As a yoga teacher, the questions that I’m asked most are: “Does yoga help you lose weight?” and, “Do you do cardio too?”
There are so many diet and exercise articles out there comparing caloric burn and weight loss potential, strength training versus cardio.
Anyone could find a research article to prove or disprove just about anything these days (just follow the money behind it).
I too, could offer tons of great research articles and good science that proves, yes, yoga will help us lose weight.
But I won’t.
Because we are all unique and we each experience asana differently. It depends on how we choose to practice yoga that makes the difference, and how much we take off of our mats and incorporate into our lifestyle.
Speaking from my own personal experience and what I’ve witnessed through the years from many students, here’s what I can offer:
Yoga has helped me and others lose weight and keep weight off. It has helped shape my body like no other, hands down. Period.
And what I have found is that weight loss has less to do with actual “caloric burn” and “strength and resistance training”, and is more a product of breathing (pranayama), awakening to our patterns of behavior (swadaya), keeping the nervous systems balanced, and growing positive neuro-pathways (mindfulness).
Is that what we had in mind when we began to practice? Probably not.
We might not have even gone to yoga if it wasn’t for all the hype about losing weight and getting strong.
But the truth is, our yoga practice evolves over time, a little bit each day. It’s not an overnight fix.
I also want to say that from what I’ve learned, it has more to do with our inner fire, (agni). Think “inner pilot light.” It’s our body’s ability to take in and keep more of what we need nutritionally, mentally and spiritually, and burn-off more of what we don’t need. But there isn’t a research study on that.
I think the weight loss has a lot to do with yoga asanas (twists, backbends, inversions), which are unique to yoga and help our internal systems function more efficiently, even optimally. Some of the research is controversial on this too, however.
What I can say unequivocally is that through the years, what I’ve noticed is when I’m not practicing regularly, I’m not breathing as well and I’m more reactive—just ask my kids.
When I lack the time to get quiet and focused each day, I get thrown out of balance. I get grumpy, moody and less motivated. I don’t sleep well and am less enthusiastic.
More importantly, I don’t make the best nutritional choices, and I can even indulge excessively (yes, me too)! But there’s a consequence to those choices, and a very real chemical imbalance is the result—research supports that—and increased stress hormones are allowed to proliferate the body causing dysfunction and disease.
In those times, I’ll even crave sugar and carbohydrates to fill the void. It’s no coincidence that during those times, I hold on to excess weight (duh). We’re all aware of that thicker layer of belly area that is a result of excess cortisol, from too much stress, not enough balance. It’s real. And there’s definitely a ton of research to support that!
I believe that as a complete mind-body practice, yoga can help us lose weight by giving us the tools to manage stress, control the highs and lows and lessen the production of stress hormones.
It may help us sleep better too.
Depending on how we choose to practice, if it’s with consistency and intention physically, mentally and spiritually will make the difference of what we get out of it.
Asana (poses) alone probably wont be enough.
In the end, we each have our own unique experience. Yoga makes no promises for weight loss, or any other benefit for that matter.
Only you can to determine, how yoga can serve you. And it’s only your personal experience that matters.
Have fun exploring!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Jess & Colin Liotta