If there was a ranking for the hardest things in life, weight loss would probably fall somewhere between getting up from bed in the morning (when you don't want to) and organic chemistry.
All jokes aside, weight loss is hard.
Not only because the whole process requires immense discipline and self-belief but also because the media keeps feeding us myths and magic pills that divert us from doing things that really work.
Enter the ultimate easy-to-understand guide on how to start losing weight by doing yoga. No sugar coating, no lies, or anecdotal evidence.
I've reached out to top yoga instructors and fitness experts to learn what's their take on yoga for weight loss, how exactly yoga can help you lose weight, what poses to practice to see fast progress.
Read on to learn:
Let's get started!
MEET THE EXPERTS 🤓
Table of Contents
There's only one sure way to successful weight loss. And it's dead simple.
No matter what you've read or heard somewhere, there are absolutely no magic pills, workouts, number of reps, supplements, coaches that will help you lose weight.
Plus, all the popular diets for weight loss - paleo, keto, intermittent fasting, plant-based - are effective only because they reduce your food intake by restricting the time window when you eat or foods you can consume.
You can achieve a calorie deficit in two ways.
Notice that I'm not using the word exercise here. You can lose weight by cleaning windows or taking strolls with your dog. As long as you burn more calories than you eat, you will be losing weight.
So here's is a question I hear a lot: I hate exercise, but I want to lose weight. Is it possible?
The answer is a definite YES, but… (of course, there's a but here!)
Remember that when you're in a calorie deficit, you're also losing water and muscle.
When most people say they want to lose weight, what they mean is that they want to get a leaner and a more toned body. They want abs definition, less visible cellulite, round booty, etc. In this case, losing weight = losing fat and saving as much muscle as possible.
To lose fat and preserve lean mass, you need a combined power of:
Plus, it's hard to create a substantial calorie deficit by focusing solely on diet or movement.
To give you some context: the Mayo Clinic says you need to cut out 500-1000 calories a day to lose 0.5 kg a week. Can you imagine the kind of diet or exercise you need to follow EVERY single day?
Trust me, nobody would blame you if you quit after a week.
Now, try splitting 500 calories between diet and exercise - looks much more doable now.
Besides, studies show that combining calorie restriction with movement is more likely to promote fat loss than focusing on diet or exercise alone.
Which leads us to the main question.
Available research shows that yoga not only promotes weight loss but improves body composition. This means you lose fat and gain muscle. (Check this review of studies on yoga for weight loss.)
Another good news is that yoga helps you keep excess weight at bay. A study of 15000 people showed that those who practiced yoga for at least four years were two to four times less likely to gain weight as they age than individuals who did not practice.
How much weight you lose with yoga entirely depends on:
Yes, you've read it right. Following the yoga principles will likely help you lose more weight.
What's more, if you treat yoga as a holistic practice instead of focusing on the physical aspect only, you can shed those pounds even without sweating on the yoga mat.
I've read a ton of research on the benefits of yoga (check out this impressive list!) and reached out to top yoga instructors and experts to ask what they think about yoga for weight loss. Here are four science-backed ways yoga helps you get slimmer and torch fat.
Most modern yoga styles are asana-based. And movement burns calories, remember?
"When you practice physical postures you are using your muscles to hold the weight of your body, so yes, even though you probably won't be dripping or sweat or have your heart rate through your ears like in cardiovascular exercise, you are building strength from the inside out, burning calories and losing weight!" says Carrie Froggett.
If you're wondering which yoga is best for weight loss based on calorie expenditure, your best bet would be:
"I recommend a regular Kundalini yoga practice, which is GREAT for weight loss," says Brett Larkin.
"There are a lot of repetitive movements, especially twists, that are designed to build fire throughout the body. This requires a great deal of cardiovascular health and muscle strength, not unlike other traditional workouts."
I've seen lots of fishy weight loss solutions that promise you increased calorie burn while sitting on the couch. It's more than possible.
Of course, not through pills or magic mixtures, but through gaining muscle mass.
