You Asked: Can Yoga Help Me Lose Weight?

By , Jennifer Kries, Master Yoga Teacher
Over the past decade alone, yoga has exploded into a multi-million dollar industry.  Nearly 21 million Americans actively participate in yoga, spending more than $10 billion a year on classes and products (including equipment, clothing, retreats and videos), with the majority of novice practitioners citing general wellness, stress management or weight loss as one of their primary motivations for taking up the practice.
However, the roots of yoga are spiritual, not physical, which is the way we think of yoga today. Body-focused yoga styles (that focus on toning, weight loss and physical transformations) are a modern, Western phenomenon. There's no doubt that the benefits yoga offers for the physical body appeals to Americans, even though yoga can be so much more than a physical fitness regimen.
So can yoga really help you lose weight? Is there any truth or science to claims that any set of yoga postures can boost your metabolism, help you slim down, or give you that coveted "yoga body"?
In my opinion, as a yoga instructor and practitioner for more than 20 years, yoga's fundamental precepts make it a formidable weight-loss contender—but not for the reasons you might think.
If we're simply looking at calorie for calorie*, when stacked against higher-intensity workouts like running (660 calories per hour), aerobics (460 calories per hour), competitive tennis (470 calories per hour) or swimming (400 calories per hour), yoga doesn't seem like a serious contender. Research shows that most styles of yoga (even "power" styles) don't elevate the heart rate to the same level as this other fitness pursuits, and that yoga doesn't burn as many calories as other aerobic activities. (At roughly 175 calories per hour, it's more akin to a light walk).  *Calories burned estimates based on a 150-pound woman.
But these mainstream high-intensity exercise regimens can't hold a candle to yoga's long-term benefits. In the race for weight loss, yoga can truly be the dark horse, because, not just a calorie burner, the practice works on what's inside, both mentally and emotionally. Anyone who's ever lost weight and kept it off can attest that change has to happen there, too.
Yoga's rich legacy is imparted through each downward facing dog and warrior pose—whether practitioners realize it or not. Just like the accidental tourist who stumbles upon one of the world's seven wonders without a guidebook, the "accidental" yogi can actually reap the unforeseen reward of discovering one of life's most elusive, complex and confounding mysteries: not just how to lose weight, but how to keep it off. 
My personal yoga journey took me from my back yard in Southern California to the East Coast, where my own thoughts and instincts about yoga and weight loss were corroborated. The resounding message, after interviewing yogis on both coasts, is that if you really invest yourself, not only can you lose weight doing yoga, but you can get to the root of your inner burdens and self-sabotage, putting into practice one of yoga's greatest precepts: letting go of what no longer serves you.
Yoga teaches us how to adopt a new lifestyle, which is the key to permanent change. It offers the practitioner what few other physical exercises can: a potent combination of ancient science and self-mastery, tools that facilitate the self-reflection required to discover why one gained weight in the first place, and the ability to literally (as they say in yoga-speak) "let it go."
The True Secret to Lasting Weight Loss: What Lies Beneath the Surface
Where yoga really shines is when it stays true to its origins, as a science that fosters the union of all aspects of being, rallying us to discipline, helping us to slow down mentally, teaching us to distinguish between the urge to eat and the emotional impulses that sometimes drive us to eat, and helping us to discern what we are truly hungry for. 
"Yoga gave me a place to explore what was hidden, a place to feel, and a place to ask myself the tough questions," says Jennifer Schelter, a veteran yoga teacher and founder of Mindful Strategies for Living and Radiant Retreats in Philadelphia. "The actual asana [Sanskrit for "posture"] practice brings these 'places' into existence.  Instead of trying to run away, I found myself looking forward to slowing down and investigating the emotions I felt in my body. With yoga, I could feel my mind working things out in a way that it wouldn't be able to with any other form of movement."
Yoga encourages a vibrant, energetic connection to the body, as well as an enhanced awareness of the body, which has all the makings of a lifelong love affair. (Read why loving yourself is an important step in any weight-loss journey.) The very essence of yoga itself is "union."  There is no separation between the mind, the body and the emotions.  Few other vehicles for weight loss provide the same catalytic foundation that facilitates a deepening awareness of all three.
