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The Surprising Weight Loss Benefits Of Yoga

By Kristin Rooke / July 1, 2017

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?

Yoga Only Burns 3-6 Calories Per Minute

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

…But Yoga Can Still Be Effective For Weight Loss. Here’s Why

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

How Can Yoga Help You Lose Weight?

Reasons that yoga might help the weight loss process include:

  1. Effective stress management, reducing the likelihood of stress eating
  2. Increased body awareness, specifically relating to hunger and satiety
  3. Mindfulness and mindful eating

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.

Show 6 References

  1. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/YogaStudy2005.pdf Accessed February 19, 2013. Hatha Yoga was 3 calories per minute and Power Yoga was 6 calories per minute.
  2. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/kettlebells012010.pdf Accessed February 19, 2013.
  3. Archer, S. Yoga Helps Manage Weight In Midlife. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/yoga-helps-manage-weight-midlife. IdeaFit. 2013.
  4. Bouchez, C. Yoga For Weight Loss? http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/yoga-for-weight-loss?page=1. WebMD. 2011.
  5. Kristal AR, Littman AJ, Benitez D, White E. Yoga practice is associated with attenuated weight gain in healthy, middle-aged men and women. Altern Ther Health Med. 2005;11(4):28-33.
  6. Regular Yoga Practice Is Associated With Mindful Eating. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/regular-yoga-practice-is-associated-with-mindful-eating. IdeaFit. 2013.


  • Seb says:

    never knew nice to know

  • Hank says:

    It is interesting to know that Yoga has other benefits that affect weight loss and well being. Although the direct effects of Yoga are disappointing the side benefits may be more important to the individual especially for maintaining a long term active lifestylel.

  • John says:

    I think yoga is great to relax and stretch your body. Flexibility decreases as we age; yoga allows people to maintain (if not surpass) their youthful flexibility. It feels great to move around on a daily basis without excruciating pain.

  • Lanai says:

    Of course the regular, deep breathing is good for you, as well as the stretching. But yoga also works your muscles. Holding those poses requires strength as well as flexibility. I would think that the caloric benefits continue after the actual session in the same way as with other strength-training workouts.

    I find the direct effects on my muscle tone from regular yoga workouts to be quite high, though I would recommend doing a class/DVD that matches where you are in terms of strength and flexibility. Otherwise, you will not get the benefits you are looking for; it's the same as not running far enough or not doing enough weight/reps in the weight-room.

  • Ken says:

    In terms of stress reduction, I'd say yoga reigns over meditation (for me). Static pose meditation is too boring for me. But many women appear to love yoga compared to men. This is from my experience working at a rehab. As I participated in some sessions with the clients, I haven't found any of the 'yoga' instructors teaching breathing techniques; what they were teaching appears to be just simple extended body stretching to me. (I have some experience doing short stretching after step aerobics classes and Pilates, so I can tell). On the other hand, the resident meditation therapist would go into details in breathing techniques and body awareness or mindfulness. So I think many so-called Yoga instructors do not teaching mindfulness well (or at all).

  • Aaron says:

    Thanks for posting this. Stress (the negative type) is likely the most overlooked factor in body-fat management. It's left out of the equation with respect to most exercise. People will always talk about how they "feel" better when they're exercising. It needs to be brought to the forefront of consciousness that by reducing your overall stress is the most effective way to manage your health.

    Our body's are still built to evade predators with hormones like cortisol which is designed to store deposits of fat in feast or famine environments. We're wired with biological reward systems that search for the most energy dense foods, you know, like simple sugars.

    I'd like to see your feedback on the dichotomous relationship humans have with the sense of taste and the, only recent, availability of foods rich in simple sugars/carbohydrates. I go a big rubbery one when people tell me they would eat healthier if it tasted better. If people understood the self defeating nature of their biology in today's agricultural climate they may make healthier choices.

    Thank you, and thank you for this site. I recommend it to new people daily.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks for sharing Aaron and very happy to hear you are sharing the site, that's awesome!

  • jim perry says:

    try ashtanga.. a nice steady 'flow' series.. non-stop w/ujjayi breathing... yoga is not 'stretching' .. and if that is your 'belief'.... find a differnet teacher...
    yoga is a way of life/living.. it's not an exercise routine

  • Nate Anglin says:

    If you wan't to do yoga and still burn calories, Bikram Yoga is the way to go. This will kick anyones butt.

  • Jon Skinner says:

    Given Marc's big theme about afterburn of strength training and efficiency of HIIT cardio, I want to point out that Bikram yoga (and maybe other forms I haven't tried) contains a good deal of strength training (mainly the biggest muscles i.e. legs, core and lower back with upper body coming as you go deeper) and feels pretty much like a high intensity cardio workout for maybe 60-70 of the 90 minutes - as well as the other benefits.

    Also worth pointing out that the idea that any form of exercise alone makes you lose weight without paying attention to nutrition (via food diary, calorie counting or weightwatchers online) is no good. The numbers just don't add up because it's way easier to over-consume calories by not paying attention to how much you eat than to burn them through exercise.

    My suggestion: get the exercise habit first (ideally with strength stuff emphasized), then once the exercise habit is established now add nutrition control and watch the weight drop comfortably. This approach should minimize muscle loss and so maximize fat loss.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jon. Certainly a big theme with our site is nutrition is king for body composition changes.