Yoga for Weight Loss: Benefits, Types & Exercises
Yoga is a great form of exercise for weight loss, blood sugar management, and stress relief. But how much do I need to do, and where do I start?
Regular physical exercise is critical for maintaining overall health. It is also one of the quickest ways to lower your blood sugar. The more you move, the more your body burns glucose which helps reduce blood sugar levels and the risk of chronic disease and aids in weight loss.
In addition, yoga can be low impact and lead to weight loss and blood sugar control.1 This is because yoga is a holistic practice that involves constant muscle activation while relieving stress through meditation and breathwork. This article defines yoga, explores the different types of movement, explains its benefits for fat loss and blood sugar management, and provides simple strategies to help you start your yoga practice.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is one of the most ancient forms of purposeful movement. By practicing yoga, it is believed that one can overcome suffering through a spiritual connection of the body and mind2. It is your practice, and this individualistic focus is what makes yoga easy to tailor to your needs, goals, and abilities.
Yoga is based on five main principles3:
- Exercise (Asanas): The slow, gentle movements of yoga help lubricate your joints, muscles, and tendons while improving flexibility and circulation.
- Breathing (Pranayama): Yoga breaths are deep and slow and improve the amount of oxygen we inhale, while expelling toxins as we exhale.
- Relaxation (Savasana): The gentle meditative practice helps turn down our nervous systems for reduced stress, anxiety, and muscle tension.
- Diet and nutrition: Eating a natural and whole-food diet can improve overall health and mental well-being.
- Meditation: Yoga shifts our focus from negative thoughts to inner peace, which helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
Which Types of yoga are Best for Fat Loss?
There are many types of yoga; some are relaxing (i.e., Yin or Restorative Yoga), while others require more muscle strength, balance, and endurance (i.e., Vinyasa or Power Yoga). Here is a list explaining some types of yoga and the ones that are best for weight loss.4,5
This practice focuses solely on reducing the tension in the muscles of your face. This form of yoga is believed to help reverse the signs of aging, making your face look younger with continued practice.
Yin postures replicate many martial arts movements and require you to hold positions for one to five minutes. This is great for targeting restriction in your joints, ligaments, and tendons while aiding in weight loss due to reduced cortisol levels.6,7
This more energetic type of Yin yoga incorporates more movement through postures. It helps build muscle mass and endurance, which makes it great for health and weight loss.
Power Yoga is a fast-paced, higher-intensity practice that requires quick transitions between postures. You will build muscle strength, improve flexibility, and work up a sweat, making it another great option for weight loss.
The goal of restorative yoga is to down-regulate your nervous system. As a result, you will reduce stress, relieve tension, and obtain full mind-body relaxation in just an hour-long practice. Weight gain and blood sugar levels are very much affected by cortisol levels, so a yoga practice that helps reduce stress can be very helpful during your weight loss journey.7
Why Is Yoga Good for You?
Yoga is considered a low-impact form of physical exercise, great for obtaining all the health benefits while reducing the risk of injury. Like other forms of physical exercise and movement, yoga has many benefits for your mind and body.
Through breathwork and positive thoughts, yoga helps to bring your focus inward to improve your sense of self-worth, self-compassion, and body positivity.
Much of the beginning and end of yoga classes are focused on meditation and stillness. It is difficult for most of us to calm down from the day or life itself. This forced stillness and focus on breathing allows for a meditative state that helps reduce tension and stress.
With Yin and Restorative Yoga, the postures' flow helps down-regulate your nervous system. Paired with meditation and mindfulness, this can help relieve your mind and body stress.
Yoga unites our spiritual, mental, and physical health through its movement, breathing, meditation, nutrition, and relaxation principles. A recent survey found that 94 percent of Americans practicing yoga do so for wellness benefits and a healthier lifestyle.9
Research has shown that restorative yoga poses and breath work, especially performed right before bedtime, can improve the length and quality of sleep by helping to calm down the nervous system.8
Performing higher-intensity types of yoga, such as Power or Vinyasa Yoga, provides a greater calorie burn due to the poses' extra cardiovascular workouts and muscle-building aspects. More muscle mass improves your metabolism for more calorie burning at rest, which aids in further weight loss and blood sugar management.
Yoga requires the constant engagement of your muscles, especially within the core, legs, and upper body, to hold difficult poses for long periods. This is great for increasing muscle strength and endurance while helping to burn fat in areas like the stomach, hips, arms, and thighs.
