While walking around your city, you’ve probably seen a variety of yoga studios—everything ranging from Bikram to Anusara, Jivamukti, and Vinyasa yoga. Bikram is known for hot rooms and sweat-dripping bodies, while vinyasa is all about the flow of movements.
If your goal is to get lean and lose body fat, you might be wondering whether, or how, yoga fits into your program. There are a multitude of benefits to practicing yoga, but does yoga help with weight loss?
In order to lose body fat, you have to create a deficit of calories. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight, and one pound of fat is equivalent to about 3500 calories.
Yoga classes often endure for about 60-90 minutes. According to research done by the American Council on Exercise, the average individual burns about 3-6 calories per minute practicing yoga, which equates to a total of only 180-360 calories burned during that class.1 In contrast, a kettlebell workout burns about 13-17 calories per minute, which equals about 800+ calories burned in an hour.2 That’s a significant difference in calorie expenditure.
While it depends on the type and intensity of the class– certain styles of yoga are much more rigorous such as power yoga, hot yoga, and vinyasa, whereas yin yoga, restorative, and hatha yoga are more gentle and slower-paced. 3 Regardless of the intensity of the yoga class, circuit training is still superior in terms of overall metabolic boost and calorie burn.
But even with the calorie difference, yoga has other benefits that can help the weight-loss individual.4
From 2000-2002, medical researcher and yogi Alan Kristal, in association with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, conducted a study on the effects of yoga on weight-loss. The study surveyed 15,500 middle-aged men and women about their physical activity and weight over time, and controlled for factors such as diet, health, and other forms of exercise that could cause changes in weight. The study found that both over-weight and normal-weight adults who regularly practiced yoga for at least 4 years were less likely to gain weight than those who did not practice yoga. In fact, those who were overweight and practiced yoga actually lost an average of 5lbs during the four-year period, whereas the overweight non-practitioners gained about 14lbs.5
Alan Kristal and the other researchers noted: The weight loss had nothing to do with burning calories. Kristal pointed out that, from a scientific standpoint it was unclear why practicing yoga helped people keep the weight off: “Except for very strenuous yoga practices, you don’t really burn enough energy to make any difference in terms of weight.”
If calorie expenditure didn’t account for weight maintenance or loss, what did? The researchers found a strong association between a regular yoga practice and mindful eating, which they did not find in other activities such as walking or running.6
Reasons that yoga might help the weight loss process include:
Although practicing yoga doesn’t burn the most calories, it might still have a place in your workout routine. An effective fat loss program that encourages maintenance of lean muscle and maximizes calorie burn should be founded on a combination of resistance training and cardiovascular activity. However, yoga could be used as active recovery and flexibility training between more intense workouts. The benefits of stress reduction and mindfulness associated with yoga could lead to improved sleep, better eating habits, and increased self-awareness, which could mean more weight loss and improved maintenance of weight loss results over time. Regardless of the exercise you’re doing, however, good nutrition is essential. If you’re not paying attention to your diet, you won’t see the results you want. Exercise right, eat clean, and you’ll be able to actualize your goals.
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