Sujantra McKeever, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, says that yoga gave him the space to tune into what he truly needed. "For me, yoga is awareness that body, mind, breath and emotions are all intertwined. That gives me more influence over the choices I make, with food, for instance." McKeever surpassed his ideal weight of 195 pounds and gained 30 pounds when his mom had cancer. "During that time I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and I was eating unconsciously, trying to fill a void. Yoga helped me to slow down and reflect on why I was eating. I could ask myself, 'am I really hungry?  And if I'm not, then why am I eating?' "
Over time, yoga can help any practitioner develop a mind-body awareness that can help when it comes to emotional eating.  It induces a deep calm that neutralizes stress and therefore the stress hormones that can affect appetite and the tendency to store excess body fat. And it gives practitioners the ability to sit with and examine emotions instead of reacting quickly (by reaching for food, for example). Yoga is the mirror that reflects the truth of what is inside, revealing what was previously hidden and making it clear and somehow more palatable.
Finding Personal Power through Struggle
We know that weight loss occurs when a person consistently takes in fewer calories than they burn. So aside from actual calorie-burning, what is the real fire behind weight loss success in yoga? It's called "tapas" and according to Yoga Journal founder Judith Lasater, "Tapas is one of the most powerful concepts in yoga." The word "tapas" comes from the Sanskrit verb "tap" which means "to burn."
"The traditional interpretation of tapas is 'fiery discipline,' " says Lasater. "This refers to the fiercely focused commitment necessary to burn off the impediments that keep us from being in the true state of yoga." In the yoga practice, the mind and the body, while usually at odds, join forces through a flow of poses that demands the practitioner endure challenging moments and see them through. This helps people find freedom through adversity and learn that they can triumph over obstacles. When the mind says, "No," reconnecting with the breath helps you to burn through the negative noise of the mind, so that you are able to say, "Yes! I can do this." It's only through adversity that we can begin to tap into the true power within us.
Through hard work, discipline, determination and courage, you start to build the qualities that then spill into your life after you walk off the mat and into your day. And because you have just spent the last hour (or more) generating appreciation for this miraculous machine that is your body, you have reason to pause before eating automatically or unconsciously. You find yourself asking the question, "Do I really want to eat that? Is this food really serving my body?" And the answer that soon comes to replace the justification default, "I worked hard, and so I deserve this cupcake," is "No. Actually, no I don't! I deserve something better."
Stress Reduction & Weight Management: The Science behind Yoga's Magic
As you race through the day in high gear, your body can often secrete fight-or-flight hormones that can stress your organ systems, encourage overeating and fat storage, and wreak havoc on your bodily functions. In yoga, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows things down, permitting your body's systems to take a rest. (It should be noted, however, that rigorous yoga practices actually activate the sympathetic nervous system and therefore do not have the same effects on the body.) What happens? Our hormones rebalance, our injuries begin to repair, and our digestion proceeds optimally, all of which can aid weight loss.  
What makes yoga so effective in winning the weight-loss battle? It is both beautifully complex and simple at the same time. The physical postures in yoga help to bring everything back to a place of equilibrium. And as the mind and body come together, a magical alchemy takes place. What comes rocketing up through the body and to the surface of our consciousness is life force energy; as it flows freely, it sets a positive, life-enhancing chemical chain in motion: Feel-good chemicals are released, calming the central nervous system, lowering blood pressure, encouraging increased blood flow to the digestive organs, and the naturally sedating our fight-or-flight response. This energy quiets of the noise of the mind and the internal protests, and what is left is pure clarity: the space and will power to not only make better choices, but to honor them.  
"The more I practiced yoga, the more I actually lived in this new realm of wholeness where I was strong, capable and connected. Yoga gave me a place where my mind could be free—where there was no guilt, no shame, no judgment, just appreciation for what my body could do, and who I truly am," Schelter reminisces. "Yoga helped me to understand for the first time that weight gain is the by-product of my negative thinking. The incredible message you receive with yoga is that it's not about achieving, or losing weight—although most people do.  It's about being, which is really just accepting yourself just as you are."

