Losing weight through yoga sounds almost too good to be true. On the surface, yoga seems like the polar opposite of a fast-paced high-intensity interval training (HIIT) circuit or a weightlifting workout, the two kinds of exercise usually recommended for weight loss. A yoga class leaves your body feeling totally different: refreshed instead of wiped out, loose instead of tight, flexible instead of sore. It's even good for your mental health, helping you deal with stress and anxiety.
HIIT, weightlifting, and cardio are fun and effective for weight loss, but they're also not for everyone. If yoga sounds more appealing and weight loss is your goal, it's natural to wonder if your daily practice can help you shed pounds.
Yes, You Can Lose Weight With Yoga
"Yoga can be a good source of exercise," said Jorianne Numbers, MS, an exercise physiologist with Northwestern Medicine. At the most basic level, she said, yoga is a form of movement that helps you burn calories, which is a major part of losing weight (though your exact amount burned will depend on your height, weight, and gender).
But there's more behind yoga's relationship with weight loss than first meets the eye. An effective practice also fosters a mind-body connection that makes you more mindful in every facet of your life. "Yoga brings you into a heightened state of awareness," explained Lara Heimann, physical therapist, yoga instructor, and founder of LYT Method, a yoga certification program. Moving through different poses and holds increases your awareness of your body, and that can translate to other effective weight loss habits, like eating healthy, which is key for losing weight no matter what exercise you're doing. (Try this two-week clean eating plan to get started.) "The congruency between mindfulness on and off of the mat is what can make yoga more effective for weight loss than other forms of exercise," Lara told POPSUGAR.
Yoga has long been regarded as an effective way to relieve stress, and that on its own can be a weight-loss tool. "Having a less stressful life, and fewer stress hormones such as cortisol, can help anyone lead a healthier lifestyle," explained Liza Janda, a certified yoga instructor at Yoga Janda. Cortisol is an appetite stimulant, hence why we tend to eat (and overeat) when we're stressed out and to crave unhealthy foods in particular. A relaxing yoga practice can help you deal with stress in a healthier way and even avoid it, and the related weight gain, altogether. (Try this relaxing yoga sequence or one of these stress-busting yoga videos to see for yourself.)
Which Practices Are Best For Weight Loss?
If you're looking for pure calorie burn, our experts agreed that fast-paced Vinyasa yoga is the practice to choose. "A good Vinyasa class will take you through a variety of movements, with a focus on integrating your core and weight-bearing on your hands and feet," Lara explained. Imagine a classic flow from plank to tricep pushup to upward facing dog — you're getting a core burn, working your triceps, then using your arms to hold up your bodyweight as you stretch. This kind of weight-bearing move "increases heart rate and builds muscle," Liza told POPSUGAR. The more muscle you build, the more calories you'll burn even after you're done exercising.
Power yoga is another good choice, Jorianne told POPSUGAR, though it's more intense and better suited for people who are already in good shape. "In power yoga, there is less meditation and more of a focus on standing poses and faster-paced movement," she explained. Your heart will pump even harder than in a Vinyasa class, which is good news for losing weight; Liza recommended aiming for a heart rate that's 55 to 85 percent of your maximum to get the most calorie burn out of a class. (Use this guide to calculate your max heart rate and find your target zones.)
And what about hot yoga? "Vinyasa classes burn more calories than the hot yoga," Lara told POPSUGAR. "Hot yoga makes you feel like you're working harder than you actually are because your body is just trying to thermoregulate." Basically, sweating more doesn't mean you're burning more calories. "The sweat you produce should come simply from physical exertion," Liza said, not from temperature.
A more gentle yoga class, such as Hatha, won't burn as many calories. But it can be benefit your mental health and stress levels and while helping you be more mindful, all of which have weight-loss benefits as well.
How Often Should I Do Yoga to Lose Weight?
For the best weight-loss results, Liza recommended doing yoga three times a week. Continue to stay active and get your heart rate on the other three to four days as well, whether through cardio, weightlifting, or HIIT workouts of 45 minutes to an hour. (We recommend this dance workout for cardio, this Nike weightlifting workout and this belly-targeting HIIT circuit, all 45 minutes in length.) And keep your nutrition in mind too. "Exercise alone without dieting makes losing weight hard," Jorianne said. "Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume."
If you eat clean and burn calories, though, the results will come, and yoga has a place in the process. Start with this 30-minute power flow to relax, rejuvenate, and work up a sweat.