Intense and physically demanding types of yoga work for long-term weight loss by helping you build muscles so you could burn calories even while sleeping.
Carrie Froggett agrees: "Twists and side stretches will help the tone the waistline, arm balances will help to tone the shoulders and arms, leg balances will do the same for the legs, and backbends will strengthen and tone your back."
The connection between stress and weight loss probably deserves a whole separate post. But I'll get straight to the point.
Chronic stress causes a domino effect whacking your whole body and leading to weight gain both in direct and indirect ways.
|Makes you binge-eat, even if you're not hungry||Increases the rate at which fat cells are formed if you experience much stress at night|
|Increases cravings for high-calorie, sugary snacks||Disrupts your sleep - studies show that people are likely to eat at least 300 calories or more after a sleepless night.|
|Messes up your hormone levels, including cortisol and insulin responsible for fat storage and distribution.|
"Our digestion and elimination become stagnant because of poor dietary and lifestyle choices and stress," Danielle Tarantola explains.
"When the nervous system is dysregulated as such, the body is not primed to focus on digestion and healthy metabolism but to fight, flee or freeze. Yoga turns on calmness and the associated, healthy hormones are automatically released in the body, promoting cardio-respiratory, digestive and metabolic health."
Chronic stress is often the reason when you're doing everything right - eating healthy and working out regularly - but the weight just doesn't seem to go away.
If that's the case, slow down and ask yourself:
These, at first glance, unrelated to weight loss things can cause your hormone cortisol spike. And there is a suspicion that high cortisol is responsible for increased belly fat, which just doesn't go away.
Undersleeping, for example, can turn your life into a vicious cycle of no sleep -> cortisol spike -> can't sleep because of high cortisol.
Here's where yoga comes to the rescue.
Yoga balances out your nervous system, promoting relaxation and sleep, and reducing your cortisol levels. Click here to read more about how yoga reduces stress.
Funny thing is that intense cardio workouts such as running increase your cortisol levels. This is not a bad thing since our bodies need some stress to be healthy. But if you're feeling really stressed lately and losing weight has been a struggle, it can give you insight into how to time your workouts. E.g., try doing intense workouts in the first half of the day, yoga and meditation in the second to relax and sleep better.
So what's the best type of yoga to de-stress (and lose weight as a result)?
Any! Restorative, Yin, Vinyasa.
As long as you're incorporating mindful breathing and meditation into your practice, you're good to go with any style.
If stress is the reason you're overeating or undersleeping and thus gaining weight, you might as well spend 10 minutes in Savasana as a part of your weight loss regimen.
"While cardio exercise is critical for heart health, bone strength, and mental health ... it only accounts for approx. 20% of weight loss," says Amy Zellmer. "Research suggests that yoga is beneficial to weight loss due to its relaxing effect on our body, as well as community support. A slower practice of yoga (rather than high-intensity cardio) in which you hold poses for longer periods of time and work on proper technique rather than how bendy you can be is key."
Have you ever eaten in front of a screen?
Let me guess, you probably did because we all are. This is today's reality.
The biggest problem is that while watching the screen and eating, most of us experience a complete disassociation from our physical bodies. It is full, is it thirsty, is it cold? Who knows. You might have stuffed yourself with a whole bag of popcorn without even realizing it.
Yoga brings you back into your body and helps you notice those little cues it's giving. Something like "leave out that chocolate bar cause I'm too full. You'll feel nauseated afterward."
Besides noticing what your body is telling you, yoga connects you to your emotional state and feelings. Many of us overeat or reach out for comfort food at the moment of distress. Yoga helps you uncover the patterns, accept them and eventually break out of them.
Julia Grasser agrees: "Yoga is a mental practice. We learn how to control our minds. How to separate ourselves from the thoughts. Weight gain can be caused by mindless eating and eating to cover up underlying emotions that we do not know how to face or are actively avoiding... The mental work we do in yoga will strengthen your willpower and appreciation for your body and what we put into it."
