Those toned, lean and lanky bodies we see coming out of yoga studios, surely they haven’t acheived their leanness from yoga alone–or have they? Yoga isn’t vigorous enough to burn excess fat, is it? To get to the bottom of the issue of whether practicing yoga alone can help you lose weight, we chatted with Yumee Chung, yoga instructor and co-founder of Passport to Prana and here’s what we learned.
Different types of yoga can benefit your weight-loss goal
More vigorous types of yoga are active enough to help you lose excess fat and gain lean muscle, says Chung. “If you’re looking for a muscular, vigorous practice, try ashtanga, jivamukti or power yoga; or look for the keywords ‘flow’ or ‘vinyasa’ in the class descriptions,” she says.
Hot yoga can contribute to your weight loss, too. This type of yoga induces deep detoxification and reduces excess water retention, explains Chung, adding that they are challenging in their own way and classes can leave you feeling clean and elated.
And don’t dismiss the gentle yoga practices. “These can help shed excess fat by inducing deep relaxation,” says Chung.. “When we are stressed out, the body excretes cortiisol–a stress hormone. It has been shown that elevated cortisol levels can be related to weight gain, particularly around the belly area.” So restorative and yin yoga can also be part of your weight-loss regimen as ways to calm the mind while working kinks out of the body.
Yoga isn’t just stretching. It comprises weight-bearing, strengthening exercises
Many women lack upper body strength. And there are parts of yoga that ask you to bear weight on the arms (which helps build bone density) while activating the core, such as poses like chaturanga dandasana (translated as “four limbed staff pose”). “These poses are great strength builders and they are complex, multi-tasking poses,” says Chung. “You’ll do this pose many times during the course of a typical flow class so you have lots of chances to build muscle. And while cardio is great for using up calories, muscle is even better in a way because it is more metabolically active and requires energy to sustain it even when you’re hanging out with friends after your yoga class.” Chung herself appreciates this opportunity to build upper body strength as it was something she’d been lacking in before she started practicing regularly.
It’s important to remember, though, that muscle weighs more than fat, says Chung. “So we may actually see the scale stay where it is or even go up as we get stronger and more fit,” she explains. “I actually put my scale away because I think it’s better be a little heavier but toned and strong than a lightweight!”
Practicing yoga may influence your food choices
“Yoga teaches us to live better in our bodies. This means we learn to listen more deeply to the body and its impulses,” says Chung. So we become better at identifying when we’re eating emotionally or because we’re bored. Or when we’re eating because our parents taught us not to waste food versus eating to fuel our bodies and brains. “Living a more engaged and authentic yogic life means you are willing to get real and face things head-on rather than being guided by unconscious patterns and habits,” she says.