Yoga for Weight Loss
By wlr Contributor Christina Macdonald Personal Trainer and Accredited Life Coach
Yoga will help you combat stress and become more flexible, but you may be surprised to hear it can also help you lose weight. Christina Macdonald reveals why you need to give it a try
Many people tend to think of yoga as a chance to relax, de-stress and improve their flexibility.
While yoga will certainly tick all of those boxes, it will also help you slim down if you choose the right type of yoga class. Choose wisely and do it regularly enough, and you’ll find that it’s a good way to tone up, burn calories and boost your metabolic rate.
Studies have proved it. The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine reviewed several studies of yoga and weight loss and agreed that yoga is an effective method of losing weight.
Burning Calories with Yoga
Yoga can burn anywhere from 180 to 360 calories per class, depending on your age, weight, fitness levels and how hard you work, as well as the type of yoga class.
To lose weight, you need to be consistent, ideally aiming for exercise that raises your heart rate three to five times per week, for 20-60 minutes each time, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Yoga for Fitness
Yoga will also get you fitter.
Personal trainer Mark Hatfield says: ‘If your yoga class is making you breathe heavier, break out in a light sweat and would challenge you to hold a comfortable conversation, you should see an improvement in cardiovascular fitness.’
Starting with three to five yoga classes a week might not be ideal if you’re completely new to it, as it may take time for your body to recover in between classes.
You may want to start at twice a week (and not on consecutive days) and increase overall calorie expenditure with other aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, swimming or using a cardio machine in the gym.
Find the right type of yoga
There are many different types of yoga, and you may be wondering what the best classes are for slimming down.
‘Vinyasa, Ashtanga and other forms of Power yoga are the best for weight loss because they are more energetic and work specifically on strength and stamina as well as flexibility,’ says yoga teacher Sheila Maubec (http://www.shaktishalayogaguernsey.com/sheila-maubec.html).
‘All yoga speeds up the metabolic rate, some more than others. Vinyasa, or Flow Yoga, is made up of a series of Sun Salutations that you move through quickly, so in theory you will increase heart rate, burn calories and lose weight.
Many gyms offer Power Yoga, which combines yoga poses with a strong cardiovascular workout. The faster pace increases your resting metabolic rate which means you will burn more calories.’
Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, where you perform yoga in a studio heated to 40C (105F) degrees, can also raise your metabolic rate.
‘As you move through the poses, you not only burn calories and hopefully some fat, but temporarily lose water weight, eliminating toxins at the same time,’ adds Sheila.
Yoga for a Leaner figure
Apart from helping you to burn calories, many yoga postures work on strength, which increases lean muscle mass.
Lean muscle tissue is more metabolically active; meaning that having more of it will increase your metabolic rate.
How long you hold certain poses will also make a difference to your strength. Vinyasa yoga has lots of poses that you hold for longer. This makes your heart and lungs work harder and you will feel your heart rate increase.
Some of the more intense and challenging yoga classes sure to make you sweat include the following:
This is a challenging class and one of the most athletic forms of yoga ideal for those already exercising with a good level of aerobic fitness.
It consists of a flowing sequence of poses, and is based on poses in Ashtanga yoga.
The movements can be almost dance-like and poses are sequenced to your breathing. It also focuses on alignment of the body, as well as flexibility, strength and stamina.
Bikram is also known as Hot Yoga – Takes place in a heated room and consists of 26 poses performed twice and two breathing exercises.
Some people also believe that it flushes out toxins through sweat.
Stress Reduction can Help Weight Loss
Another way that yoga can indirectly help you lose weight is to reduce your stress levels. If you are stressed you may crave sugary foods or be tempted to comfort eat.
Chronic stress can impair your immune system and can also interfere with your sleep, which can also lead to weight gain.
Regular sleep deprivation causes our bodies to release ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger, which can then lead to increased calorie consumption.
Yoga’s Calming effect
In yoga, you will be taught deep breathing techniques that will help you to become more relaxed. When you focus on only your breathing you’ll be able to switch off your mind.
If you’re stressed, you may benefit from more gentle forms of yoga, such as:
A good choice for beginners or those new to exercise, Hatha yoga focuses more on poses than breathing. It’s a slower-paced class.
This class is also slow paced and may use blocks and belts to help you get into poses with correct alignment.
A gentle form of yoga, with slow movements, that focuses on the mind as well as the body.
Feel Better When You Exercise
Yoga can also help with your motivation to take part in other types of exercise that will also burn calories, such as cycling, swimming and running.
This is because it reduces muscle soreness and improves your flexibility. The better you feel while you exercise, the more motivated you will be to keep doing it.
‘Yoga creates a greater range and freedom of movement around the joints while maintaining joint stability,’ says Mark Hatfield.
‘The energy you were using to “make” your body create the right shape or movement should come a lot easier, placing less demands on your body, which means that the energy can be used elsewhere, such as being able to run or cycle faster.’
Even Gentle Yoga Can Help You Lose Fat
You may think that slower paced forms of yoga are less effective for burning calories.
It depends on your fitness levels, but for the overweight or new exercisers, there may be a benefit in doing some of the more ‘restorative’ forms of yoga, i.e. slower classes involving seated poses and cushions.
Maria Araneta PhD from the University of California conducted a 48-week study to find out whether obese women would lose fat by doing less intense exercise rather than aerobic work.
She split her subjects (who were in their mid-50s) into two groups – a group who did stretching and a group who did gentle yoga.
Both groups lost fat, but the yoga group lost more: an average of 31 square centimetres of subcutaneous fat after six months (fat that lies underneath the skin that you can pinch).
The stretching group lost only 12 square centimetres.
At the end of the study, the yoga group had continued to lose fat, with a total loss of 34 square centimetres, while the stretching group had gone backwards and fat loss had gone down to 6.6 square centimetres.
How to Get Started with Yoga
You don’t have to be flexible to take part in a class but you will become more flexible in time.
It’s important to find a yoga instructor who makes you feel comfortable and encourages you to work at your own level.
According to Sheila Maubec, a good yoga teacher will:
- Ask your name and remember who you are the following week
- Adjust you discreetly and gently if you are misaligned
- Offer alternatives to some of the more challenging poses
- Inspire you and make you feel at ease, whatever your ability level
- Make you feel valued and show you that they are pleased to have you in their class
- Teach you something – are you learning more about yoga and how to do the poses?
Yoga at home
If you would like to do yoga at home then it’s worth having several one-to-one sessions first with a yoga instructor or doing a regular class for about six weeks, so that you feel comfortable with the poses.
Yoga classes can vary in duration from one hour to 90 minutes, but at home you don’t have to do it for long periods of time.
Even 20-30 minutes of yoga several times a week will add up and it’s particularly beneficial after you’ve been cycling, running or swimming, to help you stretch out your legs, which may be tight after aerobic exercise.
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