About the Author
An integrated wellness, fitness and lifestyle expert, Jennifer Kries is an internationally renowned mind-body-spirit innovator. The first to bring Pilates, and "The Method," the groundbreaking synthesis of Pilates, yoga and dance to a mass audience, her award-winning videos, DVDs, and TV show revolutionized the fitness community and started the explosive wave of enthusiasm for Pilates and mind-body exercise. She is the creator and producer of several original DVD Series, including her all-new Waking Energy Teacher Training, The Hot Body Cool Mind DVD Series, and The Pilates Method Master Trainer Series. Jennifer has inspired countless readers, practitioners, instructors, and viewers alike to embrace her all-encompassing philosophy of movement, art, health, life and energy. Her attention to detail, superb teaching style, artistry, and knowledge of Eastern healing techniques makes her one of the most sought after mind-body teachers in the world today. Learn more at

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EVILCECIL 5/13/2021
Good info. Thanks. Report
_CYNDY55_ 10/26/2020
Thanks Report
KATHYJO56 6/26/2020
I am one of the few people I know that doesn't like yoga. However, this is a good article Report
JWINKSLLC 6/25/2020
Thank you. Report
KOALA_BEAR 6/24/2020
I took hatha yoga many years ago, & also attended a weekly class thru my employer for about a year. I can no longer be comfortable on my knees following replacement surgery on one & don't think the mental relief part works for me now. I am working on learning qi gong, a type of tai chi that also focuses on breathing & improving balance. That along with daily walking is my preference for now; plenty of time to clear my head. I prefer being outdoors in nature & absolutely want nothing to do with religion tho some spiritual activity is fine. For those interested in yoga, ask questions of the leader about what type they teach & what you can expect to gain. Sharing this article might help too. Report
CECELW 6/24/2020
I can't remember the last time i've done yoga. I just really got in to yoga that much Report
Thanks Report
Great article! Doing more yoga is on my New Year's resolution list. I haven't done it because my focus was on increasing caloric burn. However, after this article I think yoga will be a great addition and add some balance by loving my body and let the weight fall off without fixating on how many calories any workout burns. Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
thanks.. talked me into it. Report
Yoga helps my mental stress and physical tension, definitely bonuses for weight loss. Report
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Great tips useful Report
Good information. Thank you. Report
thanks Report
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Yoga is beneficial to weight loss not because of calories burned but because of the total body approach to healthfulness. I forget the Latin but the translation is "A sound mind in a sound body" Report
Yes yoga can help with losing weight . It make you aware of your body. Youl will be stronger in mind body and soul. Definetly tones you up , helps with flexibility and more . Report
Good article. Great need-to-know information! Love Yoga! Report
Yoga helped me get serious about weight loss. I’m keeping 30# off! As for it being contrary to Christianity, get over it. It won’t force you to change your beliefs. Report
Not for me.As far as I am concerned doing things like "Sun salutes" or other things are contrary to Christianity. Report
Great article! I love "chair" yoga! I try to do it several times a week. It is calming and helps loosen up my body from head to toe! Report
Not tried it yet Report
Really enjoyed this article. Report
Thanks for the info. Report
Yoga has been very helpful to me with resolving back problems. Good article. Thank you for sharing. Report
Thank you for this informative article. It's taking me time to connect the mind and body. But I'm working on it. Yoga is so much more than exercise as we think of it. Report
My yoga instructor lost 80 pounds through yoga as her main source of exercise. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
I just realized yesterday that after about 2 months of yoga I have no more plantar fasciitis/heel spur pain. I noticed this before when I had took karate lessons in my 30s. The stretching exercises for the feet and legs must be relieving the symptoms. Report
Hello everyone. Hope you all are fit and healthy and wish the same for you all always. In one of our earlier topics we have discussed about Yoga, its types and the benefits which are derived out of it. Now today under this topic we will discuss how a person can lose weight through Yoga and can stay healthy. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise and way of living that focuses on your mind, body and soul. It's a holistic practice for all ages. Read more- Report
A very informative article, I learned a ton about yoga that I did not know. Love yoga...the best part about yoga is what it means to each person. Clearly it is a super important component in many of our healthier living lifestyles! Namaste... Report
I have done yoga in the past and was encouraged to start again just yesterday so this post was timely for me. I have already scheduled my first class for tomorrow. Report
I started running a little a few years ago and did some small races and one half marathon. This past fall I decided to get serious about losing weight and really training for more half marathons. I added in strength and cross training and just started yoga 6 weeks ago. The first few classes I struggled because I am not limber, but I have already noticed such an improvement. I ran a half this past Sunday and can't wait for my yoga class tomorrow to get in the best stretching. I do some at home, but always do better in class. I can't imagine not doing yoga now. Report
Good article. It really helped Report
Great blog! I am sooo tired of folks getting weird about yoga being religious. (Hint: look up religious vs spiritual; anyone can benefit from the spiritual or mindfulness aspects of yoga.) I was introduced to yoga in 1968 in a Comparative Religions class... when the Catholic instructor explained that yoga is NOT a religion and she practiced yoga and was a practicing Catholic. In 1971, I dropped 65 pounds and yoga was my only exercise except for walking! I do not appreciate folks who are derisive because of the modest number of calories burned. The blog describes the multiple ways yoga can benefit almost anyone. I miss my hour of yoga on a mat daily... I now have mobility issues and chronic pain, but still like chair yoga. I also do other, more energetic chair exercises for cardio and strength.