Many yoga poses target the lengthening of the muscle, tendon, and fascial tissues, which helps to increase your overall joint mobility and flexibility and reduce the risk of chronic pain and injury.
Is Yoga Good for Blood Sugar Management?
All forms of exercise are good for blood sugar management because muscles require sugar (i.e., glucose) for energy. Specifically, yoga helps manage blood sugar levels due to constant muscle engagement as you sustain and transition through difficult poses. In addition, the breathwork and meditative parts of yoga assist in reducing excess blood sugar levels by reducing cortisol.10 Remember, elevated cortisol increases your blood sugar levels. So it is important to pair exercise with stress relieving practices, which are encompassed in yoga.
How Often Should You Do Yoga to Lose Weight?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends performing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week to obtain good overall health and double this amount if the goal is weight loss.11 If you are a beginner Yogi, starting with 300 minutes per week could be too much for your muscles and joints and lead to injury. You can obtain many of the benefits listed above from just a 15-20 minute practice, and starting small can be helpful as you learn the various poses of a yoga practice while reducing the risk of injury.
Once you gain strength and flexibility and feel comfortable with the poses, you can increase your frequency to about 60 minutes, two to five times per week, the recommended amount for weight loss.12,13 Doing more intense forms of yoga (i.e., Power Yoga) will help you burn more calories in a single workout session. You can combine yoga with other types of aerobic exercise (i.e., walking, cycling, or swimming) to obtain more cardiovascular benefits for a holistic and diverse approach to health, weight loss, and blood sugar management.
Tips To Start Doing Yoga
Start with a beginner’s practice:
Many yoga poses require great strength and flexibility, and it can be confusing to follow if you are unfamiliar with their names. Start with a Level 1 Vinyasa or Yin practice to gain confidence.
Set up your space:
Find a local yoga studio or a quiet space at home for your practice. This space should be large enough to move around and empty of distracting items.
Get some equipment:
To optimize your practice, it is best to get yourself a yoga mat, yoga block, and yoga strap to assist you with safely obtaining more difficult poses while protecting your joints and muscles.
Practice mindful breathing:
Sometimes, yoga's hardest aspect revolves around learning to breathe deeply and pairing these breaths with your movements. Practice mindful breathing throughout the day, before bed, and at the beginning of your yoga practice.
As with most exercise routines and weight loss journeys, it is important to stay consistent. Yoga will initially feel challenging, especially if your muscles feel tight. Be kind to yourself and take it easy initially, using yoga straps and/or blocks to help you. It will get easier over time!
Best Yoga Poses To Do At Home
Here are some of the best yoga poses perfect for beginners, advanced Yogis, or anyone wanting to try yoga for weight loss.
Plank Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana):
Push yourself into a plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and your toes tucked to hold up your legs. This pose will strengthen your core, arms, and leg muscles.
There are three levels of warrior pose: Warrior 1, Warrior 2, and Warrior 3. The picture above is Warrior 2, the most common type used in yoga practices. Start standing with your feet wider than your hips. Face the front of your room, and point your front foot in the same direction. Then, turn your back foot, so it is perpendicular to your front foot. Lower your hips to the floor, lunging into your front leg and keeping your back leg straight. Your torso should align with your hips, and your arms open away from each other. One hand reaches over your front leg, the other over your back leg. Keep your gaze over your front hand.
Start this pose in a plank position. Then, use your hands to push your hips up and back toward the ceiling. Your heels should reach the floor as you feel this stretch in your hamstrings, lower back, calves, upper back, and shoulders.
This pose starts with lying face down on the ground. Next, use your hands underneath your shoulders to gently press your upper body off the floor, allowing your lower back to arch and belly to sink into the floor. This is great if you struggle with back pain; however, make sure to ease into this pose and not push through any sharp pain.
Start on all fours and find a neutral spine. Then, breathe in as you look up towards the ceiling and let your belly fall towards the ground. As you exhale, push your upper back toward the ceiling and let your gaze fall to the floor. Repeat with your breath to allow for increased spinal mobility.
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- Bijlani RL, Vempati RP, Yadav RK, Ray RB, Gupta V, Sharma R, Mehta N, Mahapatra SC. (2005). A brief but comprehensive lifestyle education program based on yoga reduces risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 11: 267-274.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1-118. https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines/current-guidelines