"In yoga, we talk about 5 layers of our body (koshas). The physical body is called Annamaya Kosha which translates to the body which is made out of food. We cultivate the awareness of we are what we consume, food as well as thoughts," Julia adds/
I also personally think there's also another fundamental reason yoga is so effective for weight loss. Yoga doesn't treat weight loss as a marathon; it makes it a lifestyle.
Most people go to the gym and leave their fitness out of the door. Yoga, on the other hand, is a well-rounded practice that comes with you from the studio into real life.
Yoga teaches you to relax when you need it, to nourish your body with the right food, and to treat it as a gift, not as something that needs constant improvement.
Weight loss doesn't have to be complicated. All you need is a solid plan, strong determination, and a bit of Math. Here are the first five steps to take on your way to weight loss success.
Let's take it from the top.
This step is essential since it will show what type of food you eat and how many calories you normally consume.
I won't lie to you - it is tedious work. But you won't need to keep a food diary for the rest of your life.
Generally, after one or two weeks, you'll learn to approximate how many calories everyday products have without having to weigh every egg you've eaten.
Plus, keeping a food diary has additional benefits:
BMR is how many calories your body expends in a resting mode. Your BMR depends on your sex, weight, height, etc.
Don't worry; you don't have to do any math to calculate your calorie expenditure since I've done it for you. Simply input all your data in the fields required, and the calculator below will give you the estimate.
But wait for it - this is not your final calorie expenditure number.
You're probably not lying comatose in bed, so your final calorie expenditure has to reflect that.
Take the number that the calculator gave you and multiply it by:
The final number of calories you get at this step is how much your body needs each day to maintain its current weight.
If you want to lose weight, you need to get into a calorie deficit. This means you will have to slowly lower your calorie intake or rev up your fitness routine, or better - do both.
Now it's time to calculate how many calories you need to cut out to hit your target weight.
Generally, you should decrease your calorie intake by 15-25% to start shedding pounds.
Take the final number you received in step 3 - that's how many calories your body needs to maintain its weight - and multiply it by the chosen percentage.
E.g., if my body needs 1860 calories to maintain its weight and I chose to cut out 15%, here's how this calculates into a number: 1860 x 0,15 = 279. To start losing weight, I'll need to cut out 279 calories from what my body needs to maintain its weight: 1860 - 279 = 1581 calories.
⚠️ It's generally not recommended to consume less than 1200-1300 calories a day. If your final number to lose weight falls below 1200-1300 calories, then you'll need to incorporate more movement to burn more calories at the end of a day.
🛑 Important! 🛑
Many people find that the numbers in step 1 (calories they consume during the day right now) and step 3 (calories your body needs to maintain current weight) are very different. For example, you consume around 2300 calories now while your body only needs 1860 calories to maintain weight and only 1580 to start shedding weight.
This in no way means that the moment you found out you're overeating, you need to suddenly cut out more than 700 calories. Don't put your body in such shock. Instead, lower your calorie intake slowly.
Cut out around 50 calories each day until you hit the 1580 mark. This will take time, but trust me, it will pay off. You will find it easier to stick to your new healthy eating habits and give your body time to adapt.
Don't get super crazy about the numbers. You can go slightly over the limit on some days and compensate by eating less calorie food the next day.
And yes, you can eat a piece of cake on weekends too if you were sticking to healthy meals within your limit throughout the week.
Now that you know how much you're overeating and/or how many calories you need to cut out daily to lose weight, it's time to get to work.
Both your eating habits and physical activity are essential to successful weight loss.
As a popular saying goes: you can't out-exercise a bad diet.
If you have a choice to eat cake AND do yoga or eat a nutritious meal within your calorie limit AND skip the yoga class, choose the latter.
You can do all the yoga in the world, but unless you're in a calorie deficit, it won't help you lose weight.
Focus on the following concepts:
Sattvic (meaning "pure") diet is based on Ayurveda - a traditional medicine system from the Indian subcontinent. It primarily includes whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts.
According to Ayurveda, meals prepared with these foods increase your energy and mental clarity rather than make you feel like falling asleep on the couch. Sugar, meat, and heavily processed food are hard to digest and do the opposite.