If you aren't interested in yoga, fine. Don't do it. I do not appreciate folks putting it down as not being a useful and beneficial exercise for others. Report
This was an insightful and beautifully written article. Thank you. I fight the mindset that when I am X weight I will do a better forward fold or triangle pose. When I began this journey months ago I realized I had reached a point of despair and that I was strong enough (or would try to be strong enough until I really was) to change my thoughts,eating, and movement. Report
When I did Yoga every day, I was my lowest healthy weight. My mind was quiet. I was confident. I did exercises that all but eliminated my asthma. If you think Yoga is just something that makes you flexible, you need to learn more about it. It makes you strong. It makes your body work properly. You have to be careful though. American versions of Yoga are often far more about punishing the body (no pain, no gain) and not so often about mindfulness. Hot Yoga is a fad. Avoid fads. Report
I have been using Yoga as part of my life for 40 years. No, I am not a twist into a pretzel person, who is now in my 70's, Lol, but I do use a lot of meditation yoga and stretching. Meditation will reduce high blood pressure and give peace of mind to people facing sugergies. Many people who have to deal with cancer have found some peace of mind also while dealing with this disease.
My husband has used mediataion and the poses for health and stress. He is not usually into this kind of exercise, but went with me and stayed! Report
Wonderful Post. In my opinion, yoga plays an important role in weight loss and keeps body fit and active. Thanks for sharing this post. Report
It sounds like it would be good for people with PTSD, like walking is. Report
Wonderful post! Yoga however may or may not help a person to loose weight, depending on what kind of yoga one practices. But one thing is for sure, yoga has a lot of benefits to the overall well-being of a person.

"(It should be noted, however, that rigorous yoga practices actually activate the sympathetic nervous system and therefore do not have the same effects on the body.) "

I have given up most "power" practices because of this. The sympathetic nervous system's activation increases your cortisol response (akin to what endurance sports such as marathon running does), and is medically contraindicated for my conditions and stress levels right now.

Even though I depend on moderate low-impact cardio dance to manage my conditions in the main; I've put together my own fusion of yoga and pilates practice; also practice with J. Brown's Yoga video (mild Krishnamacharya therapeutic vinyasa yoga); and have even "stolen" pilates moves from you, as well, as I am a fan of yours. Report
Great article!
During my weight loss phase and first 2 years of maintenance I considered yoga totally worthless, because it hardly burns any calories.
But I watched my 20-year old daughter doing yoga everyday and nothing else - no running, no gym, no weight lifting - and her body became muscular and beautiful.
So I tried it and now I do yoga everyday.
I love the balance, flexibility, mindfulness, calmness and peace that comes from it.
Also feeling more connected with all living things and the universe - this may be one reason why yoga resembles a religion for some people. Report
Just checking in about the subject of yoga. Never went into the religion part of it just the flexibility part of it... Report
I enjoy yoga but the weird and the higher self crud I have nothing to do with. If I had my so called higher self together I would not need spark people. ROFL. Report
Yoga can be anything people want it to be. It can be a religion if people sincerely think it is or it can be a method used to balance mind and body, and to assist us to practice self-reflection and healing. I enjoy yoga because of its poses that allow me to stretch tight muscles and it enables me to be flexible. After a yoga session, I feel at peace in that I've "stretched" the stress away and my mind is peaceful and I sleep better. Lets face it, yoga does for the body and mind what cardio and strength training can't. Report
Thanks this makes me want to try it on a regular basis. Report
Great article and to the point. Yoga trains the mind as well as the body so it can help you overcome whatever challenges you face including being overweight. As the article points out there are workouts that are more efficient at burning calories. But becoming more mindful is arguably much more important in any process of transformation. On the oh so hot button topic of religion...I just have to say that I've been doing yoga for 15 years and not one time has anyone tried to convert me to Hinduism. Yoga can help to deepen your spiritual connection to whatever you choose to find sacred. Report