Practice Yoga, Shed Pounds? Here’s How

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Practice Yoga, Shed Pounds? Here’s How
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It’s no secret that yoga is good for you. It cultivates calm and ease, releases happy hormones (endorphins and dopamine), and reduces stress. Could weight loss also be part of the equation of the post-practice “yoga high,” where you leave the mat feeling relaxed yet energized and lighter in mind, spirit… and body?   

Whether you’re looking to begin practicing or are already a daily regular on the mat, the potential yoga has for weight loss might surprise you. As it turns out, integrating yoga into a wellness routine may help you shed pounds and improve long-term weight loss.

Throughout the ebb and flow of life, we all experience times when we want to tone up and lose weight. As a certified yoga instructor, yoga expert, and author, I’m certainly no exception. Here’s what I have found true for myself, as well as my students, when it comes to creating a yoga practice that releases extra emotional and physical weight:

  1. Start your yoga and weight loss journey with small, actionable steps. 

  2. Begin with the basics by including a few minutes of stretching and gradually work up to a longer practice.

  3. Be mindful and balanced with your nutrition and other health habits, such as staying hydrated.

  4. Minimize stress.

  5. Rest when needed and get adequate sleep.

  6. Don’t forget to breathe! 

Read on to learn more about how to include yoga for weight loss in your daily wellness routine, along with a simple, effective, accessible plan that suits all levels. 

Can You Lose Weight With Yoga?

First, let’s start with the basics. Is it actually possible to lose weight by doing yoga? The simplest answer: Yes. Practicing yoga, like any exercise, includes physical movement. 

Your body is always expending energy, aka burning calories, and when a calorie deficit occurs, pounds should be lost. Beyond burning calories, a regular yoga practice also boosts mindfulness, which can, in turn, lead practitioners to become more conscious of their health habits outside of the physical practice — like eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. 

What Happens if I Do Daily Yoga?

Daily stretching is essential for optimal movement. Including yoga in your day-to-day routine will improve fluidity in movement and prevent injuries and joint inflammation

When I began a consistent practice of yoga each day (even if only for 10 minutes), I quickly became less stressed and more able to go with the flow, slept better, and was pleasantly surprised when my clothes began to feel loose. As the physical element and nature of my practice progressed, my posture elongated (I went from 5’0” to 5’2”) and the ability to expand and extend my feet and toes had me go up a shoe size. 

How Quickly Can You See Results From Yoga?

Yoga is an almost immediate mood-booster and stress-reliever, which may also be helpful in curbing emotional and disordered eating. Plus, specific yoga postures help balance and maintain a healthy gut microbiome, stimulating the natural detoxification process of eliminating waste from the body while encouraging healthy digestion that may help facilitate weight loss. 

Can You Lose Belly Fat With Yoga?

Practice Yoga, Shed Pounds? Here’s How
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Extra weight within the belly, specifically the lower, transverse abdominals, is often correlated with increased cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. A regular yoga practice minimizes overall stress and helps you sleep better, which can lead to lower cortisol levels and perhaps a flatter belly.

To better target the tricky transverse abdominals, I like to combine deep breathwork with specific poses. Think opposite knee-to-elbow planks and/or downward facing dogs, along with bridge poses with leg, glute, and abdominal engagement. 

Can Yoga Be Your Only Weight Loss Exercise?

While stability and stretching are equally as important as strength in fitness, cardiovascular exercise is also essential for heart and overall health. And, like anything else in life, maintaining balance while also making changes are catalysts for weight loss. Try integrating yoga along with other mindful movements that work for your body’s unique needs, such as low-impact activities walking, swimming, resistance and toning bodyweight movements. 

Keep these three pillars in mind when you’re designing your weight loss program:

  • Maintain an element of surprise: “Keeping the heart rate and the body/muscles ‘surprised’ creates a fat-burning result in our bodies,” explained Denise Chakoian, owner and founder of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree, personal trainer, cancer exercise specialist and boutique fitness consultant. “We can do toning classes to also provide resistance-type training workouts some are looking for without using heavy weights or machines.”

  • Strategize for success: “Have a weight loss strategy [that includes] a way to have the heart and the muscles work at the same time,” says Chakoian. “Our muscles burn fat in the body. If we work our muscles, then we will have a better chance of getting our bodies to do what we want them to!”

  • Don’t stress over the scale: “It is not always about the weight on the scale, but rather the muscle in the body. There are many ways to build muscle,” says Chakoian. “Whatever your goal is, add weight and/or resistance training to reach your goal.”

8 Fat-Burning Yoga Poses

As a yoga instructor, I believe there are four tactics to tune into when you want to use yoga for weight loss:

  • Rely on your gut: Creating equilibrium within the gut is essential for optimal digestion and encouraging waste elimination. The better job your body does in releasing what’s digested, the better you’re able to manage a healthy weight. 