Keep in mind that drinks can also be classified as sattvic (or not). Opt for clean water and herbal tea and cut down on fizzy sugar-loaded drinks, alcohol, and caffeine.
You can read more about the yogic diet here.
Despite what you might think, your body probably needs a lot less than you usually consume.
What's more, often we eat out of boredom, anxiety, or procrastination.
When you feel the urge to overeat, take a few minutes to ask yourself: Am I really hungry? Or do I crave food to fill up some other need?
Maybe what you need right now is a short walk or a glass of water, or simply to relax and breathe.
Keeping a concept of brahmacharya in mind will help you to stay honest about how much food you're putting on your plate, eating just enough, and when you're really hungry.
How you eat is as important as what you eat.
Mindful eating means eating slowly with no distractions and focusing on your senses during the meal.
It might be hard to believe, but eating in itself can be turned into a form of meditation. By savoring the taste, noticing the colors and textures of your meal, focusing on the smell, you're not only learning to appreciate the food you have on your table but also training your ability to slow down and live in the present moment.
While eating mindfully, you're far less likely to overeat and more likely to follow your body cues when you're full.
Just like with the diet, consistency in your workouts is key.
You're more likely to lose weight (and keep it off in the future) when alternating between high-intensive and low-intensive types of yoga throughout the week. It will help you get the required weekly activity to burn extra calories and relax your mind and body on off days.
For example, you can do about 1 hour of intensive yoga such as power, vinyasa, hot yoga, yoga with weights about 4 times a week, and an hour of relaxing yoga (Yin, Restorative) twice a week.
This will leave you with one rest day a week when you can go for a longer walk, swim, cycle, take care of your garden or do any other activity you enjoy.
Here's an example of a weekly yoga schedule:
|Thursday||Yoga with weights|
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If you're into some other sport or activity, that's awesome. Combine it with your yoga sessions, or simply replace a class or two of yoga with an activity of your choice.
Can't dedicate as much time to yoga or working out? No worries. Some yoga and physical activity are better than none.
Remember that releasing stress through simple breathing techniques while on a bus also counts as yoga, just as easy lifestyle changes like using stairs rather than an elevator also count toward your daily activity.
There are so many yoga poses out there that it easily gets confusing. So if you don't know where to start, try these top yoga postures and moves.
Plank is a perfect all-body strengthening exercise. It works your core and builds muscle in the shoulders, chest, upper back, and thighs.
Plank is great both as a warm-up and as a finisher and even on its own when you're short on time.
What's more, you can easily modify your planks to suit your needs. For example,
While often referred to as "the top pose to lose belly fat," Boat pose is so much more than that.
For one thing, it's one of the best yoga poses to strengthen hip flexors - the area at the top of your thighs that gets supertight because of frequent sitting.
It's believed that tight and weak hip flexors indirectly affect weight gain by throwing your body into fight or flight response, activating your adrenal glands, and ultimately causing the body to permanently get stuck in the fat storage mode to respond to danger.
Whether or not your body responds to weak hip flexors with fat storage, there's one thing for sure - the stronger and mobile your hip flexors are, the better you are at lower body exercises, and more efficient at building muscles.
This is one of the top yoga poses for weight loss of Amy Zellmer. "This pose helps strengthen the core, hips, buttocks, and back," says Amy.
For a fresh spin on the traditional Bow, she suggests doing Bow Pose with a block between the thighs to engage the adductors.
Lorri Allison Craig says that these two poses done in combination with Breath of Fire can do wonders for weight loss. The secret lies in their effect on the thyroid gland.
"The thyroid can affect your weight in three ways," Lorri explains:
Cobra is the top favorite yoga pose to lose weight of Carrie Froggett.
"Not only is Bhujangasana an accessible backward bend to strengthen your spine, it tones your abdominal muscles, the sides of your body and your back, which helps to reduce excess weight around the abdomen and the waistline," says Carrie.
"Due to the nature of backbends and the way they stimulate the spine, this pose also impacts the hormonal secretions which promote feelings of confidence and boost self-esteem and willpower."
