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Is yoga good for weight loss and toning?

In the West, a great number of people become interested in yoga because they wonder ‘Is yoga good for weight loss and toning?’. In reality, weight loss is a very complicated thing and it involves a number of factors, exercise being just one. Other factors include:

  • food amount intake and quality of food
  • genetics
  • food addictions (if present)
  • medications one may be taking
  • mental attitude towards weight loss
  • stress
  • other illness or heath issue that may be present

The bottom line is: there is no one-size-fits-all answer to weight loss. Although we are all extremely similar genetically and biologically, we are not exactly the same. What works for one person may not work for another person.

Is yoga good for weightloss and toning

Is yoga good for weight loss and toning your body?

I do believe that in general yoga is good for weight loss and weight maintenance. I personally lost weight after began practicing yoga. And currently I am able to maintain my weight by only practicing yoga daily – I do not regularly perform any other type of physical exercise.

Lets Talk Numbers

Basic biology tells us that if calories in (via food) is less than calories out (via exercise and metabolism), we will lose weight. Yoga most definitely does not top the charts for calories burned during a workout. Let’s compare…

ActivityCalories Burned in 1 Hour for a 150lb person
Sitting Quietly80 Calories
Bicycling at 6mph240 Calories
Jogging at 5.5 mph740 Calories
Walking 3 mph320 Calories
Ashtanga Yoga350 Calories
Vinyasa Yoga594 Calories
Hatha Yoga189 Calories

As you can see from the chart above, it really depends on the type of yoga one practices. Vinyasa yoga, which is a very active form of yoga, burns a lot more calories than Hatha yoga, which is a more low-key type of yoga. So as far as pure calorie burning numbers, the simple answer is yes you can lose weight from regularly practicing yoga.

But remember, activity is not the only factor in weight loss or weight maintenance. One could conceivably jog four hours per day, burn 2960 calories, and still gain weight. Why? Because of the amount of food they may eat, of course. Let’s take a look at some basic food calories…

Food/AmountCalories
Medium Apple With Skin (Raw)95 Calories
4 ounces Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast100 Calories
1 Cup Chopped Raw Broccoli31 Calories
1 Medium Baked Potato161 Calories
McDonald’s Big Mac (no cheese)540 Calories
Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad770 Calories

What we eat really plays a huge part in our overall heath and well-being.  This is especially important to remember if our desire is to lose or maintain our weight. In my personal opinion, I believe what we eat is the single most important part in maintaining a healthy weight and maintaining health in general – even more important than exercise. As a result, I’ll be talking a lot about food in coming posts on this blog.

Okay, aside from numbers, how can yoga help in weight loss?

As I described in the opening part of this post, losing weight is a complicated thing. Diet and exercise are most definitely the gears that make weight loss work, but we need to remember an important point: we are not machines. We are human beings with wants, needs, emotional issues, time constraints, jobs, children, obligations, etc…

It’s easy to say, “I’m going to jog an hour a day, never eat out, cut out all carbs and sugar, and cook every single meal from scratch.” But it’s much, much harder to actually do it.

I think the wrong question is: “what activity can I do that will burn the most calories?”

Rather, the right question is, “what activity (or activities) can I do nearly every single day?”

Consistency is key when it comes to exercising the body. Even though jogging burns a lot of calories, jogging an hour once every other week is just not going to help your weight loss goals when compared to practicing Hatha yoga every day. And for many people, practicing Hatha yoga everyday is much easier and more realistic to do than jogging because it is not as hard on the body, it’s relaxing, it can be done at home regardless of the weather, and it is low impact.

I believe that these are the reasons why I, and so many other people, do lose weight and maintain their weight by practicing yoga asanas. Simply because it’s something that we can easily practice every single day.

But there is even more to the story…

Strength Building

Although yoga is not the most aerobic exercise one can do, it is extremely effective at increasing strength and flexibility. Yoga builds muscle by using a principle called isometrics. In an Isometric exercise, the body uses it’s own weight to hold a static position. This type of exercise is very effective in increasing strength in the joints and building lean muscle (rather than bulky).

Several Yoga sequences, such as the Sun Salutation and several Kundalini Yoga Kriyas, also use a different kind of exercise called isotonics. An Isotonic exercise is the opposite of an isometric exercise in that the muscle contracts and extends rather than remaining static. This type of exercise is excellent for building muscle mass and strengthening the heart.

Because most yoga sequences utilize both isometric and isotonic exercises, it truly is a total body workout.

And this is important because building muscle is essential for one’s weight loss and maintenance goals. The reason for this is muscle burns calories, even when the body is at rest. It is for this reason that men need more calories per day than women – simply because they typically have more muscle mass. So strength building is not only good for your bones, joints, and balance and overall strength, it also increases your metabolic rate and burns more calories.

Stress Reduction

Have you ever stuffed yourself with ice-cream or chocolate because you felt stressed or depressed? Chances are the answer is yes. And eating more is not the only way stress can lead to weight gain.

Stress causes the adrenal glands to secrete hormones which lead to many negative health problems including weight gain and dangerous belly fat. The adrenal glands are responsible for our “flight or flight” response system. When we experience stress, our adrenal glands secrete hormones meant to protect us in a dangerous situation. Our blood pressure and heart rate increase, our blood sugar levels change, and the blood moves from the heart to the extremities. If we find ourselves stressed out over longer periods of time, these hormones begin to store body fat, specifically around the belly,  in an attempt to protect our body from any impending danger.

Is yoga good for weight loss

This bodily system worked for thousands of years to protect humans in dangerous situations such as being chased by an animal or dwindling food supplies. But in today’s modern Western world, most of us do not experience these dangers. Today’s new stressors cannot be helped by an increased heart rate or ultraconservative internal food storage (fat).  However, our body doesn’t realize this and it still reacts to stress as if we lived hundreds of years ago.

That’s where yoga and meditation can be a great aid to weight loss and maintenance. Yoga has been shown over and over again to reduce stress. Nearly everyone who practices yoga regularly will agree with this. In this way, yoga helps with weight loss from a much different approach than traditional exercises.

Getting In Tune With Your Body

Finally, in order to lose and maintain your weight, you must listen to your body. I believe this is something that the modern person has forgotten how to do. Often, we eat even when we are full, we push ourselves during exercise even though we feel pain and we starve ourselves to lose weight even though we are hungry… Not only have we forgotten how to listen to our own body, we often times listen but blatantly ignore what our body is telling us. This type of attitude is completely conter-intuitive if we want to reach and maintain a healthy weight and health body.

Rather, we must get back in touch with our bodies and respect what they do for us. In turn, we must treat our bodies with respect by giving them what they need and avoiding what they don’t need.

Yoga is an amazing way to get back in tune with your body. By practicing the sacred asanas, you can actually feel your body moving, breathing, and changing. By synchronizing your movements with your breath, you are forced to remain in the now and present within your own being.

In this way, yoga teaches us a new way of living, learning and understanding ourselves.

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