  • Do the twist: Complete yoga poses such as binds and twists, which “wring out” toxicity and enhance digestive function while massaging the internal organs of elimination (think: colon, liver, spleen, kidneys, along with the adrenal glands). 

  • Go with the flow: As an added bonus, stimulating circulation and boosting healthy blood flow to specific areas can alleviate bloating, gas, and cramping for an all-over feeling of lightness. Lymphatic fluid drainage also helps with the detoxification process. 

  • Combine movement with breath: Try the following yoga practice (see below) sequentially, or practice the poses independently as needed. Pair each pose with mindful, cleansing breaths to fully relax so you can ease into each posture, while releasing emotional and physical tension. 

The following eight yoga poses can help turn up fat burning:

Urdhva Mukha Pasasana (Thread the needle pose)

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.

  2. Place one palm in the center of the mat, directly beneath your face. 

  3. Extend your opposite arm up toward the ceiling, stacking your shoulders for one round of breath. Then, wrap your extended arm under your body toward the opposite side as you exhale, resting your shoulder and cheek on the mat or a yoga blanket. 

  4. Repeat on the other side. 

Watch a video demo.

Parivrtta Anjaneyasana (Revolved crescent lunge pose)

  1. Start in a low lunge with your left foot forward, knee bent directly above the ankle and your right foot angled slightly toward the long right side of the mat. 

  2. Inhale, pressing your palms to the center of the chest. 

  3. Exhale as you rotate your torso toward your bent front knee, joining your bottom elbow to your left knee. 

  4. Repeat on the opposite side.  

Watch a video demo.

Malasana (Garland pose)

  1. Stand with your feet at least hip-width apart, bending your knees and lowering into a squat with your toes angled to the outer edges of the mat. 

  2. Moving from your hips, fold forward, placing your hands on the mat in between your knees. You can stack books or blocks if your hands don’t touch the ground and/or place a block under your glutes for support if needed.

  3. Gently tuck your chin in toward your chest, allowing the crown of your head to relax toward the mat while lengthening your cervical spine. 

  4. Breathe and hold for as long as desired.

Watch a video demo.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (Half bound lotus forward fold)

  1. Start seated with both legs extended forward, feet flexed.

  2. Bend the right knee up in the air, bringing it into a half lotus pose by wrapping hands underneath the foot and ankle to encourage rotation of the hip.

  3. Draw the right foot in as close to the navel as possible, allowing the ankle and foot to rest on the left thigh, as close as possible in the crease of the left hip.

  4. Hold the right foot in place with the left hand as you extend the right arm up; then, fold forward and grab the inner edge with the right hand.

  5. Now that the foot is held in place, massaging the abdominal muscles and organs of elimination, you can extend the left arm forward to grab ahold of the outer edge of the flexed left foot. You can also use a strap or rolled up towel to hold on.

Watch a video demo.

Marichyasana A (Sage twist pose)

Practice Yoga, Shed Pounds? Here’s How
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  1. Begin seated with legs extended straight in front of you.

  2. Bend the right knee, placing the sole of the foot on the floor about a fist’s distance from the opposite thigh.

  3. Keep the foot of the extended left leg flexed.

  4. Inhale, reaching the right arm upward; on the exhale, fold forward, bringing the right arm inside the right knee.

  5. Flip the right arm so that the elbow bends, wrapping it around the right shin while still folding forward.

  6. Wrap the left arm behind your back and clasp fingers together (or use a strap or towel for the bind grip). As you continue to breathe, visualize moving forward toward the shin, keeping the spine long and moving from the hips.

Watch a video demo.

Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose)

  1. Lie down on your side, placing the tailbone and glutes as close to the wall (or your bed’s headboard) as possible. 

  2. Flip to lie on your back, extending straight legs upward with the back of your legs supported by the wall. 

  3. A rolled-up blanket can be placed on top of the feet, and/or you can use a block or pillow on the low belly to create a deeper sense of feeling grounded.

Watch a video demo.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) With Knee to Elbow Engagement

Practice Yoga, Shed Pounds? Here’s How
Source: Miriam Alonso / Pexels
  1. From a downward-facing dog, inhale and lift your left leg as high as you can behind you while maintaining square hips.

  2. Exhale, drawing your left knee toward your nose, drawing your belly in toward your spine. 

  3. Inhale, lifting your leg back up to down-dog split. 

  4. Repeat 5 times, then switch sides and repeat.

Watch a video demo.

Phalakasana (Plank Pose) With Alternating Limbs

  1. Begin in a plank position.

  2. Inhale, extending your right arm forward, parallel to your spine.

  3. Exhale, extending your left arm back, maintaining the parallel line. 

  4. Hold for a few breaths.

  5. Repeat with opposite limbs.

Watch a video demo.