Carrie explains that "feelings like these help a person feel better about themselves, increase self-respect and ultimately help them make better choices about what food they put into their bodies."
"This pose is accessible for all and can be as gentle or vigorous as you like. It can be done in dynamic and as part of a flow to help warm up the spine and is often easier for students newer to the pose. Or it can be held in static for up to 2 minutes which has an energizing and invigorating impact on the whole body and mind. It should always be followed by a counterpose to relax the back such as makrasana (crocodile pose) or balasana (child's pose)."
According to Loren Fishman, MD, and author of Yoga For Weight Loss, "elongating the stretch receptors in the lining of the stomach sends inhibitory signals to the appetite-centers in the brain." This means we can in a way trick ourselves to feel sated, preventing overeating.
"The best poses for this are backbends like the Bridge and Warrior I, done 15 -20 minutes before meals," says Loren.
Another group of yoga poses to promote weight loss are standing poses and forward bends.
According to Loren, a simple Standing Forward Bend "stimulates the muscles to release PGC1-alpha, which is the greatest catalyst of the mitochondria."
And if you've forgotten your school biology, here's a little reminder. Mitochondria are called the powerhouses of the cell. They turn glucose into energy and help your body burn fat.
"Both the numbers and activity of these powerhouses increase with PGC1-alpha. The best poses for this are standing poses and forward bends and headstand. They can be done any time during the day, but the PGC1-alpha is best recruited in a colder room with (sic!) a pretty empty stomach," Loren advises.
Clara Roberts-Oss recommends Chair pose and Eagle to build strength and create healthy stress in the body and mind.
According to Clara, "strengthening poses place stress on the body and trigger the adrenals to release cortisol and adrenaline. During yoga practice, our bodies are flooded with hormones, including feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. This allows the practitioner to bring conscious awareness to how they feel in this state and train the body and mind through conscious breathing to develop a healthy reaction to stress."
"We all deal with stress in our lives. Yoga teaches us how to manage stress in the healthiest way possible!" says Clara.
Sun Salutations are a series of yoga postures that flow smoothly from one into another. They are a perfect yoga quickie that works the whole body, burns fat, increases endurance, and lowers stress.
In her book The Power Of Ashtanga Yoga, Kino MacGregor says that as few as five rounds of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B can substitute a full yoga practice.
Tired of jumping cardio workouts that make you feel like you’re about to faint?
These low-impact 8 power yoga moves will challenge you and help you burn more calories for faster weight loss. Click here for short instructions.
It's not just the pose, but learning and implementing proper breathing techniques during the pose that transforms an ordinary body position into an "asana.Danielle Tarantola
You've sweated buckets in your Bikram class, and at some point, you thought you're going to faint. Well, you think to yourself, that must have burned me over 1000 calories, right?
Your 60-minute yoga class probably didn't burn more than 400 calories at best. According to the American Council of Exercise, yoga burns somewhere around 150-400 calories per hour of practice.
The number largely depends on the type of class you're attending, your current weight, and how hard you're applying yourself.
Why is this a mistake? Because overestimated calorie expenditure often leads to excessive eating. We often think that since we have burned so many calories and worked so hard, we deserve a little extra.
Yoga is not a marathon. You're unlikely to see fast one-week weight loss results. And if you do, they probably won't last.
Instead, yoga helps you build fitness consistency and long-lasting habits that stick without the need for "cheat days."
This way, you will lose weight slowly but will likely keep it off in the future.
Often, people give up too early because they've been doing yoga for a few weeks, but the number on the scale is not moving down.
Remember that your weight isn't the sole indicator of your success. Fat weights much less than muscles.
For successful weight loss, you want to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss. Sometimes your weight isn't going to change much, but it doesn't mean that no change is happening.
Yoga with weights might sound weird, but it's a challenging workout that will torch your fat and build muscles.
And no, you're not going to bulk up when lifting. In fact, the more muscles you have, the faster you'll lose weight, even by sitting on the couch.