If you’re one of the folk who thinks yoga is all relaxation and stretching, you’re in for a surprise. As a yoga instructor, I’ve seen countless students completely transform their bodies with a regular yoga practice. That’s right, yoga can help with weight loss — but maybe not in the way you'd think.
We may assume that the best workout for weight loss would be the one that burns the most calories and makes us the most sweaty. While yoga might not raise our heart rates quite that high, it does more than burn calories. When practiced properly, yoga encourages healthy circulation to the oft-neglected parts of the body — muscles, joints, and organs alike. In doing so, it helps us address the things that might be causing us to keep weight on, like a slow metabolism, thyroid problems, digestive issues, or even stress.
Yoga for Metabolism
Practicing yoga affects the body’s endocrine system (or hormonal system), particularly the thyroid. Certain poses stimulate the thyroid gland by encouraging the circulation of fresh, oxygenated blood to the area, which can boost your metabolism.
Similarly, more strength-building postures — like plank position, downward dog, and the warrior positions, to name a few — tone and generate heat in the body which improves metabolic functioning, both on and off the mat!
Yoga for Digestion
Proper elimination and detoxification are extremely important for anyone who wants to lose weight. All of the food we consume passes through our digestive system, and when it’s not functioning optimally, we end up holding on to fat and toxins that cause us to pack on pounds.
With certain yoga postures like supine twist, seated forward fold, triangle pose, and wind-relieving posture (appropriately named!), you can encourage healthy functioning of the digestive organs and stimulate weight-loss.
Yoga and Stress
You’ve heard it once and you will hear it again: excess stress causes weight-gain. And since one of the main benefits of yoga is that it helps to reduce stress, this makes it a viable weight-loss solution. Stress keeps weight on because when we’re stressed, our bodies produce too much cortisol — known as the stress hormone. Excess cortisol quite literally causes the body to hold on to fat.
Elevated levels of cortisol stimulate the appetite, meaning you’re more likely to overeat. What’s more, weight gain related to stress tends to become concentrated around the abdominal area. Belly fat, often considered toxic fat, is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity, so reducing stress in your life can actually do wonders for your body and health.
When it comes to yoga for stress, most practices will help you through your breathing. When we’re nervous, anxious, or stress, our breath tends to get trapped in the neck and chest, leaving the lower extremities starved of vital oxygen. The deep belly breathing practiced in yoga encourages calm in the nervous system by stimulating the nerves that sit just below the colon. This helps to quell cortisol and soothe the nervous system, therefore aiding weight loss.
A Mind-Body Approach to Weight Loss
Beyond its physical benefits, yoga integrates the body and mind in a way that facilitates weight loss. In fact, one study demonstrated that practicing yoga helped people to adopt (and stick to) healthier eating habits. Interestingly, the same study also noted that subjects felt supported and motivated by being a part of a yoga community, equipped with instructors and other people like them all seeking to embody a healthy way of living.
“Being in that culture, that society, of being around people who are like, ‘be good to yourself', ‘be kind to yourself', it changes your thinking as well,” said one study subject. The study also showed that yoga significantly helped those who had previously struggled to lose weight, which could be because of the sense of community, support, and mentorship that yoga offers.
As we can see, the benefits of yoga for weight loss extend far beyond any old sweaty workout. By encouraging balance in the body as well as balance in the mind, a regular yoga practice can completely transform your health, and make you feel better in the process. For an easy practice to help you get started, check out this short sequence perfect for the summertime!