.
4. Whole-body health
'A regular yoga practice will pull you out of your habitual posture, giving you a lean silhouette,' says de Belgeonne.
'It strengthens your muscles and keeps your joints healthy and mobile. It also pulls your internal organs, nerve system, lymph system and connective tissue into multi-dimensions to keep them resilient and efficient.' Whole-body health and all down to a little movement every day. We're into it.
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